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Breaking Bad

  1. 1. 100 | NEIGHBORHOOD SEEN • April 2016 » FEATURE How Long Does It Take To Make Or Break A Habit? While Bloomfield Hills psychotherapist and life coach Pamela Vaughan ( says it takes a minimum of 28 days to break a habit, author Jeremy Dean notes in his book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t and How to Make Any Change Stick, it takes 66 days to form a good habit, though “anything hard” is likely to take longer. Whether you are breaking an old habit or establishing a healthier one, Vaughan says it’s OK to falter. “If you mess up at day 14, don’t start over. Just do the next right thing and kick it off again tomorrow.” A fter a day of classes at Michigan State University that only a stuffy British accountant might enjoy, I often rewarded myself with a deep- fried cinnamon bagel from Bagel Fragel, coffee and a cigarette. Let the good times roll, eh? Though I was forced to give up the Fragel after I graduated, I continued to smoke, stinking up a small advertising agency as an entry-level employee and then my very own office at the Downtown Detroit headquarters of a large computer company. I gave nary a thought to quitting, until a co-worker brought to my attention the incongrui- ty of it all when I lit up. “You don’t look like someone who would smoke.” I don’t? I really enjoyed the habit, but she had a point: I had a certain rose-colored innocence. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a smoker after all. That led me down a path of quitting — but only after several attempts — and a subsequent weight gain that led me down another path, one of lifelong exercise. So it seemed I was a creature of habit, and that I eventually replaced a bad one with a good one. Even so, I have since acquired habits I should probably reconsider: Netflix, a daily dose of anything-with-choc- olate-or-caramel and decaf, skinny, vanilla lattes from Starbucks. Oh, well. We can’t all be perfect. HOW PESKY HABITS FORM “They develop in response to a neg- ative feeling, an itch that needs to be scratched,” says Ron Samarian, M.D., Royal Oak Beaumont’s chief of the De- partment of Psychiatry and chairman of Psychiatry at Oakland University’s William Beaumont School of Med- icine. “They get reinforced because they reward the rewards center in the brain.” Once the habit is established, thanks to the relief it likely provides, it “results in a well-worn [neural] path that is difficult to deviate from,” Samarian adds. Whether they are good or bad, habits also “protect us from decision fatigue,” Jeremy Dean says in his book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t and How to Make Any Change Stick. Doing without thinking saves time — that’s what makes habits so attractive in our time-strapped world — and so hard to give up. HOW TO BREAK HABITS The first step is awareness, even if it takes a nudge from a spouse, or, ahem, a co-worker. “Once the dependency is formed, the individual doesn’t always see it. Other people see it first,” says Bloom- field Hills psychotherapist Pamela Vaughan. “It’s only in the state of awareness that we can begin to dissect what we are doing wrong and formu- late a plan to change the behavior.” Understanding the root cause is important, too. “If I’m biting my nails out of insecurity, it would be helpful to work on that in parallel. Otherwise, the habit is likely to return,” Samarian says. For the Netflix-addicted amongst us (ahem, ahem), “Why do we come home and watch TV?” Vaughan says. “If the person really thinks about it, [they might conclude] ‘Well, I just want to numb out from my crazy day. It’s my coping mechanism.’” If the goal is to watch two hours of TV daily instead of four, then knowing why we watch makes the transition easier. So does defining the benefit of a new, better habit: more time with Break ing Bad You can conquer your bad habits! By Pam Houghton Pamela Vaughan Paul Carey Ron Samarian, M.D. Continued on page 102
  2. 2. 102 | NEIGHBORHOOD SEEN • April 2016 » FEATURE Continued from page 100 family or on hobbies, for instance. The amount of time it takes to break the habit is extremely variable, Samarian adds. Some people can stop cold turkey, while others require gradual change. Vaughan favors gradual change, noting that an all- at-once approach can overwhelm. “If you change your behavior just a smidgeon, you’ll get a different result.” Eating habits are ripe for starting small. “What can you change with ease?” Vaughan asks. “Maybe you can’t give up your afternoon latte right away, but you can give up your morning donut. Give up something you know you’re going to succeed at so that you can feel the success,” which builds self-control. Eventually, you’re more likely to give up the latte, too. The most important thing is to make the change a priority, Samarian says. “Otherwise, it becomes an in- convenience that gets tossed aside.” Several ways to do that include writing it down, telling others of your commitment or putting obstacles in the way. “When you feel anxiety about jumping into a bad habit, go do yoga or work out,” Vaughan says. HOW A TIGERS’ LEGEND QUIT SMOKING Former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey quit smoking on the ad- vice of his physician: If he didn’t quit his decades-long habit, his health and livelihood were at risk. “He made his living with his voice,” wife Nancy says of the legend- ary announcer, who was smoking three packs a day and headed toward a series of health ailments, including emphysema. But there was a hitch. The doctor told them if one quits and the other doesn’t, it wouldn’t work. That meant Nancy, also a heavy smoker, had to quit, too. Then he had Paul and Nancy set a date. “The doctor said, ‘Smoke your heart out [until your next appoint- ment], then quit once you are here,’” Paul says. “On Dec. 13, 1989, at 9:15 a.m., we threw the remaining packs in the trash at the back entrance of Troy Beaumont.” According to Dean’s book, “In order to break old habits, the attempt needs to be paired with new habits.” For Paul and Nancy, the new, though temporary, habit was Nicorette gum. “That gave us a little bit of a boost,” Nancy says, though instead of using it for the recommended three months, they needed six. But it took more than pairing up with a new habit. They had to get rid of triggers — environmental cues that reminded them of smoking. “I bet we had 40 ashtrays in our house. That was a temptation,” espe- cially whenever they had a drink or were on the telephone, Nancy says. “We got rid of them.” Still, it took a year before the crav- ing was gone. “The fact that they had each other to rely on made it more likely they would succeed,” Samarian says. Today, Paul and Nancy are firmly in the anti-smoking camp. Not that the change of heart is all that surpris- ing. “The social pressure to smoke isn’t nearly as strong as it used to be,” Nancy says. “And that helps.” NS FOR MORE INFO Contact Pamela Vaughan at vaughan. or call (248) 752-1275. To contact Dr. Ron Samarian, call (248) 290-2220. A FRESH TWIST FOR A CLASSIC STONE Unique Jewelry, Affordably Priced MB JEWELRY DESIGN Bloomfield Plaza - 6600 Telegraph Rd. Bloomfield Twp., MI 48301 248-671-0087 REED INSURANCE AGENCY L I F E H O M E C A R BU S I N E S S T R U S T W O R T H Y L I F E H O M E C A R BU S I N E S S To Auto-Owners Insurance and your local independent agent, being trustworthy means that we will be there when you need us most - just like we have been for 100 years. trust wor thy able to be relied on as honest or truthful. 1 adj. HUDSON & MUMA INSURANCE AGENCY