Friday, August 4, 2023

Three things I've learned about getting rid of bad habits and instilling new ones

Who here knows why we have a picture of Ed Sheeran at the top of this post?

There was a period of about 15 years from the mid-2000s until late 2021 when I was addicted to nose drops. I've blogged about it before.

In case you're not familiar, nose drops are nasal spray that, rather than being forcefully shot up your nose, are instead drizzled into your nostrils via what is essentially an eyedropper. They have the same chemical composition as nasal spray, and thus they have the same potential to cause what is known medically as "rebound congestion."

Rebound congestion is when you become dependent on nose drops/spray to breathe clearly. There was a time when I was pouring nose drops into my sinuses seven or eight times a day every day, just so I wouldn't feel stuffy. It's a frustrating physical (and somewhat mental) addiction.

I briefly broke the habit for a few months in 2015, but as I recall, I picked up a minor cold at some point that year and went right back to using them. And I continued using them nonstop for another six years.

It wasn't until November 2021, when my son Jared and I were on a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and the local CVS was out of nose drops, that I entered my second recovery period. I couldn't get my hands on any, so I went without and allowed myself to be stuffy and miserable for a couple of weeks before things eventually cleared up and I could breathe again on my own without pharmaceutical assistance.

I have not touched a bottle of nose drops in the 21 months since. I've had a stuffy nose a couple of times, but I've just lived with it rather than dropping $10 a week (sometimes more) on liquid phenylephrine hydrochloride.

I can't guarantee I'll never again be dependent on nose drops in order to breathe, but to the extent I can feel "cured," I do. It gets easier and easier as time goes on.

I use this as an example of a bad habit I've overcome in my life. There are a few others, though thankfully none have involved illegal substances. I can't speak to that sort of addiction.

What I can say is that I've learned at least three things when it comes to dropping bad habits and picking up new ones. Maybe these will resonate with you:

(1) You're probably going to fail, and that's OK.
As someone with an all-or-nothing personality, my tendency when I experience failure is to throw in the towel. If I can't be perfect, I sometimes give up. This makes shedding bad habits that much more difficult. Whatever you're trying to stop yourself from doing, you would be a rare individual if you didn't stumble a time or two. Or three. Or more. You're likely to regress, at least a little, but so what? Get back up and start over. Then start over again if you have to. And start over a third time if necessary. Unless it's something life-threatening, there's no timeline for success here. Keep at it.

(2) Know yourself, know your motivations.
I talk all the time about the fact that I'm a checklist guy. I like to put stuff on a list, accomplish it, and check it off. For many years I tried to become an everyday Bible reader, but I would usually miss a few days for whatever reason and then quit trying. I'm now coming up on nearly a year of reading the Bible every morning, and one of the reasons is a simple, somewhat silly one: Each day when I finish my reading, I check a box. That's it, I just check a little box. I love checking that box. Even if I'm short on time in the morning before work, I'll get my reading in just to check that box. BUT...what I noticed is that, over time, I fell in love with the text more than the checks. I no longer read to earn a checkmark, I read to grow my faith, which a much better reason for Bible reading than simply completing a task. I knew myself and I knew that, at the outset anyway, the daily checkmark would help. It did.

(3) I realize this is cliché, but it's usually a one-day-at-a-time thing.
Whether you're picking up a new habit or dropping an old one, all that matters is how you go at it today. If, for example, you're trying to lose weight and have a work trip coming up that's going to make it challenging to eat healthy, that shouldn't be your focus right now. Your focus today is today. It's what strategies you're going to use to regulate your food intake and make good choices between now and bedtime. The vacation or work trip will take care of itself when you get there. It's fine to plan it out a little in advance, but don't lose your focus or motivation when it comes to today. Long-term success is sometimes little more than an accumulation of small daily wins. Trust me when I tell you, you've got this today. And that's all that matters.

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