If you struggle with smoking, drinking, gambling, overspending, lying, procrastinating, binge eating, or abusing others rest assured you weren’t born doing any of them. You learned how to do these things.

Life becomes easier when we pick up a learned behavior. It helps the day move along more efficiently without having to waste mental energy on mundane daily tasks like boiling water and brushing your teeth. However, learned behavior that results in bad habits can become difficult and often impossible to break when they occur on a subconscious level. For example, people who are in the habit of eating popcorn at the movies will eat it whether it’s fresh or stale according to a study conducted out of Duke University. Students who consumed popcorn with a goal of eating something good while watching a movie ate less when it was stale. Students who consumed with the specific goal of eating popcorn at the movies, ate just as much whether it was fresh or stale. This study proves how addictive behaviors will cause a person to do something negative just because it is an automatic learned behavior even though all of the students preferred fresh popcorn.

Old habits are hard to break however, humans may have a slightly easier time if they replace the old habits with new ones. Habits are never completely unlearned once they are established. Somewhere deeply embeded in your neural network is every habit you’ve ever picked up just waiting to be rediscovered. Even though it is not a realistic immediate solution for most people to “just say no” is your best first defense when you finally start to get a bad habit under control.

You have to set new, very specific, and very realistic goals for yourself if you wish to successfully develop new habits. You must be committed to change. The easier it will be to make lifestyle changes when you are more flexible, and the more easily you accept change in other areas of your life. The very thing that prevents us from letting go of self-destructive habits and truly enjoying the rest of our lives, is our fear of change.

Dr. James Prochaska, professor of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Rhode Island, developed a model for the six stages of change we all go through before we completely work through any problem. They are listed in his book, Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. Whatever type of habit you’re dealing with, you’re always in one of these six stages. His model for change always bears repeating when we talk about addiction.


Pre-contemplation: You’re not even thinking about change even though you know there’s a problem. You don’t really think you have a problem, or you’re just in denial, you think it’s impossible or you assume the problem will go away on its own someday.

Contemplation: You’re beginning to acknowledge you have an unhealthy relationship with your addiction… food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex, gambling, etc. You’re weighing the benefits of change against the effort. If you think that changing your ways isn’t worth the effort, especially if you’re already feeling discouraged or demoralized or think you won’t be successful, you could stay in this stage for years.

Preparation: You’re gathering information and you’ve made a decision to act. You’re searching the web to find out what you can do next or making phone calls to those who have overcome a similar addiction or struggle. You want to change the way you’ve been living and you’re emotionally prepared to make the necessary lifestyle changes. You’re setting goals and you might even be positively discussing your plans with others. This is the best way to lay the groundwork for change.

Action: You’re trying out different lifestyle changes. You are actively doing something about your problem. Maybe you’ve stopped buying the addictive substance, participating in the addictive behavior or even made an appointment to speak with a counselor. You are seeking support from other people including family and friends.

Maintenance: You are sticking with the lifestyle changes you’ve made. You are working through the obstacles on a daily basis. This could be your final stage of change where you will spend the rest of your life.

Recycling/Relapse: Most people aren’t that successful the first time around while others are and remain in the maintenance stage. However, most have to go back to the preparation or even the contemplation stage and start again. The best thing to do is return to the place where you feel comfortable, and start moving through the stages again.