I talk to smart, capable people like you every day. Their words are powerful. These people tell me they don’t know how to control their diet, they can’t stop their social media addiction or they don’t trust themselves to make decisions. They apologize for all the “bad habits” they haven’t been able to break. Yet, these are often successful professionals in recovery. They have built meaningful lives despite obstacles like overcoming addictions, betrayals or other traumas. They are resilient survivors, yet they focus on telling me everything they think they’re doing wrong with their health, habits and lives.

Words Create Habits

In repeating those kinds of statements to me and to themselves, these bright, strong people slow themselves down. They make it harder to succeed in the changes they want to make, to thrive and create the lives they want. It becomes hard work of the will to wrench themselves away from these “bad habits” and many of us know that willpower doesn’t work to free us from unhealthy behaviours. These clients have a wonderful intention to elevate their recovery, yet they become grim about enforcing a joyless new health regime on themselves, now that they have stopped acting out on their primary addictions. If you can relate to this, it’s time to harness the power of your words to reach new goals. By reframing how you talk to and about yourself, you can make it easy to transform your habits. Here’s how to do it.

1. Notice What You’re Saying

Try this mindful speech practice to become aware of the statements you repeat about your own value and habits. Begin your day with the intention of noticing what you say about your own worth, wisdom and capacity to change. There’s no need to do anything different yet. Write about it in your journal, ask your Higher Power to help you become aware of your “self-talk” or spend a few moments reflecting on your intention to simply notice these unconscious statements today. Jot down a note or make a voice memo on your cell phone when you notice these stories popping up during the day to help you remember them later.

2. Question the Story to Change the Habits

After a few days, you’ll begin to notice some common threads. You’ll gain insight into the typical stories you tell yourself and others about who you are. Once you identify the patterns, you can examine them and decide if they are useful. For instance, if you tend to repeat statements like, “I just don’t like myself very much” or “The only thing that calms my cravings is sugar,” ask yourself if it’s useful to think that way. Does it help you achieve your goals or feel good about yourself? When you repeat those words, do they help you connect more meaningfully with others? Are they helping you move toward creating the life you want to live? If the answers are no, it’s time to go deeper.

3. Go Deeper

Often, there’s a painful emotion linked underneath the habit of repeating those stories. It may be fear (“I needed the wine to relax now that I don’t drink, I’m not any fun”), grief (“There’s so much bitter sadness in me, I just want to stuff myself with something sweet like cake or cookies and try to block it out”) or some other feeling. When you identify the underlying emotion, you can begin to heal the pain beneath the habit. This must be done from a place of caring, or it won’t work. If it begins to seem like you’re beating yourself up, get a friend, sponsor or coach to support you in your courageous exploration.

4. Play Nicely

It’s true warrior’s work to allow yourself to go that deep – but you may be in the habit of berating yourself for having those kinds of feelings! So it’s important to bring as much kindness as possible to whatever you discover. Ask yourself, “What would help heal this pain in me?”, but with an attitude of gentle curiosity. Honour what you learn by actually practicing what your inner wisdom suggests. You might place your hands on your belly and heart whilst taking slow deep breaths, say a prayer, create a drawing or dance, or practice self-compassion meditation. Remind yourself that you’re learning to care for yourself better. There’s no right or wrong answer, so play around to discover what truly soothes you.

5. Rewrite the Story of Your Habits

Having spent some time getting to know what drives your habits, you can now choose a different story to tell. Take a paper and pen and draft different, empowered versions of the statements you usually make. Then commit to replacing the old thoughts when they arise, even if it feels a bit awkward at first. Practice taking actions toward the positive changes you want without apologizing for how “bad” you are. Great news here – this will make your efforts more effective! For instance, if your goal is to eat a more balanced diet, commit to stop saying, “My diet is terrible, I just can’t take care of myself.” Consciously shift to, “I’m learning how to eat in a more nourishing way. I’m taking care of myself so I feel happy, healthy and high-energy!” Which version is more empowering? Which one creates more momentum and excitement about taking action? I think you know the answer!

When you become aware of your habits of inner and outer speech, pay careful attention to the underlying feelings and then consciously replace unhelpful statements and thoughts with more useful, positive ones, you create new possibilities. You empower yourself with a clearer perspective on what helps you and what holds you back. By fully expressing your recovery through every facet of your life, you become ever-more able to help others who still suffer. Changing your habits becomes easy, enjoyable and sustainable, because your new actions align with your words. Building on a foundation of recovery, awareness, kindness, and choice can help you tell your transformation story as it’s happening.

Drop me a comment or email letting me know how you go with this practice to change your habits. I can’t wait to hear your story!

Author

Lulu Cook is a dietitian and health counsellor specializing in mental health, food addiction, and habit change. She is the author of the Complete Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners, and teaches mindfulness in community groups and in women’s prisons. She had no idea when she first began her path of recovery 2 decades ago that life could be so full, rich, and rewarding, and that recovery itself could mean so much more than just “not giving in” to craving one day at a time

2 Comments

  1. Thank you. This I know in my heart, will be a life-changing thing to do. I greatly appreciate your time and effort to provide these insights.
    My very best.

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