Habits and Four Lessons in Changing Them

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LMFT, LPC

“Our Character, basically, is a composite of our Habits”

-Stephen Covey

I have been thinking a lot about habits lately, specifically my own habits in various areas of my life: physically, spiritually, vocationally. My husband and I recently participated in a “21-day Sugar Detox” Program to create better eating habits, and I have also been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. According to Stephen Covey, habits are powerful factors in our lives because they daily express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Through personal work on improving my own habits, I would like to share what Ive been learning about building new healthy habits.

  1. Changing Habits is a Hard Process! Habits are often unconscious patterns. According to The American Journal of Psychology, habits are hard to change because behavioral patterns that humans create become imprinted in neural pathways. It was originally thought that creating a new habit takes 21 days of repeatedly completing the new behavior. However, research now shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days. Repeated Behavior is the key to changing habits.
  2. Start Small: People can get very discouraged because they set out to change too much too soon. Then, once discouraged, they give up on new habits. Starting out small allows people to have some quick success, which breeds the confidence to keep up the good work. For example, don’t commit to yoga everyday for an hour when you’ve never done yoga in your life. Start out committing to 10 minutes of light stretching every day or every other day, and build on this.
  3. Replace/Exchange unhealthy habits for healthier ones.  I had an unhealthy habit of drinking too much soda and caffeine. What helped me in beating this habit was to replace that serving of soda with flavored Sparkling Water. In doing this, we can trick ourselves into not feeling deprived.
  4. Enlist Support. Telling others about the bad habits you are trying to break provides accountability in one’s quest for healthier habits. If you are trying to decrease or eliminate soda from your diet and your loved one sees you drinking a large soda, they can gently say something (or in my husband’s case, something sarcastic) to you to keep you on tract with your quest for creating healthy habits.

Though it is difficult to break bad habits, it is also very possible to do so! These simple steps are a good start for setting yourself up for success. The reward of overcoming unhealthy habits is worth the work it takes to do so.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

The Vulnerability of Joy

by Adair Swayze, LPC

To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster—that’s an intense form of vulnerability.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Joy is one of the so-called positive emotions. At the emotional salad bar, most of us would choose joy and happiness over dread, heartbreak, or confusion. It feels good to feel joy. Our hearts leap. Smiles break out on our faces. We feel butterflies and giddiness. We want to share our joy with others. We want to celebrate.

However, any of us who are living whole-heartedly have learned that joy is not always simple or safe. Feeling joy fully and sharing it with others especially when the source of the joy is uncertain comes with major risk. Getting excited about a new job possibility may mean later feeling silly and emotionally exposed when they hire someone else. Allowing the joy of a new possibility to rise and swell means that later we may feel small, deflated, and foolish. And for many of us that pain has been severe enough that we have learned to shut down joy the moment it starts to appear. We try to live without risk of pain.

Risking disappointment is scary and heavy and it is especially heavy to do so alone. I have learned that inviting safe whole-hearted people into my joy and disappointment feels risky but good. It means that when disappointment comes, I will not be alone to hold whatever feelings rise. My people will be there too and can help me hold disappointment well. If I feel small and foolish, I will need to be reminded as I was recently by a friend, “You have been so brave on this adventure and that is not foolishness.”

When disappointment threatens to take us out, we need reminders of kindness. When joy feels good and fleeting, we need celebrating witnesses. Vulnerability means inviting others into the uncertain rhythm of joy and loss, excitement and disappointment. And it is not safe, but it is good to be joined wherever our hearts most need connection and community.

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Adair is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals,children, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Wrestling with Honor

by Phil Zaffos, LPC

I love words. Hidden in the words we choose, we find clues that lead us to the depths of the heart and soul, from great desire to heavy grief. Words are the offering of a story, bringing to life one’s experience, building a bridge for connection with the world within and around us.

One word has come to stand out recently for me in the stories I have heard: Honor.

I’m wrestling with honor. No one is perfect. No one had a perfect childhood and we have all been harmed on some level. Many people in the journey of counseling struggle to acknowledge this harm in the name upholding honor.

The sentiments are familiar ones: Honor your mother and father, live honorably, A person’s word is their honor.

The original word in Greek (timao) literally translates as price (n) or to price (v) and more loosely, to consider the cost of. And yet I witness people daily hide behind honor (often unintentionally) as a way to avoid or minimize the cost of life events or relationships. For instance, someone refusing to “say anything bad” about their loved one because they did the best they could. To honor is to hold the tension of acknowledging good intentions and the harm done in spite of these intentions.

Honor moves us toward freedom by inviting us to more truly consider the cost of living. Let us begin to hold with honor the cost of having the parents we have. Let us begin to use our words to acknowledge the weight of the world around us. Let us venture boldly into the harm we have met and begin to feel the immensity of its burden.

To consider the cost does not mean an invitation to gossip or talk in demeaning fashion about another in contempt. Contempt is more about degrading another and less about considering the harm done to your heart. Honor leads to a place of compassion toward yourself and those who have harmed, you bringing healing to your heart and freedom in your life.

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Phil is a Licensed Professional Counselor and founding director at Foundation Counseling. He enjoys working with groups, individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about him and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.