Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist


by on Sep.25, 2015, under Articles

Humans are creatures of habit. What we did yesterday is likely what we will do tomorrow. Most of us have some type of daily routine. Get up, shower, brush teeth, go to work or school, eat three meals, watch some TV, exercise, socialize and go to bed only to do it all over again the next day. Even if this is not your exact routine, you probably have some variation that you have stuck to for years. Of course you did not emerge from the womb with these habits, you learned them over time. And years later, these habits are second nature, you don’t even have to think about them. This can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you don’t have to spend your precious brain cells on consciously thinking about these necessary activities—you just do them. The curse is that changing habits which are no longer useful, is not always easy. We get comfortable in the way we do things and change seems to be like too much trouble. Unless someone or something pushes us out of our comfort zone, we end up repeating the same only patterns, similar to Bill Murray in the movie Groudhog Day-awakening every day to the same sequence of events.
Some examples of human laziness for change are: singles who identify their parents as beneficiaries for their bank accounts, rarely change their beneficiary after marriage.
This type of living reminds me of the anecdote about the daughter, mother, and grandmother who were preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The youngest daughter asked her mother why she cut off the ends of the ham before putting it in the baking pan, to which her mother replied, “I don’t know, that’s what my mother always did. The mother then asked her mother (the grandmother) why she cut off the ends of the ham, to which she replied, “Oh back in my mother’s time the pans were too small to fit the entire ham, so they cut off the ends.” The lesson here is that sometimes we just repeat what are parents or grandparents did, without ever questioning why. Today’s bakeware is probably more than big enough to hold an entire ham. But because the question was never asked, cutting off the ends of the ham became a useless tradition.
Change can be scary, time consuming, effortful and sometimes costly. But, without change we tend to remain stagnant. We might complain about our plight, but lack the motivation to make a change. Whether it is dissatisfaction with your job, your relationship, your body or your way of life change is a process. You first need to become aware that you want to make a change. Most smokers have tried to quite many times. Dieters have usually tried numerous fad diets to lose those extra pounds only to lose and regain even more weight, succumbing to yo-yo dieting.
What are some of the reasons our attempts to change unwanted habits get derailed?
*fear of change
*too much work
*feelings of loss (giving up something you enjoy like eating, gambling, smoking)
*physical addiction
*behavioral addiction
*peer pressure to stay the same

If you feel stuck in a dead end job, but you are afraid to interview elsewhere or go back to school to get more education, fear may be keeping stagnant. It seems so much easier just to stay put than to venture into the unknown and risk failure. But rest assured, if you do nothing, five or ten years now you will be that much older and still complaining. If you are 30 now and dissatisfied with your situation, do you want to be 40 in the same place. The older you get, the less likely you are to venture out to make a change.
Sometimes it just seems too hard to do things differently. You might have to actually invest time and energy into pursuing something new like dating your resume, brushing up on interviewing skills. If you are looking for love, you may have to step outside your comfort zone and do some new activities or write a dating profile. Or if you are trying to stop smoking, you may have to figure out what else you will do with your hands when you are having a drink or how will you relax, when smoking is your favorite form of winding down. Although, many smokers don’t realize that there is nothing about smoking that is relaxing because it increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate. The reason most people think it is relaxing is because they are doing relaxing activities while smoking (e.g., taking a break at work, sitting quietly after a meal). It’s the taking the break and sitting quietly that is relaxing and the smoker merely learns to associate smoking with relaxation because the two are happening together.
Conditioning is one of the biggest reasons we do the things we do. Skinner states we learn things through reinforcement and punishment. Rewards increase behavior and punishers decrease behavior. You are more likely to show up for work if you get a paycheck (reinforcer) and you are less likely to run a stop light if you get a $100 ticket (punisher). Pavlov posits that we learn through association, you pair to things together enough, when one thing happens you expect the other to happen also. If you are used to eating while watching TV, the TV may become a cue to eat, such that whenever you turn on the boob tube all of a sudden you want to eat, even if you are not hungry. And Bandura suggests that we learning things though simple modeling—observing someone doing something and imitating that behavior yourself. Girls model their mothers and boys model their fathers. How many habits do you have as a direct result of what one of your parents did?
Sometimes we don’t want to give up a behavior because we feel as though we are losing a part of ourselves. We then have to grieve the absence of that thing. You may enjoy going to the bar after work, gambling at the casino, or shopping for unnecessary things. Giving up those past times that have become addictions may leave a big hole in your life and you may not know how to fill it. Physical addictions can cause physical withdrawal when the behavior ceases. Similarly, behavioral addictions can have emotional consequences when it stops. That momentary high of buying yet another piece of jewelry on the shopping network or the excitement of taking a chance on winning a slot machine may leave you feeling empty if you give it up.
And sometimes it’s just pure peer pressure to maintain the status quo. Your friends may pressure you to have that extra dessert when you are dieting, go out drinking when you are on the wagon, or go to the mall, when they know you can’t control your spending. These are not your friends. Misery loves company. Your getting healthy may make them feel worse about themselves, but that is not your problem. Whenever you are confronted between having to choose between your so called friends and your values, think of the long term consequences of your decision. Be assertive, say no, and live with any guilt you may feel about not pleasing them.
If you are contemplating making a change, but don’t know where to begin start by:
*setting small weekly goals to ensure you have a successful experience. Cold turkey doesn’t work for everyone.
* reward yourself with something small (not food) when you accomplish your goal to keep yourself moving in a positive direction.
*replace the bad habit with a healthy habit. Otherwise, you are more likely to revert to your old ways if you don’t have a new coping mechanism;
*Say no, when you mean no and work on the guilt later.


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