Have a Plan to Break Bad Habits (And What to Do When it Fails)

break bad habits

Today’s big idea is that in order to successfully break bad habits that are already established, you’ve got to have a plan. Otherwise, you’re going to be winging it, and likely to run right off the road when you hit any kind of bump. 

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So, a bad habit I have is leaving way too late for any kind of appointment

Because I think to myself, oh, my appointment is at 2… and that’s where my thought process ends. I’m focused on that number 2, which means at 1:54 I realize that it’s only six minutes away and then I scramble to get out of the house, and very nearly ALWAYS leave something vital behind, and then have to come back inside, making it take even longer. You know, something like my phone, or my mask, or my gloves. 

Thing is, I have been leaving at the last minute for my whole life. I come by it honestly–my Dad has a fluid relationship to time, too. No blame, here, whatsoever. We’re just loosey goosey about it. My husband, on the other hand, thinks being five minutes early is late. SO I have a lot of reasons why this habit of mine causes pain in my life. Something we’ll talk about more in Thursday’s episode. 

Here’s what I have to do if I want to break my old pattern of leaving at the last minute

I have to sit down, look at my calendar, and think about what time I need to be leaving the house. Then I have to run through my whole day and decide what time I’m going to do all the things that lead up to that time — when to have lunch, when to walk the dog, when to change out of my sweats and put on hard pants, lol. In other words, I need to have a PLAN. 

It’s not easy, because I’m resistant to planning. But when I do it, it actually works. I leave on time, and I mostly remember everything I need to bring with me, but even when I don’t it doesn’t make me late if I have to come back in the house. 

To break bad habits: You have to have awareness of what that habit is, AND you also need to exert some effort

Because habits are the path of least resistance, so it makes sense that you’ll have some experience of trudging to get out of that well-worn path. What makes that effort feel less effortful, however, is a plan. A plan is a set of pre-made decisions that blazes a mental trail that you then merely need to follow.

Now that you know about what your triggers are, and all the things that go into making your habit a habit (and if you don’t, go back and listen to yesterday’s episode, number 392, about making the unconscious conscious), you can make a plan that navigates you around the iceberg.

If you eat sweets every afternoon, because you don’t really have time for lunch so by 3 your blood sugar is bottoming out, you can pack some snacks like Mary Sheila recommended when I interviewed her in episode 379 about eating for mental health–things that are low-carb but rich in fats and protein that will satiate you and satisfy your urge for something decadent without resorting to sugar. (Getting off sugar is something my guest tomorrow will talk about, too. If that’s a habit you’re trying to break don’t miss it!). 

You Have to Have A Plan to Break Bad Habits

BUT, and this is a big but… even the best laid plans are going to derail. And when that happens, it’s so important that you be gentle with yourself, and forgive yourself, because that is how you avoid telling yourself that breaking this habit is too hard. If you can forgive yourself when your plan doesn’t work, you’ll be much more likely to keep trying. And that means you can keep refining your plans. 

To be clear, going cold turkey is not a plan. Willpower is wonderful, but it’s finite. It takes a lot of energy, and it’s like kindling–it burns fast. So think about what you’ll do either to circumvent your bad habit, or replace it with something else, or both. Think of it like a game of Jenga, if you remove a crucial piece the whole tower comes tumbling down. You’ve got to put something else in its place to keep everything standing for the duration. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to give some thought to how you can either work around or break the bad habits you want to change. Give it just 10 minutes of thought, jot down the basic components of your plan, and then notice how having that plan in place affects your efforts. 

Come Back Tomorrow!

For an interview with Dr. Daryl who is so passionate about helping people get healthier, it’s truly infectious. And even if sugar isn’t a bad habit you want to break, his insights on how to go about making this change that so many struggle with is helpful for any habit that you’re trying to re-write.

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