So. Over. It.
Everyone has at least a couple of things — that spirit-sucking job, a toxic friendship or a personal habit (thinking things to death or snarfing sugar like it’s about to be criminalized, for example) — that they’d like to put behind them. It’s not a newsflash, but change, whether it’s a tiny tweak or a major shift, is hard. It just is.
Change can be difficult because the reasons we engage in many of our habitual behaviors are often outside of our conscious awareness, says Wendy Wood. Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of Southern California and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits. The science behind why you keep repeating this habit or behavior “doesn’t have anything to do with whether you want to do it,” she explains.
Rather, we have automatic reactions to little cues we’re not aware of (like biting your nails whenever you drive); to certain contexts (movies = Twizzlers, even if they’re stale); or your life is set up in a way that it’s just too easy to keep doing the thing you’re trying to stop (your problematic friend lives next door and you see her all the time — there just isn’t enough “friction,” as Wood calls it, to give you a chance to make a different decision).
“Especially when we’re distracted, tired or trying to do something quickly, we all fall back on the habitual response,” she explains.
But because we keep “failing” at our resolutions to quit whatever it is, we rationalize our failures, which only keeps us even more stuck. “People say, ‘I must have really wanted to do it,’ or ‘It’s what I’ve always done so it must be the right thing,’” adds Wood. Those little stories we tell ourselves, plus the fact that familiarity (say, in a sucky job), can feel safer than an unknown future. It can make quitting something — even if you really, really want to — super tough.
That’s why we’re here: To help get you out of stuck mode. “Your environment is encouraging the behaviors you’ve repeated in the past, even after you’ve made a decision to change. Being aware of that can help you rethink things and figure out what is in this environment that is keeping me doing this?” says Wood.
Dive into this Good Housekeeping guide to learn more, and bid adieu to the things that are no longer serving you.