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Ask Dr. Debra  [click here for archived articles]


I have a friend who has a lot of bad habits - smoking, drinking and overeating, to name a few. How can I counsel her to give them up (without seeming like a hypocrite) when I have a few bad habits of my own?
Ms. Bad Habit

You will only seem like a hypocrite if you and your friend have the same bad habits. If you don't smoke, drink too much or overeat, then you're not being a hypocrite. (Although, keep in mind that anyone can accuse you of anything.)

First, sit down and lovingly explain the behavior you've seen and its consequences. For example, she eats too much, gains weight, then calls you crying about being fat and unattractive. Let her know how her choices affect you - "When you cry about your weight, I feel bad." Say how much you love her and want her to be happy. Then offer a solution.

If you feel her problems are serious, suggest she attend a 12-step program such as:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Overeaters Anonymous (OA)
Smokers Anonymous.

These meetings provide support and information to help people stop the destructive behavior and learn to replace it with healthy behavior. Local chapters will be listed in the phone book. Call for meeting times and places, and be ready to give them to her.

If you do have the same bad habits, then I suggest you try the team approach. If you both have serious problems, as opposed to "bad habits," I suggest that you ask her to go with you to a 12-step meeting. Otherwise, try the following steps:

Talk to her about how much you want to change one (or more) of your bad habits. Mention that you don't think you can do it alone. You've already tried and failed. Then ask if she's willing to team up with you to quit together.

Pick your goals. You and your friend can have the same goals, or different ones. Be specific about the goal - quitting smoking, walking a mile every day, following a certain eating plan, only having one drink when you go out (or at home).

Make a nightly check-in call or e-mail to share how you did that day. This will make you both accountable for your choices. If you need to pick up the phone and call for moral support, then do it. For example: Call before you take a drink. Let your buddy talk you through the impulse until it goes away or you come up with a solution.

Schedule weekly rewards for achieving your goals. Pick something pleasurable that you both want to do. For example, you might pick a movie you both want to see or get a massage.

Remember, it takes time and repetition to instill good habits and drop the bad ones. Just because you have a slip is no reason to scrap the whole program. Be patient and persistent. Soon you will gain positive self-esteem to match your new good habit - an extra bonus.

I hope this will lead to a better, healthier life for both of you.

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions.

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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