How to break "bad" habits.
I loved a man last fall. I loved him hard. In fact, even though I was married for five years before I met him, I’d say this man was my first real love. The love I had for him was deeper and sharper than any I ever had for my now ex-husband.
And last fall this man loved me, too – or so he said he did – until his life got hard and he bailed. Like disappeared for months without any sort of explanation. Not even a courtesy text telling me thanks but no thanks. In May, he reappeared after five months with a let-down of a “hi” over text.
Over the next two months he played games with me, only he never told me the rules. He’d make a move, usually with a middle-of-the-night text asking if I was up. Sometimes I’d respond to his text and it would kick-off a flirty, sweet exchange in which he’d use my nickname and tell me all the dirty things he wanted to do with me.
Other times I’d respond to his text and get the cold shoulder. If he even responded at all – and plenty of times he didn’t – it would be a one-word “Correct” or “No.” One time, he even responded to a booty call text with a link to a newspaper article. His contradictory behavior was confusing to say the least.
Two weeks ago we finally saw each other. There was flirting. There was talk of a trip to California. There was sex in the back seat of his car. There was the promise of more to come. Unsurprisingly, “more” never came. What did come was silence.
I asked him to coffee. Silence. I booty-called him over text. Silence. I apologize for the inappropriate booty-text. Silence. My humiliation, shame (and confusion) mounted. I was sooooo disappointed in myself for texting him even though I knew better! It was a fail-fail situation. Not only did I fail to hold his attention, I couldn’t even control my own impulses.
I was feeling pretty bad about it until I read a passage in a book – a book not about romantic relationships, by the way – that totally let me off the hook. The book, Mind Over Money, proposed a novel explanation for why I keep (I’m going to say “keep” instead of “kept” because I’ll probably do it again) texting this man even though I know better: there is an underlying issue I haven’t addressed. It said that in order to stop the behavior, I have to address the issue.
Oh, there are underlying issues alright – like too many to name – but the one that prompts the errant texting is that I never got closure with him. Not the first time. Not this last time. All he would have had to do is respond to the text with an, “I’m sorry but I can’t,” and I would know that he and I will never have a future.
Instead, I’m left with a confusing series of mixed messages and an (irritating) instinct to justify his behavior and continue to hold hope. It’s like I keep texting him looking for him to definitively cut me off for good, because without that I just can’t get over him.
I don’t think sloppy texting is always about underlying issues, but for me with him it is. Simply gaining the understanding about why I keep doing it - and it's not because I'm a failure - gave me more power to stop. This man is never going to give me what I want from him, so I might as well stop asking.
Sloppy texting isn't the only thing I keep doing despite knowing better. I also spend money I don't have, and stay up too late for my early schedule. How about you? Do you have any habits that you just can't seem to break even though you want to? Even though you know breaking them is better for you?
If you do, and you’re feeling bad about it, stop. It’s not your fault. It’s the underlying cause’s fault. Second, to give yourself any hope of stopping, you’ll have to figure out the underlying cause. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Maybe you overspend because you have a low sense of self-worth and you think that adorable pair of ankle boots – the pair so cute none could rival it - will finally make you cool. (Okay, that’s why I overspend.)
Maybe you over-eat, over-drink or over-spend (or all three!) because you are looking for ways to numb the pain of depression, anxiety or hopelessness.
Maybe you skip the gym because you don’t really believe it will make a difference. In other words, you don’t believe in your own ability to affect change in your life.
Whatever it is that you keep doing, pay attention next time it happens to what’s running through your mind. You might have to dig down a little, but somewhere inside of you is a stubborn underlying cause or three.
If you can figure out what they are, you can either try to address them directly – therapy, for example – or at least just become aware that they’re responsible for your behavior. It has been my experience that sometimes awareness alone is enough to affect change.