It’s never too late to break a bad habit

  • Col DS Cheema (retd), Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 18, 2014 12:10 IST

The question “Can I try to replace my bad habits with good ones even at this age?” has bothered me for quite some time. I think almost all senior citizens face this dilemma. We have realised since we were categorised as seniors that our conduct and behaviour have undergone drastic changes. Others with whom we interact feel elders are impatient and get angry without any provocation; they tend to present unintelligent and, sometimes, stupid arguments, pass judgement on issues with incomplete information at the drop of a hat and develop an inflated ego.

Most of us think this is something nothing can be done about and we have to live with these undesirable habits the rest of our lives. If you are one of those who feel bad habits cannot be replaced with good ones or more acceptable behaviour, read on.

To fall into a habit is to stop living a full life as anyone under the control of any habit, good or bad, starts performing only programmed activities and creativity takes a back seat. Unfortunately, most of us live a programmed life and, over a period of time, habits degenerate into an addiction like alcoholism, and living becomes merely a process of obeying the dictates of such habits, leaving one feel helpless in being able to do anything to control them.

However, there are many ways to get rid of such addictions, but all need commitment, patience, discipline and the willingness to get better. Fortunately for us an addiction can be cured at any age. We can find an appropriate solution to the problem if we understand the anatomy of habit formation.

According to Charles Duhigg, a well-known habit formation expert, strong habits are formed through the process of a trigger that initiates a good or bad habit, a particular behaviour because of that trigger and the reward that a person expects from such a behaviour.

For example, someone who is addicted to drinking would also have gone through the same three steps.

If that person wants to get rid of this habit, he must focus on avoiding the trigger in the first place. He should not keep liquor at home, cancel his club membership, go for a walk in the evening, take a shower and have dinner by 8, not visit friends who drink regularly and - most important - get involved in doing something constructive that keeps him busy. And, of course, his family members and well-wishers must support him in all this. The idea is that his craving for drinking, which is his expected reward from drinking, must be replaced with some other reward like the company of a loved one, celebrating an event of his like, watching an entertaining TV programme or meeting an old friend.

Well, go ahead and make an effort!

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