Can People Really Change?
All of us come into contact with people whose lives and families have been torn apart by bad habits: people addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs; over-spenders, overeaters, and chronic worriers; negative thinkers, procrastinators, and people who won’t forgive themselves for something that happened long ago.
Bad habits can keep ordinary people from living happier and healthier lives. Everywhere you look, people want to know why they are unhappy. And they want to know what they can do about it. My personal addiction is sugar. I consider myself a recovering sugar junkie.
The talk shows offer a constant menu of miracle cures for every type of bad habit imaginable—everything from quick weight-loss programs to 20-minute lessons in positive thinking that promise to cure depression. We are constantly bombarded by programs that promise effortless and immediate results: Lose weight fast, while eating as much as you want! Guaranteed to work! Sure.
We are overwhelmed with solutions today. And the more solutions there are, the harder it is to find one that works. Many people have failed so many times that they’ve almost given up the battle. Others gave up a long time ago.
Establishing new priorities
Is it possible to free yourself from bad habits? Can people really change in any meaningful and lost-lasting way? Can I change myself? The answer to each of these questions is “yes.” But you can’t change in 24 hours, as some programs and self-help books promise. My own experience and common sense, tell me that anyone can change, but you need a compelling reason to change.
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to go.
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Learning how to free yourself from bad habits starts with the realization that the situation can't stay the same and that you have the power to make a major difference in your life. The moment I grasp that simple fact, I’m ready to step into the process of self-change that will lead to freedom from the habits that keep me from living a more satisfying life. And when I’m free from my bad habits, the people around me will be free from the person I used to be.
All people can bring about superficial changes in themselves. But freeing yourself from a self-destructive habit like smoking or overeating requires a deep, long-lasting change. A bad habit is like an iceberg. You can’t beat the habit if you approach it as if it were only as large as what you can see on the surface.
Franz Kafka said, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Any book or program that aims to help people break bad habits must reveal the whole iceberg that lies below the surface. Realising the effect sugar had on my anxiety levels, my energy and my ability to eat a balanced healthy diet, to keep myself well, revealed the iceberg of denial I had been living with.
You can’t eliminate the whole thing in one day, but if you take a step-by-step approach, you can eliminate the bad habit sooner than you thought possible. It is going to take effort on your part. You can’t eat whatever you want and lose weight, no matter how many times you hear it on the talk shows. But you can lose weight, and you can learn to enjoy healthy foods more than the unhealthy foods you’re eating now. Whatever your addiction, finding something worthwhile to replace it with, is a good first step to crowd your habit out of your life. In the case of sugar addiction, I found new, healthier treats to enjoy before refined sugar was banished from my taste buds.
Overeaters, smokers, and chronic procrastinators have a lot in common. We all go to great lengths to hide the truth from ourselves about the destructive nature of our bad habits; too often, lives and families are destroyed before we become aware of the verbal cages that keep us trapped in self-destructive behavior.
Does professional therapy work? Can it help people break bad habits before the habit destroys their lives? The dropout rate is astonishing: 45% of clients who seek a professional therapist drop out of therapy after two or three sessions. Committing to the process is essential to success.
Do programs help? Millions of smokers have quit forever without following a treatment program. On the other hand, many people who try a smoking-cessation program are not able to quit, no matter how many different programs they try.
Some research suggests that for every person who quits smoking by following a treatment program, there are almost twenty people who quit on their own.
What conclusion should we draw from all of this? It’s pretty clear, I think. You have a better chance of freeing yourself from a bad habit by becoming your own coach, by taking responsibility for your own program. Millions of people have succeeded in breaking a bad habit, and so can you.