How To Break Bad Habits (2 of 2)
Last week I offered you four stages of change that will help to break habits that are not serving you and your goals.
If you missed it you can read it here:
This week let’s get into the second and perhaps most important part…
So assuming you’ve made the choice to change something about your life, presumably something to do with health and wellbeing if you’re reading this, there are four tools we can use.
Countering – this is picking things that are a better alternative.
It doesn’t, however, mean the optimal choice in all instances. For example, it’s common to hear someone say, “I couldn’t get my whole programme done so I thought I’d eat a pizza and have two bottles of wine because I’ve blown it for the day, back to it tomorrow!”
This is the all or nothing approach and this type of behaviour stems more from an emotional nature, one of self sabotage that we won’t get into here though. Flip-flopping between “perfection” to “pathetic” (the feeling not a judgement by me!)
Countering can be “better” choices that lead to optimal choices down the line. As I’ve spoken about before, little wins rather than quantum leaps. To get from the ground floor to the first floor you don’t jump the whole way, you climb one step at a time.
So if your goal is to remove sugar from your diet, the perfect way would be to remove it all and never look back! The countering approach might look like this:
Currently – occasional consumption of commercial sweets, chocolate, high fructose drinks and alcohol
Step 1 – organic sweets, chocolate and only freshly-squeezed fruit juice from organic sources, plus organic/biodynamic alcohol
Step 2 – homemade deserts with unprocessed sugar or sugar alternatives (coconut sugar for example)
Step 3 – high sugar fruits and starches such as potatoes, rice, pasta
Goal – only low sugar fruits such as berries and dark green leafy vegetables eaten according to your metabolic type (metabolic needs)
Environment – your environment dictates your performance. All top organisations (Apple, Google, Ferrari..) know this and this is why they create environments for high performance, to ensure each individual on the team has the best chance of performing to the highest level.
If your environment is not conducive to your goal, you need to change it.
In the above example of sugar, if you’re about to move to Step 1, don’t buy any commercially produced sweets, chocolate and low quality drinks to have in the house. Be sure to buy things that are supportive to your actions at Step 1 such as organic dark chocolate or organically-produced alcohol for example.
If you are trying to reduce alcohol consumption and you’re used to going to after-work meetings or social events where the norm is a bottle of wine and a chat, then perhaps it would be more conducive to have those meet-ups in a coffee shop where, hopefully, there is no alcohol sold.
Reward – quite self explanatory but this is key to get a dopamine spike which will help you to move in the right direction and remind you, hormonally, of what and why you are doing and what you are aiming for.
Dopamine is that feel-good state when you have completed something you set out to achieve. You can then start to associate new behaviours with this feel-good state and all cells are programmed to move towards pleasure and away from pain.
One thing I would say is try to avoid rewarding yourself with sub-optimal food choices, particularly if your goal is to improve your health and wellbeing. It’s a common reward strategy but can actually be undermining your bigger vision.
Rewards might be – an hour to yourself to soak in a relaxing bath and read your favourite book / to buy an item of clothing you’ve been looking at / an afternoon off work to do something fun. The list is endless and depends on you.
Relationships – a supportive relationship is arguably one of the most powerful tools out of the four.
A coach, support group, friend or therapist can see things that you perhaps are blindsided to and if they’re in a strong/balanced state themselves will be willing to call you on your dogmatic behaviours, as and when appropriate.
You need to make sure that a relationship is not there to reinforce patterns that you are comfortable with.
Again there is a saying that I heard years ago and it’s so true: “misery loves company”. You must have experienced it – your friend or partner asks you what you want to drink and you say, just a glass of water and they come back with, “Come on, what’s up with you, just have one!” Before you know it you are beating yourself up because your desire for an alcohol free day/week/month has gone up in smoke.
A good friend or coach can also be there in moments of doubt, trouble or when you are in need of emotional support. Just make sure that you are both aware of the boundaries to this before entering an agreement with this person.
So up until this point you have become aware of the need to change, you have developed/identified the desire for this change and you have made steps to attain a level of change that you are happy with.
The most important thing to do now is to maintain what you have and not fall back into old habits.
Whilst it is often quoted that it takes 7-21 days to change a habit, I’m yet to see this actually be the case in the long term.
If you made that 7-21 months you might be closer to reality.
Therefore we need some tools to maintain the change. Those tools are the same tools that you have used already in the prior phase – Countering/Environment/Reward/Relationships.
You may choose to upgrade and go a step further as a means of maintenance or you may choose to halt stations and bathe in your glory.
Until it becomes so subconscious that you don’t even give it a second thought, you will be well-served to use the tools above, particularly Rewards and Relationships. These two perhaps never really go entirely.
Thank you for reading this two-part series. I sincerely hope it has been eye-opening to learn a little more about how change can be brought about through, perhaps, more practical means.