This is the third post in my How to break a bad habit series. You can see Step 1 here and Step 2 here. So far we’ve identified why we have our bad habits in the first place and made the decision to stop. A much harder decision to make than you’d think!
One of the main reasons it’s so hard to really, truly decide to end a bad habit is that we forget to focus on the habit itself. Instead, we put all our energies into hating the outcomes of habits and not on changing the pattern of behaviours that led us there in the first place. This is where Step 3 comes into play.
How to break a bad habit
Step 3. Change habits not outcomes
Here’s the thing: being fat is not a habit, it’s an outcome of lots of little habits showing up on your body (I think we all know that there is no such thing as ‘secret’ chocolate eating). Biting your fingernails might be a habit, but it might also be an outcome of not coping when you’re feeling anxious and needing comfort. Not getting enough exercise isn’t a habit, but watching too much TV or driving the car everywhere or taking the lift instead of the stairs – these are all bad habits that stop us from getting enough exercise.
Be mindful of exactly what you are trying to change. “Drinking too much alcohol” isn’t necessarily a bad habit, rather it’s the outcome of pouring yourself three glasses each evening instead of one or spending all night at the pub with your mates each weekend.
“Being in debt all the time” isn’t the habit, “shopping for clothes every Saturday” and “using my credit card when I’ve got nothing in the bank” and “buying things for my house that I don’t need” are the habits.
“Eating too much junk food” is just the outcome of your bad habit of buying too much junk food. You get the idea.
If you want to lose weight, don’t tackle your ‘weight issue’ — man, if you’re anything like me, that’s definitely trying to eat the elephant whole. Rather, eat the elephant one bite at a time by tackling one bad habit at a time. Break down the elephant in the room into smaller bite-size portions. The great news is, if we change our habits we can change our outcomes!
Here’s my strategy for tackling my weight via tackling my bad habits:
- Start eating breakfast every day
- Make at least 85% of the food we eat from scratch
- Eat at least one piece of fruit every day
- Stop using the car for short trips
- Stop drinking diet coke
- Stop snacking after dinner
- Stop snacking on nuts and cheese
I think that will solve my weight issue, but if it doesn’t I’ll just add in some more bad habits to break (I’ve got lots to offer here!)
As you can see, my weight issues are an accumulation of lots and lots of bad choices. In the past, I’ve always tried to “lose weight” without considering how I got to be overweight in the first place. Sure, I tried to change my entire lifestyle again and again by taking on a prescribed way of living, but it always resulted in me falling back into my bad habits and putting the weight back on again.
This time, I’m not tackling the consequence of my bad habit (hello fattyboomsticks), but rather the habits that got me there in the first place. It’s a manageable, realistic, achievable way for me to do it and I’m slowly, slowly, very patiently seeing a new outcome.
Homework for today
Take another look at the bad habits and consequences you listed in Step 1 and Step 2 and decide whether it is truly a habit you are wanting to tackle or an outcome. Back with the ‘biting my nails’ analogy, ask yourself whether the nail biting is actually the outcome of a deeper habit like: avoiding facing up to stress or anxiety; not feeling comfortable with being alone or with others; fearing boredom; being hungry (that’s a joke… I think… never been a nail biter!)
Often our habits are really emotional crutches that mask what lies within.
Do you think your habit might be an outcome of something deeper?