After you have identified a bad habit and begun to track it in your daily life, this will often lead to a search for the root causes of your bad habit. While you don’t want to blame other people or situational environments for your bad habits – you own them, they are entirely yours alone – you can still try to understand what is triggering these bad habits.
For example, if your bad habit is that you use rough language too often, pay attention to when you find yourself swearing. Who are you with? Who do you never swear in front of? Or if your bad habit is that you are a compulsive gambler, what are the triggers that get you thinking about gambling? Do you have to pass by a casino or racetrack on your way home from work every day? Is there a particular convenience store where you always buy your lottery tickets?
Understanding the situations and triggers that cause us to act on our bad habits will be useful later when we are working to end them.
The next step of developing self-awareness about your bad habit is something I like to call “Putting two and two together”.
Earlier, you thought about what it was you wanted out of life. You identified some global objectives that you wanted to work toward. Perhaps you were able to envision an idealized life for yourself or there is somebody you admire who is living the type of life you want for yourself.
Now I want you to think about what is it that is preventing you from achieving this ideal. What is it about your bad habit that is standing in the way of you and your objective? In other words, I want you to “do the math” so that you can see exactly how your actions are directly causing the consequence that you are experiencing.
It is simply cause and effect. Your bad habits are the cause. The effect is that you aren’t living the life you want. Yet for your entire life up to this point, you haven’t been able to put two and two together and come to the realization that your actions are causing your consequences.
While it can be tempting to blame other people or environments for your bad habits, realize that they have nothing to do with your bad habits themselves. Your habits are what are getting in the way of you living the life you want.
While understanding and changing your bad habits is the easy part, it is often in the middle of changing one bad habit that we sometimes stumble and become trapped in our own rationalizations. The tendency of most of us is to see a problem as a problem to be solved.
How can I use this to prevent it? How can I stop my bad habit from causing me to make the mistakes I did when I first started using the new technique in the library?
Rationalizations will keep you stuck. They can even make you see your bad habits as completely positive, as the solution to a problem, or as a tool for growth.
For example, let’s say you have always found yourself losing money in the casino. You know you are losing money because you always leave without the money you want to walk out with. So how can you use this knowledge to make better decisions in the future?
The question you should be asking is this: What is the positive effect my bad habit is having? If your goal is to stop losing money in the casino, then by identifying the positive effect of losing money, you can tell yourself, “my bad habit is a tool for me to learn how to be more skillful at gambling.” In fact, if you use the rationalization “my bad habit is a tool for me to learn how to be skillful at gambling” over and over, it is highly likely that you will become more skillful at gambling.
But why would your bad habit be teaching you how to be more skillful at gambling? Because, in the casino, the players have the deck stacked against them. They have no room to get out of their bad habit without getting themselves into a world of trouble. You have the deck stacked in your favor, so your bad habit is a skill you are learning from it!