THE BLOG
09/18/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Give Up Giving Up

Do you find yourself wanting to change a particular behavior or habit? But notice yourself returning to it time and time again.

2014-09-16-Overcomingharmfulhabit.jpgIf you do, then don't despair. Two psychologists, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, came up with a model of how people change harmful habits that may help you. They found that when people set about changing a particular habit, like smoking, they don't always succeed the first time around -- instead, they found that relapse is common and forms part of their overall model of change

The people who finally succeed in quitting are the ones who see relapse not as the end game and think, "Oh well that's it, I tried, it didn't work -- that's the end of that." Instead they see relapse as a step on the way towards permanent change. For them, it is an opportunity to learn from what didn't work and to move on from it.

Figuring out what didn't work typically involves some kind of investigation, usually starting with a question: "How come, if I really want to give up smoking, I'm back smoking again this afternoon? What's that about?" When I asked myself this question, back in the day, I discovered that my resolution to quit just wasn't strong enough. "What do I need to do to make my need to quit stronger?" I asked myself. "Smoking is bad for my health, right? How bad?" If I knew how much damage cigarettes were doing to me, would that skew my thinking more in favor of quitting? I decided to give it a try. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the effects of smoking. (Now I'd just Google it). I'm talking here about smoking, but this approach can be applied just as easily to other harmful habits.

Three weeks later, I was ready to quit again. This time, instead of giving up on Monday morning and smoking again on Monday afternoon, I got to Friday evening. Going to the pub after work on Friday was the hurdle that brought me down, this next time. After I'd had a couple of drinks, I had convinced myself that I could have just one cigarette, just one and I wouldn't smoke again. I don't have to tell you that the "just one" approach didn't work out too well for me. It was time to go back to the drawing board again. This time, I figured that if I was to quit smoking for good, then I needed to give up going to the pub after work on Fridays. The no pub on Fridays rule worked. Finally, I had nailed it. I was off cigarettes and haven't gone back on them since -- nor have I had any desire to go back. In fact the opposite has been the case.

Shortly after I gave up, I had a dream that I was back smoking and woke up in a terrible state of angst, thinking that the dream was real. This dream showed me just how far I'd come -- smoking had become a "dangerous" activity and one that needed to be avoided, at all costs. Oh and by the way, I can go to the pub now and have a couple of drinks and never, ever think about smoking.

How about you? What have you learned from your past attempts at giving up that could help you to succeed in the future?

I'd love to hear from you. You can leave a comment above or on my website here.