Answer: Many things we do, both beneficial and not, are "habits"---things we often do automatically, for instance, brushing our teeth before bed. Changing most habits require much more than simple will power.
The first step is to understand that everything we do has a positive consequence. Consider the man who bangs his head into a wall, because it feels so good when he stops. Consequently, the first step is to figure out what the positive consequence is that is maintaining the behavior and other ways to satisfy that need.
The second step is to realize that we do not change until we are sufficiently uncomfortable staying the same. Change causes an upheaval or crisis of sorts in our lives. In order to put ourselves through that, we must have a good reason---not just a whim. Unfortunately, change is not only uncomfortable, but it also takes 30 days to break (or form a new) habit.
Once we embark upon this mission to change, we need to make the behavior more conscious than automatic, and add behaviors that perform the same function, but, at the same time, prevent the old habit. To make the behavior more conscious, people need to interrupt the automatic response. The easiest way to do this is to make it difficult to get to engage in the behavior. For instance, smoking—make it difficult to get cigarettes (i.e. keep them in the car, at the office or just do not buy them).
Do not forget that the behavior had a purpose--usually calming/relaxation. When we eliminate a relaxation technique, unless we add another in its place, we are probably going to become so stressed out that we give up trying to change. Therefore, we need to add behaviors that calm and relax us, and also prevent the behavior.
Other things that can make a plan more successful are to make our desire to change public—tell family and co-workers. Get a buddy with the same goals for change. Avoid situations for a while that will tempt us. If we do not stop "cold-turkey" then we must be sure we are making a conscious decision to do the behavior. Keeping a record of when, why and how often we do it will give us clues to how to stop it.
For some of us, it helps to enlist the services of a professional. Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers or Certified Behavior Analysts can often help people devise plans that will be more effective. It is very important to make sure that they are state licensed or certified and have specific training in applied behavior analysis.
In order to practice in the state of Florida, Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers and many other professions are required to be licensed by the state pursuant to Florida Statute 491 or they are guilty of a criminal offense. To check professionals’ credentials, please see www.myflorida.com.
Dawn-Elise Snipes is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Internationally Certified Fitness Practitioner, local (Fla.) newspaper columnist, adjunct professor at Central Florida Community College, instructor for the University of Florida's Department of Counselor Education and the founder of the National Association of Wellness Practitioners in 2000.