The Secret to Keeping Good Habits

The four 'A's are key: Abstinence. Accountability. Action. Awareness.

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As a recovering addict, I admit that I have several bad habits, such as working too long on the computer, staying up too late and eating junk food (to name a few). However, I’ve been able to get some control over bad habits and stick to good ones by following “the Four ‘A’s”:

#1: Abstinence

First, you have to realise what it is the bad habit you need to avoid?

If you want to go to bed earlier, but find that you can’t because you’re playing games on your phone or using social media until 3 AM, then perhaps it’s time to cut them out altogether.

In 12 Step recovery, there’s a concept called “bottom lines”, which are destructive addictive behaviours you refrain from at all costs. Your bottom line might be that you will not go to bed past midnight.

Then there are “middle lines”; accessory behaviours which you want to avoid as they may lead you into trouble. If you’re trying to go to bed before 11 PM, then the middle line behaviour might be using a computer after 10 PM, because it may cause you to stay up late working or using Facebook.

And then there are “top lines”, which are positive behaviours. This might include taking a shower before bed, following a bedtime routine, dimming the lights after 10 PM, and so forth.

Refraining from a vice completely gives you more freedom as you don’t need to worry about controlling its usage and letting it spiral out of control. Unfortunately, many addictions get progressively worse until breaking point.

#2: Accountability

One of my struggles is getting to bed at a reasonable time. My brain prefers to be doing things, whether it’s writing, reading, watching YouTube, etc.

So, I have a “Bed Time Buddy”; someone who I text when I’m going to bed, and vice versa. We do this to be mindful of what time we’re going to bed, and to motivate each other to get to bed on time.

In 12 Step recovery, you regularly check-in with your sponsor (a type of mentor in the programme) and you are accountable to them for maintaining sobriety from your bottom lines.

Having someone who you are accountable to for your bottom and top lines will help to keep you motivated and focused on sticking to the good habits.

#3: Action

It’s all well and good to read articles about good habits, but the last and most important step is action. What actions can you take to help reinforce your good habit?

For example, if you want to:

– Lose weight and eat healthier, then start logging meals using MyFitnessPal
– Spend more mindfully, then install the OnTrees money tracking app
– Go to bed earlier, use Flux or iOS Night Shift so blue light doesn’t keep you awake
– Take more breaks when using a computer, then install Time Out to remind you
– Stop an addictive behaviour but can’t, then attend a 12 Step meeting

Have a think about the actions you can take to support your healthy habits.

#4: Awareness

The final piece of the puzzle is to try and be mindfully aware of your actions and behaviours so that you don’t slip back into the unhealthy and unconscious bad behaviours. Constantly check-in with yourself to see what your physiological needs are and try to avoid HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). When your basic needs aren’t met, that is when you are most likely to slip back into unhealthy habits.

Often, we use unhealthy habits to self-medicate difficult feelings. Next time you feel like eating a pint of ice cream or binging on Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, et al, try calling a friend or someone supportive to talk through your feelings. Perhaps you just need a hug and a chat.

Conclusion: it’s hard work

Keeping good habits (and avoiding bad ones) can be very hard work, especially when trying to do it alone.

Many of us know what healthy habits are, and there is more advice than ever available on them. The problem is sticking to them and not self-sabotaging yourself.

Don’t berate yourself if you fail to keep stick to a good habit. Keep trying and don’t give up. Shaming yourself will probably most likely make you want to use more bad habits to feel better!

Why do you self-sabotage?

I occasionally write about habits and addiction. You might be interested to read my article about why you can’t stick to good habits and why we self-sabotage.


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