Breaking ‘Bad’ Habits
We all know the common ones that we define as a ‘bad’ habit: smoking, over eating of sweets, savouries or both, lack of exercise or even excessive time spent on social media! Most of us have some vice that we wish to eradicate but don’t seem able to. We know that our habit is ‘bad’ for us, but we can’t stop for any length of time.
In this blog, I want to share my journey with one bad habit and the discovery of a simple but innovative strategy that is giving me dramatic results.
As someone who has had a life long struggle to lose weight and keep it off, I know what this can feel like. I have dragged this ‘bad’ habit around for 40 years. I have tried different diets, spent hours attending personal development courses, read books on health and nutrition trying to find the key to ending this ‘bad’ habit.
Over the years I have lost hundreds of kilos and regained them. I went on my first diet aged 18 weighing 58 kilos, a peer driven thing to do. I followed the craze of the time which suggested that we should all look like the models in magazines and weigh as little as possible.
After my mother died, I weighed my heaviest, 90 kilos. The weight had crept up so slowly I hadn’t noticed, until I saw a photograph of a very large woman I didn’t recognize…I was looking at myself! The shock was sufficient to push me back into losing weight again, I lost 18 kilos and then the cycle began as I started to pick up weight – again.
‘Bad’ Habits Explained Scientifically.
My brain screamed, you ‘bad’ person, what’s wrong with you? Haven’t you got any willpower? Don’t you know what you’re doing to yourself?
So off I went again, in search of fresh answers to understand what derails me and keeps me in this yo-yo cycle of losing, gaining, losing, gaining.
It was on a recent course with the Neuroscience Academy that I had a profound ‘Aha moment’ on understanding the neurological and physiological behavioural pathways in the brain.
In the course Dr Sarah McKay of the Neuroscience Academy described the few defining features of habits:
- Habits are triggered by a particular cue, situation, or event.
- Habits are learned over time by being repeated over and over.
- Habits are performed automatically, often with little conscious awareness.
- Habits are persistent—once formed, they are very hard to break.
Points 1 and 2 provided clues as to how to break those habits by:
- Learn to recognise the trigger for your bad habit.
- Wire a new healthy or positive habit to override the bad-habit trigger.
I had always hoped that I could permanently break my ‘bad’ habit and eradicate it forever. The good news, and where my ‘Aha moment’ came, was to receive the neuro-scientific confirmation that the habit would always be there. The old neural pathway in my brain was set but I could learn to mask it with new, stronger habits and thus create a new neural pathway.
On one level I thought I knew and understood all the triggers that push me off track and back into the ‘bad’ habits, but on this recent journey, I discovered I didn’t have the level of awareness I thought I did.
Break ‘bad’ habits with Pre-mortem Technique
I came across an article on the ‘Pre-mortem Strategy’, an expression I hadn’t heard before, which has become the foundation of changing my ‘bad’ habit. The concept is the opposite of a post-mortem which looks at an event after it has happened. The Pre-Mortem strategy is to look at what you need to do BEFORE the event happens i.e. eating the wrong thing and prepare new triggers or habits to avoid that habitual temptation.
So I took my journal and with one of my Herbalife team, who was also keen to lose weight, we committed to being more consistent with our Nutritional shakes and to give up all carbs and sugars for 90 days. We committed to daily SMS contact to share with each other how we were doing.
With this combination of daily SMS messages and the morning journal of planning my day, I evaluated all events that could possibly push me off track: meeting a friend for coffee, going out to dinner, travel. The result has been transformational in giving me a sense of control and focus that I never had before.
I realise that my use of language also had a detrimental impact: by consistently repeating a negative statement to myself, you’re bad, you’re weak, can’t you say no to chocolate, you’ve got no will-power, I was strengthening those neurons and creating those thoughts as a habit.
By repeatedly saying I was ‘bad’ rather than ‘good’, just made me feel worse, and ultimately gave me the justification and excuse to reach out to chocolate as it made me feel better!
My son pointed out to me that I had a habit, when I was on a diet, that I would say, “I am being good, for the moment”. That expression had become so much of a habit that I wasn’t even aware that I was saying it.
Accepting Habits and Moving On
Thus I want to avoid the distinctions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ which is why they have been highlighted in this Blog, I now accept that I have habits, not good or bad, just habits.
One of my early personal development courses was an event with Tony Robbins who was very strong on the use of language and the negative power it can have in our lives. He explained that we say to ourselves we should do this, we should do that and we just end up “should’ing all over ourselves!” For years I have loved his use of the word try, of which his dictionary definition was “to expend effort without getting a result”. Why would anyone try anything?
I can accept that I have tried for many years, but as Robin Sharma would say “with better awareness come better choices, and with better choices come better results”.
What has been amazing, as I reach day 46 of my 90 days, is how much I love the discipline and control and how easy it is to now avoid carbs and sugars. There is no doubt that one discipline affects another and I am feeling more productive in all areas of my life and I can’t wait to share these new techniques with my customers to help them get better results with achieving their health goals too.
As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit”.