Super motivation is much more difficult to achieve when we are held back mentally by bad habits. Trying to move toward the life we want while dragging along our bad habits was described in the Scottish rock group Del Amitri’s song lyrics, “It’s like driving with the brakes on, it’s like swimming with your boots on…”
But here’s the catch: Bad habits simply cannot be broken. Nor can they be gotten rid of. Ask the millions who continue to try. They always end up, in the words of Richard Brautigan, “trying to shovel mercury with a pitchfork,” because our bad habits exist for good reasons. They’re thereto do something for us, even if that something ends up being self-destructive. Down deep, even a bad habit is trying to make us operate better.
People who smoke are trying, even through their addiction, to do something beneficial—perhaps to breathe deeply and relax. Such breathing is needed to balance stress, so their smoking is a way in which they are trying to make themselves better. Bad habits are like that—they are based on a perceived benefit. That’s why they’re so hard to just “get rid of.”
That’s why habits must be respected and understood before they can be transformed. What created the habit must be built upon, not killed. We must go to the beneficial impulse that drives the habit, and then expand on that to make the habit grow from something bad into some thing good.
Let’s take drinking as an example. I’ve known people who used to be drunk all the time who are now sober all the time. How did they do it?Couldn’t we just say that they just got rid of their drinking habit? Not really. Because, without exception, the recovered people I know replaced their drinking with something else.
Taking all of one’s courage, relaxation, and spirituality from a bottle of alcohol is a very damaging habit. But to simply eliminate it leads to even worse problems: shakes, DTs, fear, dread, paranoia. A total void.People who join Alcoholics Anonymous, however, replace their “false courage”—once found in a bottle of alcohol—with real courage found in the meeting rooms of AA. The completely artificial sense of spirituality formerly found in a tumbler of spirits is replaced by the true and deeply personal spirituality found in working the 12-step program of enlightenment. The superficial but highly emotional relationships the alcoholic had made in his favorite bars are replaced by real friendships.Replacement is powerful because it works, and where bad habits are concerned it’s the only thing that works. I’ve known people who quit smoking without intending to. They took up running, or some form of regular aerobic exercise, and soon the breathing and relaxation they were getting from the exercise made the smoking feel bad to their bodies. They quit smoking because they had introduced a replacement.
People who diet have the same experience. It isn’t staying away from fattening food that works—it’s introducing a regular diet of delicious, healthy food that works. It’s replacement.Subconsciously you don’t think your bad habits are bad! And that’s because they’re filling a perceived need. So the way to strength then yourself is to identify the need and honor it. Honor the need by replacing the current habit with one that is healthier and more effective. Replace one habit, and soon you’ll be motivated to replace another.