We see something wrong with the way things are, so we think of ways to fix it.
Sometimes the “something wrong” is a headache or a shiver. Things like that can be fixed with a once-off solution like a pill or a doona.
Sometimes the “something wrong” is an unhealthy body weight or constant tiredness or low self-esteem. Things like that cannot usually be fixed with a once-off solution like a brisk walk or a good night’s rest or a pep-talk, so we start thinking about changing habits.
Habits are your life, because habits take up all of your time. Your sleep habits, your waking up habits, your cleaning habits, your eating habits, your traveling habits, your working habits, your family habits and all of your other lifestyle habits.
Habits are the way we do things and the way we live, because we are alive for many days and none of us can (or wants to) do things differently every day. In fact doing things differently is so unusual for us that we make special words to describe times when we don’t follow our habits – words like “holiday” and “adventure” and “party”.
Doing things differently is so unpleasant for us that we make special happy words to describe times when we don’t need to do things differently – words like “comfort” and “relax” and “familiar”.
Habits work on our health and wellbeing slowly and steadily. The first day of getting into the habit of eating a large bowl of vanilla ice-cream when you Netflix and Chill is not the day that makes you overweight. The 500th day of your habit is also not the day that makes you overweight. It is the habit that makes you overweight and the only way to stop it from making you overweight is to replace that (bad) habit with a different (better/good) habit.
Changing your habit is the same as changing your life, because life is what happens when you action your habits.
Changing your life is hard, as it should be. If it were easy to change your life, perhaps every new thought you had would send you off into a new life direction. Setting course toward an objective would become an impossibility because you would never know whether or not you would change your mind about the target just after you decide to take action. It is not good to change your life all the time, so nature makes it really uncomfortable and stressful.
That is the real reason why it is so hard to keep things like New Year’s resolutions. Without diving into the concept, theory, biological basis, and behaviourist evidence (something for another post), we can agree that it is really hard to use willpower to overcome the innate desire to keep the familiar and reject the new.
You are not weak because you were not able to break a bad habit. You probably kept the bad habit because you are too strong.
Willpower works really well for short-burst activities, but not so well for drawn-out, long-term commitments.
Calorie Counter Australia likes to keep things short and to the point so here is the point of this post: habits are hard to break and in some ways the stronger-willed you are, the harder it is to change. If you have been unable to change a bad habit to this point, it is probably not because you lacked the willpower to do it. You are part of a chain of generations of people who have passed down genes that make you a survivor (winner) in this world. Your ancestors won because they did not flip-flop their lives whenever a new idea popped into their heads. You are just honouring their legacy by being resistant to change.
Does that mean that you should never change your habits? Of course not, that does not even make sense. Change is the only constant and everyone changes their habits at some point, sometimes because they are compelled to and sometimes because they choose to.
So, the question is: What is The Best Way to Change a Bad Habit?
We are going to go deep into this question in our next post, but we won’t leave you hanging. Here is a three-point summary of the Best Way to Change a Bad Habit:
- Recognise the need when it arises. We act (perform our habits) when a need to act arises. Wake up when you need to wake up. Eat when you need to eat. Play when you need to play. Note that we did not say “Recognise the want”. That’s because the difference between “want” and “need” is just a question of degree. When does a “want” become a “need”? How long is a piece of string?
- Act on the need quickly and forcefully, using the new habit rather than the old. Make sure that the need has been met before you move onto the next thing. Crowd the old habit out by suffocating it before it takes its first breath. Don’t leave a crack of time open for the old habit to squeeze back in. Don’t give it a chance. Don’t even fight the battle. Willpower won’t help you day in and day out!
- Get rewarded immediately. If you feel like a deserving winner each time you beat the old, bad habit you will want to keep beating it. If you feel like an underserving loser each time you practise the new, good habit you will soon find a reason not to keep feeling that way. Try swapping Friday night pizza for Friday night garden salad and see how long that lasts!
In our next post, we will go into why these three points work and how to make them work.
Until then, recognise that habits are hard to change and that in some ways you are a stronger person than most if it is harder for you to change your habits. Know also that you can use your strength and resilience to your advantage when it comes to replacing bad habits with better ones.