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We all have habits we don’t like or are not proud of. Mostly these are a low-level nuisance – like chewing our nails or taking out our stress on others – so we accept and live with them. They may annoy other people, but… Well, you know!
Other habits can be positively dangerous – driving too fast, smoking, drug taking – and inconvenient enough to get us to want to change them.

This is often where we create a new problem for ourselves. We set ourselves up for failure and in failing, confirm our belief that our particular habit is a tough one.

The paradox

Stopping an unwanted habit is made easier if we forget all about ‘stopping’. We are more likely to succeed in our aim if we work towards what we want to become, rather than away from something we want to lose. Trying to “stop smoking”, “not be late” or “give up drink”, for example, is fraught with risk because the very thing we are trying to stop becomes the centre of our attention; we must first think about it, before we can think about changing the habit.

By contrast, becoming a non-smoker, being on time or “I only drink soft drinks”, are all recipes for specific courses of action. Non-smokers don’t smoke, people who are on time are not late… etc.

Its all a question of telling ourselves what we want, rather than what we don’t want. While I’m on the topic, it works well with giving instructions to others; always ask for what you want, not what you don’t.

It seems obvious, yet its amazing how often we hear parents telling the children, “don’t run”, or “don’t make a noise”, rather than “please walk”, or “do it quietly”, and we remind others by saying “don’t be late”, or “don’t forget”.

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