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68. Do You Have a Secret Bad Habit?

In her excellent book, 'Why do i keep doing this ?', Judith Pearson lists the characteristics of addiction, among which are - creates predictable, reliable sensations that are pleasant, for the moment, and - exacerbates the feelings and problems it is supposed to remedy While the word 'addiction' tends to conjure up pictures of alcoholics and drug users, most of us have a habit or two that we have less control over than we would like to think. This week's tip explores. In the second year of medical school we did a course in behavioural sciences and I recall a particular seminar when two psychologists presented our group of students with a list of behaviours. On that list were scenarios like 'John, 22, looks at internet porn for six hours every day,' 'Aleesha, 36, has spent �45,000 on cosmetic surgery and has three more procedures planned this year', and 'Pat, 75, has over 800 teapots in her house and buys another, on average, twice a week.' Our job was to decide whether or not we considered these behaviours were normal. We wrestled with our gut reactions, our prejudices, our ignorance, and came up with a variety of answers that ranged from 'pretty normal' to 'pretty abnormal', often for the same behaviours. Eventually our lecturers enlightened us. Behaviours are normal, they told us, for as long as they don't interfere with a person's family, work or social life. Once they do, THEN there's a problem. I confess myself to a modest Freecell habit. In case you're not familiar, Freecell is a solitaire game that is on most PCs and I've been surprised at how many other people admit to a secret habit themselves when I raise the subject. These kinds of games are fine for a little relaxation and brain exercise, but when they start to become more important than interacting with your partner or children, or doing your work, or doing other more productive and enjoyable things, then you have a problem. I will not go into the embarrassing details of my own addiction, but suffice to say I deleted the programme from my computer. If you do have a troublesome habit, and most of us do at some point in our lives, this is fertile ground for your inner critic. Wherever there's a habit, there's shame, and wherever there's shame there's hiding and denial, both of which protect and perpetuate the problem. But despite their bad press, habits are always there for a reason. If you imagine a human being as a Swiss cheese with a number of psychological/emotional holes, habits are designed, either consciously or subconsciously, to fill them. When you experience one of these holes, usually as a sense of lack of some kind, your system drives you to fill it. Enter nail-biting, computer games, drinking, eating, watching television, working, running, worrying, moaning, bad-mouthing, tidying, cleaning, shopping. These things make us feel better. The problem, of course, is that the relief is only transitory. In no time you need another fix, and often you need more of whatever it is to enjoy the same effect. Before long, you're addicted. The secret? Get curious about those holes! Try this: 1. Take a habit that you'd rather not have. What unwanted results are you experiencing from it? For example, if you play computer games, does it distance you from people you live with, does it stop you from doing important jobs, does it make you feel lousy about yourself? 2. Taking the important moment before you indulge in your habit, how do you feel exactly? Take a bit of time to explore the feeling. If it's a feeling of need or lack, what do you think you might be needing, and what are you afraid would happen if you didn't satisfy it? 3. When you satisfy that feeling by indulging in the habit, how do you feel then? Take time to experience how good it is, and then notice how long it lasts. 4. Give yourself some credit for taking care of yourself in this way. However destructive, the intentions are good. 5. Now, consider how you could take care of yourself more effectively. Try a little kindness to yourself, for starters. That may be all that's needed. You might try a conversation with someone close, a nice bath, a quiet sit, a walk, a sleep, a DVD, or some pleasant thoughts or memories. Remember that cravings do pass, always. Be kind to yourself and take back some control this week. Anita