In order to develop a new behavior, we may have to weaken the
old habit, especially if it is a strong habit. In order to study, we have
to break our habit of watching TV all the time. In order to eat more
healthy food, we have to break our habit of eating lots of red meat.
Sometimes the old habit can be broken instantly, "cold turkey," but
often some technique is needed.
To disrupt habits that are so automatic that they are done
unconsciously. The disruption draws your attention to the habit
and gives you a chance to stop it. The disruption also enables
you to develop a more desirable habit to replace the unwanted
To provide a pause to think and reconsider in the middle of an
otherwise impulsive, ill-considered response.
To stop unwanted thoughts, especially depressive ideas, anger-
generating fantasies, and worries.
To increase your confidence in self-control.
STEP ONE: Plan in advance how to disrupt the unwanted
Mostly this consists of making "rules" which you then have to
enforce. For example, it is common to recommend this rule to dieters:
pause between every bite, putting down your fork and savoring the
food. This breaks the automatic habit of rapidly shoveling in the food.
It is also recommended that 2 or 3 five-minute "rest periods" be
incorporated into every meal; this gives you practice at stopping
eating and a chance to reconsider if you really want to eat more during
Smokers are given rules that disrupt the habit, such as put the
pack in a different pocket, use a different lighter, use a disliked brand,
smoke with the other hand, and so on. Invent your own disruptions.
In the case of impulsive behavior (anger, sarcastic remarks,
seductive actions, etc.), learn to recognize the early signs and plan for
a pause: "Count to 10," "Stop the insults and think of a compliment,"
or "Stick to business." Important rules for restraint are: wait 10
minutes, think about the consequences, and use distraction (think
about something else).
In the case of unnecessary or bothersome thoughts, try "thought
stopping." This is simply yelling (loudly but silently to yourself), "Stop!
Get out of here!" And, believe it or not, the thought often goes away.
It will come back, so yell again. Eventually, by telling yourself that you
don't have to put up with useless or hurtful thoughts, you can
frequently control "your mind" (see method #12 when this makes
things worse or doesn't work).