The Definitive Guide to Staying Stuck in a Habit

You’d like to be painfully stuck in a habit, addiction, or compulsion?

Do you want change that feels like a tenuous, uphill battle?

You’re in the right place! I’ve felt stuck in several of my own habits and I’ve talked with thousands of people who say they are stuck in a habit or addiction themselves. I’ve seen and experienced tons of looking-over-your-shoulder, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop, completely unsustainable change.

Stuck, hopeless-feeling people tend have a few things in common in terms of how they view themselves and their habit.

I share those misunderstandings below. Here’s how to stay stuck in a habit.

1. Take ownership of your problem

The first thing you’ll want to do to stay stuck in a habit is own it.

Make it all about you.

Take it very personally. After all, you’re the one who got yourself into this mess, right? You’re choosing to carry on this way, aren’t you?

Consistently ask yourself things like:

What kind of person am I to have this issue?

Why am I so weak?

Where did this coping mechanism come from?

Assume that your habit is intimately tied to your past and dig deep to find that connection (Why? So that you can understand it and then force yourself to see it differently, I guess).

Figure out what you’re lacking and which voids your habit is trying to fill.

Look for patterns. I bet you’ve uncovered other weaknesses in yourself over the years. Revisit those, looking for themes in your inadequacy.

The more a person says ‘me’, ‘my’, or ‘mine’ when describing their habit or addiction, the more stuck and hopeless they tend to feel. Insisting on using the 3 D’s (not to be confused the with the 3Ps)—disorder, disease, or diagnosis—earns extra stuck points.

These steps will go a long way toward keeping you focused on the habit in a way that does not encourage insight or change.

2. Get serious and be very aware of the damage you’re creating

Once you’ve made this your problem, you’re going to want to look toward fixing it, of course.

So you need to get serious. No shirking responsibility. The more you see how painful, destructive, and serious this issue is, the better.

Now—this part is important: If you have any shred of compassion or forgiveness toward yourself, you’ll be far less stuck. So if you’re looking to stay stuck and hopeless, be completely cold and unforgiving.

If you overeat, calculate the weight you’re gaining, the impact on your health and relationships, and the money and time you’re spending. Remind yourself of these figures often.

If you gamble or internet surf or drink or worry, really home in on what a terrible, lazy, weak individual you must be.

I see time and time again that the more shameful and afraid people feel, the more stuck they become. This is serious stuff. If you want to stay stuck, be sure to take it very seriously.

3. Commit to massive behavior change

This one is obvious. Everyone knows that breaking habits is totally about changing your behavior.

Look toward the thing you do and keep your focus there. And then make a concrete behavioral plan for how you will not do that thing.

I was really good at this one when I was feeling stuck in my binge eating habit. I had new and improved behavior plans daily.

  • No sugar for at least 5 years. No, wait… maybe restricting sugar feels like deprivation. Okay, must have sugar every day, no exceptions.
  • Don’t be alone.
  • Don’t get too relaxed or be around people or substances that might encourage you to let your guard down.
  • Next time I want to binge I’ll go for a walk instead. Unless there’s weather, then I’ll listen to something inspirational.
  • Look at old pictures to remember how great life before this habit. Or, vividly imagine how pitiful life will be in the future if the habit continues.

Those massive behavior changes—with no accompanying insights—were excellent in keeping me stuck.

They focused all of my attention on the outward appearance of things. They made it very easy for me to make up whether I was winning or losing. And they put me on a roller coaster of excitement and hopefulness (with each new plan), followed by hopeless and depression (with each failed plan).

All of these are amazingly helpful when it comes to staying stuck.

4. Create a mental image of how change will look and don’t waiver from that

If you want to prevent change, decide ahead of time that you already know how things are going to go.

Get it in your head that your change will be quick or easy or slow or hard. That’s always good for frustration and disappointment.

Here’s something I see work like a charm. Expect what you’re calling “progress” to be linear. Decide that any sort of setback means you were fooling yourself and you’ll never change. Make sure to use words like “failure” and “relapse” a lot, and talk a lot about wagons and the numbered square you’re on.

When people equate setbacks with failure, their likelihood of feeling stuck goes through the roof.

5. Do whatever it takes

Once you make the decision to change, and you’ve created a mental picture of that change that you are unwilling to revise, do whatever it takes to bring your image to life.

Bring out the big guns. After all, you have a plan for massive behavioral action and you’re committed to it. All there is left to do is hang on for dear life.

The whiter your knuckles become, the more you want to fight. Dig in. Push through.

This is not the time to pause, reflect, or listen to any new wisdom moving through you. You’re past that now. It’s time to hunker down and make this happen the way you envisioned it happening.

Your willpower will eventually run out—that’s a given. But you’re just going to have to find more.

Because any type of setback is not in your plan, you better do this right. Perfection is a huge stuckness accelerator.

There you have it. The perfect how-to formula for staying stuck in any habit, addiction, or compulsive thought or behavior.

Make it all about you. Get serious. Be rigid and very hard on yourself. Focus only on the actions you’ll take to make change happen. Create a crystal clear idea of how change will look, and then fight like hell to bring your expectations to life without revision.

And when you run out of willpower, find more.

Of course some people—a surprising number, actually—will do some, or even all of these things, and change anyway. We can chalk that up to the fact that we’re designed to thrive and that our fundamental nature is habit-free. It takes work to go against nature.

But don’t you worry about that. The 5 steps described here will go a long way toward keep you struggling, suffering, and stuck for as long as you’re following them.

 

If you’re interested in not being stuck in a habit, addiction, or compulsion, please join me on Monday, April 16th for a free webinar called Freedom that Lasts: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit. Anyone who attends live will be in the running for a free spot in The Little School of Big Change, opening April 23rd.

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