ASK THE DOC: Breaking bad habits and making changes in your life

Dr Eddie Murphy gives his advice

Dr Eddie Murphy


Dr Eddie Murphy


ASK THE DOC: Breaking bad habits and making changes in your life

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Change is a constant in the natural world. Yet people still struggle with change so much. Life is about change and if you seek to keep things at a standstill, the rug will be pulled out from under you.

Author Tamar Cohen puts it well. “People don’t change. The world carries on spinning inexorably around but people don’t spin with it. They dig their heels into the shifting sand and cling on for dear life.”

Years ago the movie industry went into decline because they didn’t change, they were in the business of entertainment.

Many of us want to make changes to aspects of our lives, be they big or small. It can be done by persisting and trying again when we relapse to old ways.

In psychology we learn about change and the most notable model to use is the Prochaska and DiClemente model on the stages of change.

This sets out six Stages of Change.

It is helpful to people who are trying to make a big change in their life, such as switching to a healthier diet or giving up smoking.

1: Pre-contemplation. Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behaviour that needs to be changed.

2:Contemplation. Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change.

3: Preparation and Determination. Getting ready to change.

4: Action. Changing the behaviour.

5: Maintenance. Maintaining the behaviour change and keeping your change going.

6: Relapse. Returning to older behaviours and abandoning the new changes.

The model shows an upward spiral where we learn from each relapse and move closer to where we want to be with each attempt.

You can check where you are with a behaviour you want to change.

This may be smoking, weight loss, taking up swimming or running, anger control, and see where you are on the stages of change.

Many people with an addiction like smoking go through this cycle up to five times before they are successful non-smokers.

“People who appear to be resisting change may simply be the victim of bad habits. Habit, like gravity, never takes a day off,” according to Paul Gibbons.

10 steps to make a permanent change

Here are 10 suggestions to help people weave new habits into their lives…

1. Begin by making small changes. Pick one or two skills to begin with each fortnight. Get used to these before adding in some more.

2. Mentally link changes to daily routines you already do. This can enable big changes like taking on a new habit to happen much more smoothly.

For example, if you want to begin using relaxation at home, try adding it in to your bedtime routine.

3. When a change feels most stressful, it’s probably about something really important. Achieve in this area, and others will feel much easier.

4. A timetable or checklist to record your progress helps to maintain your motivation. And you can show it to others to keep yourself honest!

5. Remember that all change involves a degree of learning. You don’t expect to be skillful until after you’ve practiced repeatedly.

6. Remember that upheaval and confusion are often natural parts of change. Both you and other people may find it difficult to feel comfortable with new ways of doing things.

It won’t always feel great. It will even probably be ‘odd’ and unfamiliar until you no longer have to think about it to do it.

7. Don’t feel like you have to cope with changing circumstances or the stress of making a change on your own.

Talk about what’s going on for you with a friend or write about it in a journal.

Sharing your feelings can give you a sense of relief while helping you find the strength to carry on.

8. No matter how large or difficult a change is,remember that you will eventually adapt to these new circumstances.

Remember that regardless of how great the change, all the new experiences that it brings will eventually settle into the right places in your life.

9. When you feel ambivalent about ‘doing it’ pick something, anything, to do and do it right away! Don’t stop to think about it! Completing something provides impetus to keep doing.

10. If you’re trying to change a pattern of behaviour or navigate your way through a life change, don’t assume that it has to be easy. Wanting to cry or being moody during a period of change is natural.

Then again, don’t assume that making a change needs to be hard. Sometimes, changes are meant to be that easy.

It takes about six to eight weeks for a new behaviour to start to feel automatic such that you are in Stage 5, which is the maintenance state. Celebrate that you are here and stay away from relapse!