Five Secrets for Self-Control and How to Change a Bad Habit: Step Three

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Being Willing is the Third Secret to Self-Control and Changing Bad Habits

Everyone has something about themselves that they would like to change, and we all have at least a few bad habits. However, many of us struggle with severe bad habits, addiction, and anxiety that we are challenged with under the surface every single day. Our ultimate goal is to find freedom from the restraint of these habits, but it’s not very easy to change a bad habit or to practice self-control. My name is Dr. Jonathan Bricker and in this blog series we are discussing the five steps that help you achieve self-control and break out of your bad habits. As we discussed in step one, motivation for changing our bad habits is optional, while the work required to do so is mandatory. This concept is apparent with step three and the importance of being willing.

What is Urge Surfing?

Use your imagination for a moment: imagine that you are standing in the ocean and a large wave is coming at you. Your initial reaction might be fear and your instinct might be to look for a way to stop the wave from hitting you. But whether you brace yourself against the wave, try to push it away, or even try to stand your ground to keep it from moving you or knocking you down, your efforts will be in vain because there is no way to stop waves coming from the ocean. In fact, sometimes the more you try to fight against the wave the more power it will have over you.

Now imagine taking a different approach towards the incoming wave.  Imagine that, as you stand there in the ocean with the wave coming towards you, instead of trying to fight the wave or control it in some way, you allow yourself to be picked up by the wave and “surf” it or ride it out. The goal of urge surfing is to treat your urges like a wave on the ocean. You can’t stop the urges from coming towards you, but you can control how you let it affect you. If you surf on top of an ocean wave, you take the power back from the wave and regain control of your situation in the water. The same concept goes for your urges. If you experience your urges like a wave as it rises, crests, and falls, you can take the power back from the urge and regain your self-control.

It is important to remember that surfing an urge (or an emotion) does not mean that you should act on it, but rather it means that you should ride the urge out until it fades away like a wave that finally reaches the shore. 

Breathe and Stay Grounded

Part of this third step involves us being willing to ground ourselves when we are feeling the urges. Breathing, despite being a physical action, is one of the most important parts of mental health. Focusing on our breathing can actually help to reduce stress, anxiety, and urges allowing us to stay calm and focused on our goals. It helps to close your eyes and focus on a spot. To get started with a breathing exercise, try to take five slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you do this, be mindful. Notice your chest and stomach rise and sink. Notice your thoughts and emotions and urges.

Another helpful grounding technique that you should be willing to do is to notice your five senses. Try to notice two things that you see, two things that you hear, two things that you smell, two things that you touch, and two things that you taste. Focusing on the world around you helps keep you in the present moment and takes the power away from your urges that are bringing your mind to other places. Allow yourself to stay anchored and watch as the urges fade away.

How to Unhook from Your Thoughts

Even our thoughts can be triggers. As we discussed in step two, thoughts are one of the forms of internal triggers that work against us when trying to change our bad habits. Unhooking from thoughts allows us to gain control of our mind and our urges. Examples of thought being triggers are: “I need a break,” or “I can’t do it,” or “I’m stressed out.” When you have similar trigger thoughts of your own, try to consider rating the power of the thoughts on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no power and 10 being overwhelming power. Add the phrase, “I’m having the thought that…” or “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that…” before the actual thought.

Here, let’s take a look at an example.

  • Let’s start with, “I need a cigarette.”
  • Then, let’s change it to, “I’m having the thought that I need a cigarette.”
  • Finally, reassess. Now how powerful is it on a scale of 0-10?

Surf your urges, breathe to stay grounded, and then unhook from your thoughts. If you are willing to do all of this as your urges come to you, then you will be able to regain your self-control and break free from your bad habits. Again, willingness doesn’t necessarily mean having the desire to do something. Motivation isn’t guaranteed or required for changing bad habits, but the willingness to do the work is mandatory.

Learn More about the Secrets of Self-Control

Be sure to check out my blog to learn all of the secrets of self-control and to find other helpful articles related to changing your bad habits and regaining control in your life. My goal is to help you find freedom from anxiety and addiction, and willingness is just the third step to help you get there. Click here to check out step four.