How to Break a Bad Habit and Make a Good One

If you have a bad habit you’re trying to get rid of, first step to changing it is to try not to call it “bad.”

In Ma Yoga, we try to love things into and out of being.

Whatever your habit is, there must be something good in it, or you wouldn’t be doing it, right?

We need to figure out what desire that habit is fulfilling before we can let it go…

Think of it as something a smaller, younger version of you chose to do for a reason you might not remember now.

Instead of calling her and her choice bad, maybe pause, close your eyes, and picture you when you first started your habit.

Imagine sitting down next to that younger version of you, and asking: “what do you need?”

Listen, and see if you get any information. Maybe this little being will actually respond – “I want someone to pay attention to me” or “I’m sad.”

If so – reassure her that you are here now, and you are going to be there from now on.

Maybe you’ll just have a sense of how your life was different when you started this habit.

And maybe this purpose is still serving you.

Let’s say you have a cookie as a treat in the afternoon at work. Maybe it’s a chance to pause and enjoy life…  Or be social…  Or feel like you’re getting a to break a bad habit

If so, what other way can you pause… be social… and/or give yourself a reward?

For instance, I started smoking when I was young. After years of trying to quit, I finally saw that smoking allowed me to breathe deeply in a way I usually didn’t, which helped me transition to new activities with a clean slate.

I was an upper-chest mouth breather so I never had a chance to stop and breathe deeply, which slowed things down and sent a message to my nervous system that everything was ok.

Smoking gave me a little break from the craziness of life, so I could return more calm and at peace.  And it left me with a little buzz (I hope I’m not convincing anyone to start smoking with such a glowing description).

Once we see what’s good about our habit, we can start finding a different, healthier one to replace it with.  

How to Break a “Bad” Habit

Habits don’t go away by hating them, or hating ourselves for doing them  – I learned that the hard and long way (6 years of trying to quit).   

Rather, they fall away gently and gradually, when we figure out what purpose they’re fulfilling, and find something better for us that fulfills that same purpose.

Preferably something that makes us feel alive, nurtured, and powerful, rather than full of regret.

We can replace the habit with something more meaningful, more healthy, more like what the person who has our years of wisdom behind us would choose. 

For me it was – you guessed it – yoga. I would go to the little studio near my house, and the teacher would tell me “all you have to do is move and breathe, and that’s enough.”

It felt good. I felt taller when I left. And open, like I was ready for what’s next.

I would walk up the four flights of stairs in my Seattle apartment, sit on my big chair and smoke a cigarette while I thought about how great it was. 

Soon, I couldn’t remember that spacious, tall feeling anymore… And another week would go by, until I felt it again at yoga.

Eventually, I began asking myself another question. I knew I felt bad about myself when I smoked. I didn’t like the smell, and I didn’t like what it was doing to my health.

And I knew I felt good about myself when I did yoga. I loved how it made my body feel, and I loved knowing it was making me stronger and more open.

So here was the question: why did I feel like I deserved to feel bad, instead of good?

Our minds are smart. It knows that after the first few moments of enjoying our habit, we’ll start to feel bad. We are CHOOSING to feel bad.

After a lot of contemplation and therapy, I figured some of the answers out. Personally I had to work out some unresolved issues with my mom in order to start choosing what made me feel good.

Quitting smoking didn’t happen by trying to cut that part of myself off, beat myself up, or think of myself as bad. 

how to break a bad habit - ma yoga

What worked was finding the purpose of the habit, finding something that fulfilled that purpose but made me feel great, and then figuring out what was stopping me from choosing to feel great.

Once I started choosing my new habit, the smoking fell away on its own.

There was no final cigarette (for six years, every pack was going to be my last). It just became my past.

I decided my new me was going to choose life – even if I didn’t feel it 100%, I was going to fake it til I made it.

For 25 years I’ve been getting the same wonderful pleasure of that deep breath – that pause from life, that relaxed feeling – without having to have a cigarette.

My whole career was born from that time: choosing to honor my body’s wisdom and power – and then deciding to learn more about the practices I loved so much so I could share them with others.

I’ll admit, I’m kind of an addictive type.

I get a feeling of calm, of taking a break from it all, and yes – even a little buzz! – from my new yoga habit. 😊

What can you choose to do this week that will make you feel good?

If you’d like to try a customized live online yoga session with our amazing Ma Yoga teachers, no matter where you are on your own “Ma” journey, we have a class for you here

Thank you for spreading the Ma love!

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