“Anyone who learns that he can choose his own feelings and words and actions is a free person and a powerful person.”
— Ernst G. Beier
When you move from stage 5 to stage 6, you’ve broken the habit forever. In this stage the bad habit is no longer a threat. It will never return.
Professional therapists call this stage termination. Some therapists believe that termination is impossible. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its members that they can never be free of the threat of a relapse. In other words, the best they can hope for is a lifetime of successful maintenance, which means that they can expect to spend the rest of their lives fighting the urge to have a drink.
There is a better way: I know that termination is possible, because I was as addicted to nicotine as alcoholics are to alcohol, and I freed myself from cigarettes forever.
I don’t want to make it sound easy, because it isn’t. But it is possible to break bad habits forever.
We tend to get the results that we expect to get. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported some interesting findings on the attitudes and expectations of cancer patients.
The researchers studied the relationship between prayer and improvement in the condition of cancer patients. The study concluded that the prayers of other people didn’t seem to have any bearing on the condition of the patients in the study.
But the attitude of the patients themselves had a very strong bearing on their chances for surviving cancer. The researchers found that, all other things being equal, a patient’s chances for surviving cancer depend in large part on his belief that he is going to get well.
This is not the first study to reach this conclusion, and it won’t be the last. Such studies only confirm what many doctors have known for a long time: Our thoughts and expectations can help make us well, or they can make us sick. Scientists are beginning to gather a lot of research data that suggests that people can literally worry themselves to death.
The point is this: If you think you will have to spend the rest of your life fighting the urge to go back to your old habit, you probably will. Not because you can’t be free of the problem, but because the way you view the problem forces you to stay focused on your old behavior.
By refocusing on the benefits of your new lifestyle, you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I agree with the basic premise of AA: Eliminating the old problem requires a long, hard struggle. The point is that you don’t have to eliminate it. It’s much easier to replace it with something better.
Freedom from bad habits comes when you replace the old behavior with a new lifestyle. I have always wondered why AA doesn’t focus less on controlling its members’ urge to drink and more on helping them build a new lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of exercise.
AA is right about one thing: Overconfidence is a danger in stage 5. Telling yourself that you can handle one drink, or one cigarette, or one piece of chocolate cake is one of the major causes of relapses. So how do you know when the war is over?
The difference between stage 5 and stage 6 is a difference between still changing and already changed. People in stage 5 are struggling to make and maintain changes in their life. The struggle can go on for years, or forever. People in stage 6 have successfully changed their lifestyle.
How do you know when you’re really free of a bad habit, forever? Look for these three signs. When you find all three in the new you, you can be sure that you’ve broken the old habit forever:
1. You have a new self-image. Successful self-changers talk about “owning the change.” When they reach stage 6, they feel that they’ve “made the change theirs.” In other words, they now see themselves as the new person that is living the new lifestyle. One day I stopped thinking of myself as an “ex-smoker.” It may seem like a superficial difference, but it isn’t. Once I started thinking of myself as a nonsmoker instead of an ex-smoker, I knew that there had been a deep and lasting change in my self-image. At that moment I knew the problem would never return.
2. You no longer feel tempted in any situation. You no longer have to make an effort. If half the people in a meeting are smoking, you have a legitimate complaint—and a real problem if one of the smokers is the owner of the company—but you aren’t the least bit tempted to join them. That’s a sure sign that you’re free at last.
3. You have real confidence in your power of choice. You know that you live better without the old behavior. You enjoy your healthier lifestyle. Nothing could make you go back to your old habit. Social pressure is no longer a threat. You no longer have to drink with the boys to feel like a man, and you no longer have to go on a spending spree to feel that your life is complete.
David Lucero is still stuck on the street across from the Greyhound bus station. I hope he’ll be ready to get in the pickup truck soon. For now, he is still waiting for an imaginary ride to a place and time that only exist in his imagination. He still can’t make a choice based on what he needs to do today.
If you have come to the realization that you’re stuck in a self-defeating lifestyle, you have already taken the first step in the cycle of self-change. You have started to become aware of the need to change in some area of your life.
Whatever it is, remember that you can free yourself of it. It will take time, but you have already taken the hardest step by consciously recognizing the problem. Now start working on your plan. Use this report as a step-by-step guide. Don’t try to skip any of the stages—it won’t work if you do.
Believe that you can create a happier, healthier lifestyle. As you move through the stages of self-change, always remember what psychologist Ernst G. Beier discovered about the process of freeing yourself from bad habits: “Anyone who learns that he can choose his own feelings and words and actions is a free person and a powerful person.”
When you win the battle in your mind, it’s only a matter of time before you win the war against bad habits.
· If you need to talk to a professional, contact the American Association of Christian Counselors. AACC has a national network of professional people-helpers. To find a certified counselor in your area, visit http://www.aacc.net/resources/find-a-counselor.
Or call AACC at their toll-free number: 1-800-526-8673.
· Helping others change their lives is one of the best ways to change yourself. To make a donation to Feed the Children, visit http://www.feedthechildren.org.
There are literally hundreds of books on the topic of “how to break bad habits.” These two stand head and shoulders above the rest:
· Changing for Good: The Revolutionary Program That Explains the Six Stages of Change and Teaches You How to Free Yourself from Bad Habits, by James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente.