Let’s get serious about our habits

Bob Hatcher

                Getting serious about our habits is important.  And usually when a person has success it has been an inside job.

                Think about your habits.  Some are good leading to joy, self-respect, and happiness or to becoming a healthier person. Celebrate those habits.  Reach back and pat yourself on the back occasionally for your good habits. Don’t take them for granted for a minute. Try to figure out how you came to have your good habits and consider thanking a person who may have influenced to develop a habit that you are particularly pleased with.

                Always be asking yourself if there are other good habits you want to have become a part of your pattern of living. You definitely can learn new tricks.

                Here are some really good habits: regular exercise, avoiding too much salt and too many sweets, expressing love and gratitude, hugs, living in the now, reading good books, doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, buckling up before turning on the ignition and recycling. One friend told me that a good habit she likes is “walking for an hour every weekday morning from 8 to 9 with a neighbor whose husband is undergoing cancer treatment.”

                Every single one of us also has bad habits as well – habits leading to embarrassment, poor health, financial loss, or shame.  Bad habits may be repeated infrequently or over and over again. And as a bad habit becomes ingrained into a person’s pattern of living it becomes very difficult to discard.

                Some particularly bad habits are driving while drunk, text messaging while driving, cheating on exams, throwing trash out of the car window, overeating, smoking or consistently arriving late.  Procrastination is a bad habit shared by many of us as we exaggerate how difficult a task will be (only to find it easier than expected to complete if we would just get on with it).   

                A friend has recently lost lots of weight after years of trying with little success. Oh, she would lose weight, but then she would backslide and very quickly the weight would reappear.  The unwanted fat would be back. The unhappy feelings would resurface. She said that the phrase “let’s get serious” helped her greatly over the past year or so. She decided that she would really have to get serious about losing weight and she did. 

                To change a really bad habit that has been repeated hundreds or thousands of times is hard work. Changing habits is hard work.  Say these words 100 times.  Changing habits is hard work.  And after 100 times you will probably need to say it 100 more times to fully understand the nature of the task ahead of you. When change does happen it is usually the result of an inside job. In some instances when it does happen, it is almost a miracle. 

Certainly do not count very much on your doctor to make help you change your habit for with some magic drug or written pamphlet. Whereas physicians should be empathetic helpful, and supportive of their patients efforts to eliminate harmful habits, more often than not they are impatient, frustrated, unsympathetic, judgmental or even angry. 

If we need to change a habit that is causing us harm, most of the time this effort is going to have to be an inside job.

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH
Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Georgia