Carol the Coach: You can Break the Habit

Most everyone suffers from a habit that they wish would “mysteriously disappear.”  Women commonly complain that they have tried to break a habit several times with little or no success.  Habit disorders include: smoking, using drugs or alcohol regularly, gambling, pornography, sex, compulsive shopping, or overeating. Women complain that they do not have control over their habit and instead, see their habit controlling them. 

A habit is an acquired behavior that becomes so ingrained that it develops into an automatic, sometimes unconscious, behavior.  The habit has usually affected not only my client, but a loved one as well.   

Most women complain that they feel great guilt or remorse after they engage in “the habit.”  The bad feelings create a vicious cycle of tension, which triggers another episode. They explain that the tension can only be relieved when they reengage in the habit.  Is there a habit that you have wanted to change?  

Interventions to Break the Habit

Record your behaviors before, during, and after you engage in the habit.  Create a habit diary where you record how you felt before you went out shopping, while you were actively shopping and an hour after you returned from shopping.  List how many times a day, week, or month you shop and at what time of the day the event occurred.  

Do you shop out of boredom or when you are angry with the kids?  Are you most likely to “get even” by shopping or shopping when you’re lonely?  It’s important to identify the reason/feeling so that you can choose an alternative for the habit.  Never blame someone else for your habit.  It is clearly your responsibility to manage your emotions and behaviors.   

A second intervention may entail sharing the severity of your habit with another person.  Oftentimes it can help to discuss your issue with a nonjudgmental person.  It relieves you of the “secret” and can help hold you accountable.   

Stay away from trigger situations.  If coupons in the paper trigger a strong desire to shop, you may need to avoid reading the paper and get your news online.  If an argument with your spouse triggers a visit to the neighborhood pub, you may want to have a backup plan like going to a gym or calling a friend who would be able to help you talk to you about your anger so that you don’t medicate it with alcohol.   

If you have developed the habit of going into your home office after dinner to get lost in the internet, you’ll need to move the computer to a visible site to discourage you from isolating yourself.  For most people, breaking a habit involves using a variety of interventions simultaneously to interrupt the behavioral pattern.  Some other interventions might include:

  • Creating a list of activities, substitutions, or healthy choices for the habit
  • Keeping a record of your successes so that you can view your progress
  • Asserting yourself when a family member or friend encourages you to partake in the behavior
  • Rewarding yourself on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis when you have abstained from your habit.  Rewards can be a symbol of change and a substitution for old behaviors. 

Now be patient with your change and recognize that there might be setbacks, but setbacks hold a lot of valuable information from which you can learn.   If you are having trouble mastering the habit…get some help.  Use available resources, relevant literature, attend support groups, or seek professional help.  

Carol Juergensen Sheets, LCSW PCC is a psychotherapist and personal life coach. SHe does motivational speaking and empowerment trainings locally and nationally. To find out more about her services, contact her at or call her at 317-218-3479. You can watch Carol the Coach segments on WTHR's Channel 13 Wednesdays at 12:50PM.