Curbing a Compulsive Habit: A Primer - Deepstash

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Why We Have Compulsive Habits

Why We Have Compulsive Habits

We don’t do unhelpful things with the intent to harm ourselves, for the most part. We do them because the unhelpful habit is meeting some need.

  • The need might be something like:
  • I’m bored and want a dopamine hit
  • I feel bad about myself and want to do something pleasurable to take my mind off it
  • I feel awkward in social situations and need a distraction
  • I’m stressed and need a coping mechanism

But if you just stop doing the compulsive habit, you have removed your coping mechanism without finding another way to meet your need.

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Remove Judgment, Add Compassion

We’re usually pretty judgmental about our compulsive habits. It’s a part of ourselves that we hate or a confirmation that we’re somehow bad or inadequate.

This kind of harsh judgment is a defense mechanism meant to help us get better. Beating ourselves up only makes us crave our compulsive coping mechanisms because now we feel bad about ourselves and are stressed out. Compassion is a healthy coping mechanism for stress, give it a try.

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Persistent, Patient Commitment

  • Ask yourself if you really want to commit yourself fully to changing a habit. Sleep on it, and ask yourself again, before you half commit.It will come with difficulty, falling on your face, and a new way of seeing yourself. Is this something you want?
  • If the answer is absolute yes … then commit yourself fully.
  • Tell others about your commitment and ask them to hold you accountable. Promise to report to them every day or every week. Be as committed to this as you’ve been to anything in your life — your marriage, your kids, your job, your best friend.

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Change Your Environment

Change your environment, so that you aren’t likely to do the old habit. Ask people who live and work with you to hold you accountable.

Making it hard to do the old compulsive habit is called “Creating a Moat.” Don’t let your future self, at a moment of weakness, have an easy time of falling back into the old habit. Make it easier to stick to the new habit, even if it’s not especially easy.

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Don’t Do It Alone

When we seek to change a habit that we think is embarrassing, we usually try to do it in private, so no one can see our shame. This is a mistake.

Doing it alone is very, very hard, and it also reinforces the idea that we are doing something shameful, and that we should be doing this on our own. It’s stronger to do it with the help of others. Using other people’s support is just a more robust approach.

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Practice Awareness & the Powerful Pause

When the compulsion to do the old habit happens, if you’re not aware of the urge, you’re likely to obey it without questioning it. It’s an imperative, without awareness.

The key is to develop awareness of the urge so that you can notice it and not think of it as an imperative, but rather just a sensation in the body, and perhaps a thought (“Just one time is OK!”). With this kind of awareness, you now have a choice, and can question whether this is what you really want.

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Solve the problem or leave the problem. But…… Do not live with the problem.

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