As you will inevitably learn through my sharing’s whilst being on my path to losing weight and leading a much healthier lifestyle ‘holistically’, effective weight loss is not only about watching what I eat, it is much more about changing my lifestyle.
This means changing habits and how I approach my day-to-day life.
Habits run our daily life. Pretty much everything we do is based on a habit we’ve developed at some point in our life.
Some habits are helpful, while others can work against us. Even worse – there are a few “bad habits” that can have a negative, long-term impact on our capacity to live a fulfilling life.
~ Smoking ~ Hoarding ~ Eating junk food ~ Drinking too much alcohol. ~ Spending too much time on the Internet ~ Eating without awareness (therefore eating too much) ~ Sitting too much and so on!
We all have those habits we’d like to break.
Fortunately, it is possible to eliminate a negative routine – all you need is a plan-of-action. Here are some strategies that I have started using, to help me understand how to break those habits that no longer serves me well which I would like to share with you.
There are 4 distinct phases to go through to get rid of those ‘bad’ habits:
- Plan for Habit Change
- Understand the cycle of your Habit
- Build a Support/Buddy System
- Overcome Challenges
Phase I: Plan for the Habit Change
Before doing anything else, you must prepare for a habit change. Odds are you’ve tried to break this routine in the past. And in all likelihood, you failed because you didn’t have a plan or relied too much on willpower.
Failure in the past doesn’t mean you’ll fail in the future. Usually it’s a direct result of not having a solid strategy for breaking this bad habit. In other words, you didn’t follow the age-old saying:
So before doing anything else, you should implement these seven strategies to make sure you’re positioned for success.
#1: Focus on One Habit at a Time
In psychology, your willpower has a limited amount of energy every day. When it’s overexerted, it becomes hard to control your impulses.
In a way, willpower is like a muscle. It can get tired and worn out from too much use. If your days are filled with stress and constant battles to control your emotions or thinking, you often won’t have the capacity to resist temptations.
How does this affect habit development?
It’s simple. You won’t succeed if you try to change multiple habits at the same time. Each one requires a significant amount of willpower to resist, which leaves you in a glucose-depleted state.
Most people don’t have the “willpower energy” to focus on multiple habits. So when they’re in a depleted state, it becomes too easy to give up on all of them, instead of just one.
#2: Do a 30 Day Habit Challenge
Your goal for the next month or so is to focus on eliminating one habit. That’s why you need to have 100% commitment. The easiest way to do this is through some of these helpful tips:
- Develop a daily morning routine (wake up, stretch, brush teeth, go to kitchen and have a large glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice, do a 5/10 minute stretch, prepare you balanced breakfast, update your journal with your food intake/morning insights & thoughts, text your loved one/friend/mentor/support buddy simply wishing them a good morning/great day and so on). Ensure that this morning routine takes 30 minutes to complete as this is a positive ‘good’ habit to create
- Read 30 minutes of non-fiction book daily
- Become focused on your daily language use and turn negatives into positives (i.e. when it is raining, instead of saying ‘what a miserable day’ simply say ‘what a beautiful day, at least my garden is getting watered and the air will be fresh today’.
- Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. Invest in a ‘step tracker’ or simply use a free app on your mobile which tracks the number of steps you do daily.
- Talk/network with at least one person every day with the focus being on something positive, on something you want to achieve, your personal/business goals.
- Journal daily highlighting your food intakes, your mood, your feeling, your insights, your ‘aha moments’ and so on.
You start to structure your entire life around the completion of one specific habit goal. Sure, you’ll do other things, but a large amount of your time (and willpower) will be spent working towards this ‘one’ goal.
Sometimes 30 days isn’t enough. For the really challenging habits, like smoking or drinking, you’ll need more time to make this change stick. Don’t be afraid to plan for more time. There’s nothing wrong with blocking out 60 to 90 days to focus on this goal.
#3: Set a Start Date
Write down the date where you’ll start this habit change. It’s important to take this goal seriously, so having an official “countdown” will help you stay on track. Moreover, you should tell friends and family about this goal to get their support.
Having a start date creates energy and excitement for this new change. Your aim is to dramatically improve your life, so you should feel energized about this countdown.
#4: Identify the Target Goal
Eliminating a bad habits is like setting a goal. You won’t achieve it, without having a specific outcome in mind coupled with a target date.
For instance, you can’t say: “I want to eat healthier.”
Instead, you need to identify what foods to eat, what to avoid and the date when this change will happen.
So a better goal would read: “On August 1st, I will no longer eat fast food from places like McDonald’s or Burger King. Instead I will eat home-cooked meals that combine vegetables, lean protein and unrefined carbohydrates.”
Notice how this outcome has a deadline with a specific outcome. By August 1st, you’ll know if it’s working or not. That’s how you set a goal for breaking a habit!
#5: Avoid Cold Turkey Solutions
You make a promise that you’ll never do a bad habit again and then a few days later, you’re doing the exact routine you swore to forever eliminate.
The main problem with cold turkey is the overemphasis on perfection.
Most people have this negative mindset: One mistake = FAILURE!
Nobody is perfect. Having a goal of never again leaves you with no wiggle-room when you cave into the temptation of doing the habit you’re trying to eliminate. Trust me, we all slip from time to time, so focusing on perfection is not the way to change a routine.
By doing the bad habit, they’ve already broken their never again rule. So they subconsciously decide that since they’ve already done it one time, they might as well go on a binge. The result? The person will do more of the habit than they ever did before.
#6: Set a Baseline Metric
The best way to make a permanent change is to focus on daily, incremental improvements. Your aim is to wean yourself off this habit by setting target goals where you consistently decrease the quantity or time that you do it.
The first step of this process is to establish a baseline metric. This metric can vary according to the specific habit you’re trying to change:
- The number of cigarettes smoked every day
- The times each day you bite your fingernails
- How much you currently weigh
- The number of calories you consume on a daily basis
- How many drinks you consume while “going out”
- The amount of time spent on Facebook or surfing the Internet
- The amount of time spent watching television
Like I’ve said, quitting cold turkey isn’t a realistic long-term goal. Instead, it’s better to focus on incremental goals where you slowly move away from doing the bad habit (one goal, mini milestones).
Phase II: Understand Your Habit Loop
The best way to forever eliminate a habit is to slowly replace or “imprint” negative habits with healthier routines. That means instead of focusing on what you’re missing, you’ll follow new routines that give you the same reward.
Once you’ve scheduled a “start date,” you’ll follow these strategies to reprogram your mind (**I use NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming = re-programming our minds and habits**).
#8: Identify the Habit Routine
Every habit follows the same three-step pattern:
- The Cue: A situational trigger that is based on a reward you’re seeking.
- The Reward: The satisfaction you seek by following the routine.
- The Routine: A physical or emotional action you take to obtain the reward.
All habits have actions and thoughts that occur beforehand.
#9: Record the Habit Triggers
We are constantly bombarded with cues to take certain actions. Sometimes they’re external where a sight, sound, or smell creates a craving. Other times, it’s an internal sensation that sparks this desire.
To make a permanent change, you need to fully understand when and why these “triggers” occur. You can easily do this by recording five pieces of informationwhenever you feel the need to complete a bad habit:
- Location: Record where you are
- Time: Write down the exact time when you felt the urge
- Mood: Record your emotional state
- People: Who is with you or who is around you?
- Action: What did you just do? What are you currently doing?
The key to this exercise is repetition. Focus on recording these five data points in the first few weeks of the new habit change. Do this for awhile and you’ll notice a number of patterns that provide amazing insight into your bad habit.
Let’s say you’re trying to curb your consumption of alcohol. On the surface, it might seem like an innocent activity. But this drinking habit has led to a number of problems: arguments at home, decreased productivity at work and even having being pulled over by police last month. What was once a fun activity has now turned into a serious issue.
After careful recording, you notice that these five patterns stand out:
- Location: At xxx pub
- Time: 3:13 PM
- Mood: Stressed out
- People: With mates ‘Paul, Harry and Kevin’
- Action: Watching the football game
Your goal is to minimise your drinking. So after tracking this habit for a few weeks, you realize that the problem most occurs when you’re stressed out or feel like hanging out with your “mates” and watching the football.
By analysing these triggers, you now know that your drinking is caused by a desire to feel relaxed and reduce stress. More importantly, it’s a social activity.
#10: Try Different Rewards
The interesting thing about bad habits is they often come from a desire to get a subconscious reward. Usually we do them because we want to feel relaxed, happy, energised, accepted or loved. The good news is you can substitute the bad habit and still get this positive result.
The goal here is to find a positive routine that will provide the same feeling you get with a bad habit, without following the negative routine.
Let’s go back to the example from before – consuming too much alcohol. After identifying triggers for a few days, you realise that the drinking habit comes from a need to feel relaxed and reduce stress. It’s also a byproduct of a desire to socialise and have fun.
So you can plan different strategies whenever you feel the need to relax:
- Going for a 10 minute walk around the neighborhood
- Avoiding the pub
- Doing a different activity with friends instead of drinking (cinema, bowling, walking, playing tennis)
- Making new connections and building up your social network
- Mediating for a half-hour
Not all of these strategies will be right for your situation, but this strategy is important because you’re trying to find that one new routine that provides a reward that’s similar to the bad habit.
#11: See What Works
Whenever you follow a new routine, take stock of your mood afterwards to see if you still feel a desire to do the bad habit. If it’s still there, then you know the result of this new routine is not the reward you’re seeking.
Let’s go back to our drinking example.
You found that exercise and meditation aren’t reducing your stress levels. What did work was forming new friendships with people who don’t spend their time in the pub. These positive people help you feel relaxed, which ultimately minimises the tense feeling you experience before having a drink.
Moreover, you know that Harry (one of your buddies from the pub) loves playing tennis, which is an activity you also enjoy. This means you can minimise your drinking while staying connected to one of your friends.
Whenever you experience a “bad habit trigger,” you should substitute it with a new routine. This will be hard to do at first, but eventually you’ll start to follow a different routine without thinking about it.
Sidebar: Sometimes you’ll realize that certain people trigger bad habits. That means you have to make a decision – either you spend less time with them or you keep doing something that’s not good for you.
Sure, it’s not easy to “let go” of certain people, but sometimes you need to sacrifice the relationships that lead to self-destructive habit loops.
#12: Formulate a Plan
It’ll take a few weeks of experimentation to identify the perfect replacement habit, but eventually you’ll find something that works. At this point, you should align your actions to this activity instead of the bad habit.
The best way to make a lasting change is to follow a step-by-step plan whenever you experience an impulse. Get started by taking the common triggers from strategy #9 and creating a plan for each of these cues.
The goal with this exercise is to reprogram your mind to take a different action, even when you feel a craving to do the bad habit.
Once again, let’s go back to the drinking example. Here are a few new strategies you can follow:
- “When Harry invites me to the pub, I will suggest playing tennis instead.”
- “On ‘Football Sunday,’ I will go to activities from Meetup.com instead of hitting the pub.”
- “At 5:00 every day, I will go for a 30 minute walk to reduce stress”
What you’re doing here is identifying your “weak spots” and creating a plan for how you’ll act. This will be your first line of defense against a bad habit impulse. So whenever this craving strikes, you’ll know exactly what to do instead.
Phase III: Build a Support System
Making a commitment to change yourself is just half the battle. Really, you can’t make a lasting change on your own. Instead, it’s important to build a support system of people who will help you follow through with this goal.
People can either make or break your success. By including them in your habit change plan, you can get assistance whenever you’re feeling tempted or weak.
Here are a few strategies for creating a dynamic support system to help in changing bad habits.
#13: Keep an Accountability Journal
Track your day-to-day attempt to change a habit, including every stat or metric. The more information you include, the easier it is to understand what affects your mood or impulses.
Depending on the habit, here are a few things you can include in an accountability journal:
- Number of times you do the bad habit
- Amount of time you spend doing this activity
- Total calories, broken down by individual foods
- Current weight and/or body mass index
- Feeling, emotions and impulses
- Challenges you’re currently experiencing
#14: Make a Public Declaration
Social networks have become a major part of our daily existence. A great way to harness these friendships is to request support for your habit change goal.
Nobody wants to look bad. Post updates on your habit change on your social media account and you’ll get encouragement from your friends. This can be a simple Tweet or Facebook post.
#15: Find an Accountability Partner
You don’t need to walk this road alone. Instead, you should regularly communicate with someone who shares a similar desire to make a lasting change. Talk or meet with this person a few times each week to share your experiences (you can do this this face to face or even online).
Another idea is to find a “sponsor” who can help you get through those moments of weakness. Simply call this person when you’re feeling weak and they’ll get you past this temptation.
An accountability partner doesn’t have to live nearby. It’s not too hard to meet people on forums and Facebook groups who share a similar desire to develop good habits.
#16: Ignore the Naysayers
Sadly, there will be people who will subconsciously (or consciously) try to sabotage your efforts at self-improvement. They could be random strangers, close friends or even family members. Their words can be poison because they’ll flood your mind with self-limiting beliefs. Listen to their “advice” at your own peril. The moment you start believing them, is the moment you’ll take that first step towards failure.
Having a plan for handling naysayers is as important as knowing what to do when you’re tempted by an impulse. You need to know what to say and what to do whenever a person says something that causes you to second-guess a habit change.
#17: Seek Professional Help
Let’s be honest here – some habits require a higher level of expertise that goes beyond reading a piece of online content. Often, you’ll need to seek out professional help or attend regular meetings to overcome a strong addiction.
There are many routines that require professional help – alcoholism, drug addiction, binge eating, chain smoking and eating disorders. I can’t tell you where the line is, but you might be at a point where you need help from an expert on addiction.
There are a few ways you can implement this strategy:
- Talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist, health coach/practitioner
- Join a group like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)
- Join a local weight loss group that emphasises permanent life changes instead of fad diets
- Ask your doctor about different (non-addictive) solutions to battle cravings
Don’t be afraid to get help from other others. You might have an addiction that you can’t overcome by following a simple checklist. Odds are, if you think you have a real problem, then it might be time to go get the assistance you really need.
#18: Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Like I mentioned before, ego depletion can leave your willpower in a weakened state. If you’re always tired, hungry, stressed or depressed, you’ll increase the likelihood that you’ll succumb to a temptation.
A simple way to fight ego depletion is to live a healthy lifestyle. Since this problem is largely caused a low level of glucose, you can fight temptation by:
- Getting a full night’s sleep to feel energised in the morning
- Staying hydrated – drinking at least eight, 8 large glasses of water every day
- Eating a balanced meal every day – including fruits, vegetables, (good) carbohydrates and lean protein
- Carrying healthy snacks with you when you feel hungry
- Exercising/Walking to reduce stress and maintain optimal weight
Don’t underestimate the power of the mind-body connection. When you live a balanced, healthy life, breaking a bad habit becomes that much easier.
#19: Remain Positive
We all experience temptations to do a bad habit. This is a natural part of the process, so don’t let these feelings get you down.
The trick is to know what to do whenever you have an impulse. The moment you experience a cue for a bad habit, reaffirm your commitment to stick to the new plan.
You can even recite a simple mantra whenever you experience a moment of weakness. This could be a silly phrase that you repeat on a regular basis like: “smoke free in three months.” Say this over and over whenever you feel the urge to light up.
#20: Forgive Yourself
A major reason why people give up on a habit change is they don’t know what to do after they “fall off the wagon.” Sure, they’ll strictly follow a goal for a few weeks, but they don’t know what to do when they slip up. What often happens is they’ll use this mistake as an excuse to give up.
What you need to do is forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. Beating yourself up over a slip-up is counterproductive to your long-term goals.
While it’s important to be strict about eliminating a bad habit, you want to avoid filling your head with negative thoughts. A mistake is a mistake. It doesn’t mean you’re weak-willed. It means you’re human like the rest of us.
#21: Reward Yourself
Changing bad habits can be a grueling experience. You can make it fun by rewarding yourself for achieving specific milestones. The key here is to avoid any incentive that’s directly related to the activity you’re trying to eliminate.
For every week you meet a weight loss goal, you could treat yourself to a movie!
#22: Review Your Plan Daily
You need daily commitments and reminders to stick with the plan. One strategy is to turn your habit change into goal that you review every single day. For instance, I have a morning routine where I go over all my goals and reaffirm the commitment to make changes in my life.
#23: Take it Day-by-Day
Don’t worry about tomorrow or next year. Instead, focus on that next impulse, trigger or cue. Have a plan for what you’ll do today and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.
In a way, changing a habit is like running a marathon. You’d go crazy if you thought about running 26.2 miles, but it’s easy to do if you focus on getting to the next mile. Stay focused on what you need to do right now and try to ignore what will happen in the future.
With this mindset, you’ll slowly make incremental changes. At first, you might not notice a shift in your habits. However, on a long enough timeline, you’ll start to develop a permanent change to your routine. Whereas you used to cave into a bad habit impulse, you now can resist this urge.
A lot has been discussed here, in todays blog and there is a lot of information to take on board. For me, to take it all in and to review the key points daily, I created the following mind map which helps keep me on track and keep me focused. This should also assist you in creating your own goals and daily rituals.
I hope that this helps you along your journey and remember, that as well as growing along my own personal journey, I am here to help you if you have any questions, need any advice or tips in relation to health, foods, recipes, ingredients, food planning, life coaching and NLP!
Until soon, Guilda x