How to break unhealthy habits
It can take a long time to break a habit that causes shame, but these tips can help you stay on track to building a healthier life for yourself, free from that negative voice in your head that’s needlessly mean to you.
Break the cycle of shame.
Shame is an important emotion because it tells us when we aren’t acting in a way that aligns with our values. However, when we speak to ourselves in a shaming way, such as saying “I’m a bad person” instead of “I did a bad thing”, it can actually make the situation worse by making us feel more sad/mad/anxious. Self-shaming often drives self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to ease that pain such as using substances, technology, sex, or self-harm. Engaging in those behaviors perpetuates the shame and leads to more self-destructive behaviors. This can be a difficult cycle to break. If you find that you shame yourself for any little mistake, even ones that have no impact on anyone’s health, safety, or wellbeing, you may be dealing with a perfectionism/shame cycle. Read more about that here.
Start by replacing little harmful behaviors with those that are healthy and align with your values. For example, instead of spending two hours scrolling on Instagram or TikTok comparing yourself to others, take a walk outside and feel the sunshine on your face. Take responsibility for your mistakes, and make positive lifestyle choices that promote good physical and mental health. Improving your alignment with your values will help you let go of the shame, and you’ll be less likely to want to engage in the behaviors that bring it back.
Don’t believe the negative self-talk.
It’s not easy to move away from shaming yourself, it can be habitual to immediately shame yourself any time something goes wrong. Telling yourself that you’re weak or stupid is not only destructive, but it’s also not true. Identifying and changing harmful ways of thinking can make the path towards health a lot easier to walk. Also notice if you’re shaming yourself for a value that isn’t yours to begin with! Sometimes we carry the values of our parents or friends with us, when in reality we don’t align with them. We don’t need to carry shame that isn’t ours.
Next time you have a negative thought about yourself, pause and re-phrase it in a more positive (or at least neutral) way. For example, instead of saying, “I’m weak,” say, “I feel weak right now, but I know I can do this” or “I feel very human right now”.
Reaching out for support from friends, family and peers is so helpful in moving away from those negative thoughts in your head. If you’re trying to break a bad habit, encouragement and input from others can be so helpful. Tell a supportive friend, family member, or support group member what behaviors you’re trying to change. Ask them for encouragement and help with holding yourself accountable. Supportive friends and loved ones can empower you, cheer you on, and offer wisdom when you’re having a hard time.
Use failure to learn.
You won’t be able to change all of your self-destructive behaviors overnight, but you can use your failures to learn better ways of curbing them next time. Think about what led you to engage in a self-destructive behavior, then think about ways to catch yourself next time. Even things like lack of sleep can make us more susceptible to old patterns!
Prepare ahead of time.
Noticing what precipitates or triggers unhealthy habits can help you build in more “pause” before engaging in them. For instance, if you’re trying to quit smoking, plan ahead for situations that make you want to smoke and work out a strategy to cope with the discomfort. Once you’re in the tricky situation, stay mindful of your thoughts, feelings and attitudes and try out your coping strategy. If it fails, use your failure to learn what you might do differently next time.