The fact of the matter is; People tend to choose what is familiar over what is healthy.
I am no exception. I have proven this true time and time again in my life. There are times I can even see healthy, it is right there. All I have to do is put down the unhealthy habit, the one that continues to bring me pain and disappointment, and step towards sanity, towards a better life, towards the healthy choice. And, more often then not, without me even realizing it, I find my hands gripping tighter and my feet moving back towards the path I already know. For the truth is that healthy choice, that path to sanity, is dark. I can’t see where it leads or what I might find along the way, or what obstacles might be blocking the path up ahead. And this other well-worn path, the one my sneakers have tread so many times that now the ground is smooth and the brush no longer tries to grow and block my way, I know this path. It is well lit. Even when this familiar path has obstacles , I know how to overcome them. I know this for certain because I have faced these hurdles before and survived. I have coping skills to handle where that familiar path leads. I have well-practiced defenses in place already for what lies ahead.
And so once again I find myself repeating the same pattern. Staying in the same dysfunctional relationships, having the same arguments, and each time it feels like the end of the world, that this argument will be the clincher, this will be the final showdown and we will finally be able to put the matter to bed once and for all. But it never is the final battle. It always is simply another fight, in a series of fights, that go nowhere but right back to that crossroad, back to that choice, choose what is familiar vs. what is healthy.
And I bet this happens to many of you as well.
So, how can you break that pattern? How can you give yourself the nudge in the right direction? How to you take that first step towards a different life?
How do you choose the healthy over the familiar?
These are questions I ask myself on a nearly daily basis. Not comforting, I know. However, I believe that is part of the key to unlocking a new way of living and a healthier and happier you. Practice daily. If the behavior or way of thinking has been around a long time, it is a well-ingrained habit. And, baby, habits die hard. So, it is not one step and you’re all better and a completely different person. Oh no, if you truly want to change you must make the conscious decision each and every day. Because those old ways of doing things will call to you wherever you go. It will feel like every time you turn around there is another chance to fall back into old patterns, and all you are doing all day long is saying, “no no no no.” It will feel like this will never let up, that things will be like this forever, unless you quit trying to change.
Don’t fall for that. It will get better. The longer you hold out and say no to old habits, the farther away they will feel and the quieter those voices will become. Decisions that used to be painful will get easier and easier, until one day you will realize you are different. You will look up and see, you are already far down this new path.
But don’t let that easiness deceive you. The old habits are there, waiting patiently and quietly, for you to slip, and at any time they can be as loud as they ever were. So, practice new behaviors daily, take mindful action, and then repeat.
Another very important part of choosing the healthy over the familiar is to identify what that unhealthy behavior pattern was providing you and find a healthy alternative. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say. And if you are taking something out of your life, you must find something to put back in it. But this time what goes there will be of your choosing. Smokers do this by using nicotine alternatives like gum or e-cigarettes. If what you really miss is going to the movies with that dysfunctional partner of yours, find a group of moviegoers and join up. Or if the unhealthy behavior was helping you cope with a part of your life in some way, find a new form of comfort that can take its place, or perhaps address what is causing the discomfort in the first place and see if things can’t change there.
And my final bit of advice on how to stop choosing unhealthy behaviors is to join a support group. It doesn’t have to be an official Support Group, although those are extremely helpful and fairly easy to find. You can simply network and meet people who have been through a similar situation, people who have struggled with the same kind of demons and who want to better their lives just as you do. I can’t express the relief and the incredible sense of belonging that comes from talking to someone who understands and has experienced a struggle similar to your own. You get validation seeing someone else who knows how hard it can be at times, and empowerment from seeing that they have succeeded in walking the path you are now on. You get strength from seeing them prosper and hearing the stories of how they achieved this. There is no therapy like it, and I highly suggest, whatever cycle you may be attempting to break, look online for a related support group. You will be amazed at how many people are out there suffering just as you are, and how many different types of support groups there are.
So these are the three building blocks I suggest using to launch you into a new life and a healthier way of living;
identifying your needs, and
getting support from your peers.
Whether the habit you are trying to break is as simple as not snacking at night (which I’ve found is not so simple a habit to break) or something as deeply ingrained as continually dating alcoholics because someone in your family was an alcoholic; these are some tools that you can use to change.
As I write this, I am sitting in my own form of shame, having recently chosen the familiar over the healthy path myself. However, there have been many well established habits of mine, patterns that I believed could never be broken, that I have changed completely. And in those areas, I am no longer a slave to my own behavior and way of thinking. Instead, I have emancipated myself. I have become a wholly different person, and I did it by using these tools I have described.
What was your bad habit you finally broke free from? Or a habit you would love to break? When was there a time you made the decision to pick the healthy over the familiar? And what happened? Or a time you went the other way and chose the familiar path over the healthy one? I would love to hear your stories and maybe get some new tips on breaking my own patterns.