How do I stop my bad habits?

I'd been cheating on my loving girlfriend for a while and i recently dove back into my bad habits and hurt her once again. I don't know why I'm such a monster and why I do the things I do but it's destroying me, my life, and those around me. I need help
Asked by Bobby

Thank you for reaching out for support and for submitting your question. I am sorry that you are going through some difficulties and challenges in your life right now.

There are many people who struggle with repeating the same bad habits over and over. This is a common pattern and absolutely can cause quite a bit of frustration for everyone involved. You may have all sorts of contrary and good intentions, yet you keep finding yourself stuck back in the cycle of self-defeating and destructive ways. How this can all play out can vary. You tell yourself ahead of time that you won’t do the thing anymore. You plan to be purposeful and intentional. You vow to change for the better and leave those ways behind. You might also find some success for a while. Everything seems to have turned around for the better. Until it all falls apart again. Your efforts failed and you are right back where you began. 

Zig Ziglar has aptly noted that “all bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

Being aware that this is happening in your life is a great first step. Awareness is critical and key if we want to change something about ourselves. Yet, it certainly isn’t sufficient. And it seems you are already equally well aware of this. Awareness of the cycle doesn’t stop you from continuously spinning out of control.

Getting to the underlying issue will take some patience and concerted effort. Something is driving your behaviors and there is a reason why you do what you do. The hidden reasons must be discovered. Once you become aware of what those are, then you can begin to develop a plan which addresses them. This could all entail consideration of your past as well as a thorough examination of your present. A therapist could help you work through all of this and help you through the process. In the therapy room, you and the therapist can begin to look at things from alternative angles. You can begin to see things in a different way, perhaps in ways you hadn’t before. In many cases, when we keep repeatedly engaging in patterns of behaviors which are self-defeating and harming our lives, we will find that there is a mix of trying to keep ourselves safe as well as some self-destruction. The task will be to determine what is really at the root of both. 

Importantly, you need to get really clear about what the habits are that you want to end. You mention “bad habits.” You will need to know, going in, precisely what it is you will be working on.

One technique that can be helpful in situations where you are about to participate in an unhealthy, unproductive behavior is called urge surfing. It requires that you make an effort to delay acting. You will utilize your rational brain to halt the emotionally driven urge. You will try to delay as long as you can. You want to allow your rational brain to take over. It can be helpful to plan ahead by having some alternative activities planned for whenever the urge strikes. It can help to make a list of “things I will do instead of . . . .” and have it ready to go when the urges strike. 

Identifying any triggers can also be helpful. You will want to begin to pay attention when you start to get the urge to engage in the habits you want to stop. You can begin to take more notice and ask yourself some questions. Where were you when the urge struck? What time of day does it seem to occur most often? What are you experiencing emotionally at the time? Are you with anyone? What was happening right before the urge hit? Track all of this in a journal. You will likely begin to notice some patterns.

Breaking habits is something that will not happen overnight. It will take time and perseverance. There will be days where it will feel easier and you achieve success. Other days will be harder. You will struggle more. But if you keep getting back up and keep at it, eventually you will break free. If you relapse and mess up, then slow down and take stock of why. Understand what happened. It will help you avoid it again the next time around.

Making major changes in life and seeking to end habits which are keeping you stuck is doable. There is lots of hope. Another thing worth considering is working with a therapist. In the therapy room you can begin to identify what some of the underlying issues truly are – because you likely will still have difficulties if these never get resolved. Also, a therapist can work with you to develop an individual plan which includes coping skills and some strategies to help you move forward.