Bad habits can take away joy from our lives. They can weaken our resolve, frustrate us, and make our large goals appear so far away.
So let’s talk about how to beat bad habits down.
We’ll use an example from my life: eating kettle chips with french onion dip. Potato chips are terrible for you.
I KNOW this.
But I also love crispy texture. My wife often teases me for having rules around food. A few them are:
- Don’t eat peanuts or chips without some sort of drink: you will cough.
- Root Beer + Chocolate = yum
- Root Beer + Chocolate + Beef Jerky = Better
- Kettle Chips + French Onion Dip = Bestest
You get the idea :-). I think we all craft these ideas over time, but sometimes they can form really unhealthy habits: like eating kettle chips with french onion dip!
Spend a week thinking about why this is important.
Having a strong point of view matters. When you think about this before, it’s like getting a 30 minute head start on a 5k: you know why this matters to you, you have a good idea about what the challenges might be, and have a good answer for why you care when you feel hopeless in giving this bad habit up.
Here’s the process I went through:
- Why does this matter?
- I really want to lose weight: I’m currently 308 lbs and would love to be at 250 lbs next year. This isn’t healthy and is not sustainable if I want to live a long life. I want to be with my wife forever, so let’s make sure I love a long time!
- What challenges will I face? What are possible triggers?
- Safeway! I get gas at safeway and I’m always tempted to drop in and get “snacks” which inevitably mean getting some dip and chips along with other things I “need”. Safeway is definitely the trigger
- Stress! I really love snacking when I feel stressed, which is an emotional decision.
- Sometimes you get munchie, Ed. Have a healthy solution for that!
- How can you solve those challenges?
- Avoid the chip aisle (or safeway altogether!)
- Recognize you don’t need food when you are stressed. A better solution is to not rely on food to energize you for hard challenges. Sleep more Ed!
- Have alternate snacks: pistachios in small snack size, olives, and healthy fruits and vegetables (blackberries, blueberries, carrots).
Setting intention makes all the difference in making it, but…
Set up your environment for success
In 2011 Roy Baumeister wrote an amazing book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. I read it and loved it: it taught me that will power was a limited resource and I had to carefully plan around it so I did not use my willpower needlessly.
Turns out he was wrong: in 2016 the data was re-evaluated and no one could reproduce the results he claimed in his book.
But Carol Dweck, in 2016, did followup research: what they found was that some people ran out of willpower, but others kept going and going. Her hypothesis is it is because willpower lasts as long as you believe in it. This idea strongly aligns with my belief in life. Have you ever been really tired and made yourself more tired by thinking how tired you were?
I do that sometimes. I try to imagine myself in situations when I have limitless willpower to resist all the bad things that are detrimental to my health. I also visualize myself giving myself hugs: mostly because I think that’s important.
With this in mind, set yourself up for success: minimize temptation at home. If I kept my pantry constantly full of chips at home, I would struggle to resist them. But if they aren’t there, it’s much easier to succeed.
Think about places you go and ensure you minimize risk. In my case I kept absolutely no chips at home. When I eat out, I try to avoid potatoes altogether. At work, we have a chip wall, but fortunately none of the kind I like 🙂
By taking these steps, I minimize my risk of failure. But if I do fail…
AVOID The What The Hell Effect
If you make a mistake and have a relapse, don’t give in and binge!
There’s a very well documented psychology principle called the what the hell effect: it’s that moment when you say something like:
Well, I already had chips, I might as well and have ice cream and pie, too!
It’s the moment when a tiny infraction turns into a major blunder. You can read more about it here.
In these moments, I remember: Every. Action. Matters! Bad habits are hard and it’s ok to fail sometimes.
1 bag of chips is less than 2 bags of chips. If I lapse and buy 3 and eat 1, throw the rest out! (or return them).
Just because you make a mistake, doesn’t mean you have to keep expanding on your mistake.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF!
Celebrate Your Small Wins and Keep Track!
Made it 1 day?
Do a happy dance.
Made it 3 days?
Made it a week?
Proudly tell your family and friends.
Made it 2 weeks?
Reward yourself for your good behavior: for me that would be a book or a video game most likely.
Keep this going until you feel you comfortably have replaced or removed the bad habit.
Keep track in whatever way is naturally to you: I like chains.cc. If you like games, you could use habitica. If you’re more social, use facebook. If you want to quietly do it, use one note or use if this then that. (IFTTT) to set up a text reminder.
If you’re curious, I’m currently on day 28 of giving up kettle chips: no relapses so far and I’m very proud of my progress!