A habit is a behavior that we engage in regularly, often without giving it any thought or consideration. It is a natural part of our process, for better or worse, and we often find that we engage in these behaviors without even realizing it.
In recovery, there are behaviors associated with addiction that can be triggers for relapse. For example, it may be your habit to wake up and get high first thing or to go for drinks whenever you are done with a shift at work. It also may be a habit to drink or get high after certain events or activities, like an argument with someone or when listening to certain music.
As a result, it becomes important in recovery to not only identify the habits that may be contributing to the urge to use substances but also to change those habits and replace them healthier ways of living that in turn contribute to the development of healthy habits.
Breaking Bad Habits
- 1. Shake up your routine. If your normal routine is putting you in a position to routinely reach for a drink or crave getting high, then change up what is “normal.” Go home a different way, change your shift schedule, look for a new job, talk to new people, take showers in the morning instead of at night or vice versa, and recreate your “go-to” moves.
- 2. Give yourself milestones to reach. In recovery, it is normal to celebrate sober birthdays. There is no end in sight, just living day to day in sobriety, so the journey is important. The same is true when you are breaking bad habits. If you are trying to quit smoking or to improve your eating habits, celebrate a day, a week, a month, or more time spent exercising your new habits.
- 3. Get support from your people. Let people in your support system know that you are working on breaking your bad habit. Give them an opportunity to support you and to check in on you along the way.
- 4. Practice mindfulness. It is important to be present in the moment and be aware of processes and choices in order to avoid the problem of engaging in a behavior before realizing that it is happening. The more we practice mindfulness, noticing what we are thinking and doing and what is going on around us, the less likely we are to inadvertently engage in a behavior that can be a trigger for relapse.
- 5. Find a positive replacement habit. It can be helpful to choose a positive behavior to replace the negative habit if possible. For example, if it is your habit to get up in the morning and get high right away, you can make it a new habit to immediately get in the shower, make a cup of coffee, or go for a walk or run.
Creating Positive Habits
- 6. Be consistent. When you choose your new positive habits that will help you to avoid engaging in the old negative habits, it is important to be consistent. For example, it is more difficult to avoid waking up and getting high if some mornings you get up and get in the shower and other mornings you get up and make breakfast or meditate. Whatever you choose, make sure you engage in the behavior as frequently as possible; the more you do it, the more quickly it will become your new go-to choice.
- 7. Track your progress. To help you see how far you have come and to notice any patterns that may be impeding your progress – or helping it along – it can be a good idea to track yourself as you implement the new behavior. Is it easier to engage in your new positive behavior on the weekends than during the week? Does your work schedule put you at risk of falling back into your bad habits? Notice when you are able to maintain your new habits and when it is harder, and adjust accordingly.
- 8. Use your resources. There are apps available to inspire you on your journey to breaking and making habits and books that will guide you. You can read articles online, and get tips from friends who have been where you are and now are doing what you want to be doing. Learn from all of them and incorporate what you learn into your daily life.
- 9. Include a friend. When you talk to people about the habits you are attempting to make and/or break, you may find others who are similarly seeking some new positive choices in their lives as well. If so, it can be helpful to join forces and work together. For example, if your new positive choice is to go for a run first thing in the morning, finding a friend who will be at your door first thing every day can help you to engage in the new behavior when you might have otherwise made excuses to do something else.
- 10. Visualize success. Throughout your day, at any time, visualize yourself living the life you are trying to create for yourself through your new positive habits. When you see it happening in your mind’s eye, it is easier to manifest it in reality. Use mantras to help you, or write out what you want for yourself on paper to help you really “see” the details of your new life in recovery.
What new habits will help you to stay sober?