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

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Being Aware is the Second Secret to Self-Control and Changing Bad Habits

Life can be challenging sometimes since there are so many uncertainties and factors that are out of our control. Unfortunately, many of us even have trouble controlling the one thing that we should be in total control of: ourselves. As we discussed in the previous article for step one, one of the biggest challenges that we face in life is the battle that we have with our own minds. Self-control can lead to the formation of bad habits or addictions, which can be very challenging to overcome and break free from. Whether it be anxiety and obsessive thoughts, a drug addiction, a food craving, or something else, our own minds are often the largest hurdle to jump over when trying to break free from a bad habit. Being aware of our mind and the way we think is a crucial part of developing healthy self-control habits. My name is Dr. Jonathan Bricker, and this is step two in my five step series on how to manage self-control and change your habits.

What is the Importance of Being Aware?

Oftentimes we are not aware of what we think, feel, and sense before we act. When it comes to a bad habit, this means that we just go through the motions and engage in the bad habit without being aware of why we are doing it in the first place. When we are aware, we can get some of the power back over our mind and choose what to do with how we feel. For example, if you often feel stressed out or overwhelmed before you begin to drink, becoming aware of those feelings will make you more conscious of the fact that this is when you normally choose to drink, so instead you can make a more conscious decision not to do so. Being aware helps you to kick the habit.

External vs. Internal Triggers

Almost every addiction or bad habit has triggers that increase the desire to engage in the habit. Therefore, it is important to determine what the different types of triggers are and what the difference between internal and external triggers is.

External Triggers

First, let’s talk about external triggers. While we have less control over external factors, we do have control of how we let them affect our lives. The three main types of external triggers are people, places, and activities. Let’s break that down a bit further.

  • People. Some examples of people are family, friends, or co-workers.
  • Places. Some examples of places are home, bars, alleys, or bakeries.
  • Activities. Some examples of activities are driving, drinking coffee, or drinking alcohol.

Certain external triggers can cause an urge for a bad habit. For instance, being with your friends who use drugs makes you want to use drugs. Eating dinner at a bar and being surrounded by people drinking makes you want to start drinking alcohol. Driving around in your car makes you want to roll the window down and smoke a cigarette. If you slow down and become aware of your internal urges when faced with external triggers, you will be able to control yourself more effectively.

Internal Triggers

Second, let’s discuss internal triggers. These are often a result of the external triggers, but can also happen independent of an external trigger. While we can have more control over our internal triggers, they can almost be more challenging to combat sometimes. The three main types of inter triggers are urges, thoughts, and emotions. Let’s break it down more.

  • Urges. These are physical sensations or desires in the body.
  • Thoughts. Some examples of thoughts are, “I want to eat!” or, “I need a cigarette!”
  • Emotions. Some examples of emotions are sad, mad, anxious, ashamed, or happy.

External triggers work through internal triggers. Now, apply these to the examples from before. The external trigger of being with a friend who uses drugs causes an urge in your body for drugs. The external trigger of being at a bar causes thoughts like, “I wish I had a drink right now.” The external trigger of being in the car causes emotions such as anxious or sad and makes you want a cigarette.

Become a Pilot by Tracking Your Triggers

Triggers lead to a habit through negative reinforcement when we reduce an uncomfortable sensation, emotion, or thought with the behavior, and through positive reinforcement when we get rewarded with something positive (like feeling happy) when we do the behavior. Being aware of your triggers you can regain self-control by choosing how to respond to those triggers.

Once you are aware of your triggers, you can set a smartphone reminder each hour to track some of your thoughts and feelings related to the triggers to help you take the power back. For example:

  • Where am I?
  • What am I doing?
  • Who am I with?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I feeling?
  • What am I sensing (where in my body)?
  • Am I doing the habit?

Remember the Cost of Avoiding Triggers

When faced with triggers, it might help to consider the ABCs. A: Antecedents/”triggers” (urge)

B: Behavior (drink), C: Consequences (urge goes down). Be aware of the trigger, of the behavior or bad habit that the trigger can lead to, and the consequences of giving into that urge or addiction.

The truth is, it might be impossible to avoid your triggers altogether. Instead of working actively to avoid them, you just need to remember the importance of being aware of your triggers so you can let them come and pass without giving in to urges. Since you can’t control your triggers, you actually gain self-control by giving up control of the triggers. If you try to control and avoid your triggers, it might cost you time, energy, losing your anchors, and getting away from what matters. It’s hard to fight a war with a monster while trying to be a loving, giving, and caring person. The monster can only fight you when you are fighting back. Just let it pass.

Let’s Work Together to Help You Regain Control 

Remember the importance of being aware and how it can help lead to self-control.  I am here to help and support you on your journey to regain control! Please feel free to send me a message or give my office a call at (206) 745-5500. I would love to learn more about your story, your triggers, and your behaviors that you’d like to change. Let’s work together to help transform your life so that you can be free of anxiety, addiction, and cravings!