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Overcoming Habits

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Useful for characters, writers and anyone:

It is extremely difficult to overcome a habit in one’s mind before one acts upon it. Those who try to change engage in a terrible inner fight in the internal realm. Further, whenever one fails to prevent the habitual action, it tends to cascade into a series of further habitual behavior, as if a dam has burst.

Essentially, we all have limited psychological capital that we can spend on battling with habitual attributes, and if we engage in the battle internally and lose, we will have squandered our complete reserves and have nothing left to stem the tide. Since we have lost spatially, we look toward time, toward our next psychological payday, usually the next calendar day, after a good night’s sleep. But until then, we simply stand back and engage in the habitual behavior, which actually re-enforces it beyond its strength in the original battle, making it all the more difficult to overcome it the next day.

A better way is to move the battle to the external realm, allow the first instance of a bad habit to occur and then battle the second from happening. While an alcoholic or overeater may say the first drink leads to a binge, it is my opinion, based on narrative psychology, that only happens because all the power to resist was already spent in the internal battle.

Habits cannot be broken – the carry too much inertia. Rather, they must be diminished and diluted until they cease to be a force at play, dissolving back into the psychological stew from which they originally emerged. To this end, do not battle the first instance internally, but the second instance externally. By giving in, the habit plays itself out in the first instance before it has become a compulsion. Holding back and battling it just puts up a dam that will ultimately be breached, creating a far more powerful flood that does far more psychological damage, limiting further ability to resist.

Let the first instance happen, then fight the second. While you won’t always be successful, you will have a greater statistical degree of success, eventually leading to the gradual establishment of a new habitual pattern that hinders the original behavior rather than re-enforcing it.

For characters, examine these struggles; for writers, use this method to get your work written, for everyone else, use it to clean up your act to your personal level of self-comfort.