- in Blog by Melissa Costello
How to Build Empowering Habits that Stick
Building new habits can feel overwhelming, and difficult to even know where to start. That sweet little phrase, "old habits die hard.." is no joke. Habits are formed over time so our brain has less to do, and can go on autopilot without thinking. Research shows over 40% of your actions come from habits, which frees up time to focus your energy on the important stuff.
But what about when it comes to habits that are harmful, or don't serve you, like mindless eating at night in front of the TV that leads to guilt and shame, or grabbing the afternoon candy bar when you're feeling tired? These types of habits can feel really difficult to break AND they don't help you become your best self.
One of the reasons why, is because the habits are run by our subconscious, and as Jen Sincero, Author of You Are a Badass puts it, the subconscious is like a ninja and will do all it can to present you with super juicy temptations that will knock you straight back into your comfort zone.
We all have these habitual places where we get stopped - a threshold we reach where we get too close to actually reaching our goals for our own comfort. Crossing over this threshold is exactly what we need to create permanent transformation in our lives, and get out of the comfort zones that keep us stuck.
This is terrifying to many of us and that is exactly the reason why our subconscious minds will gather all the tricks it can to stand in our way of making change. Can you say self-sabotage?
To be honest, most of us are oblivious to this stopping point and have a lifetime worth of excuses that we use to keep us playing small, ie., I don't have enough time, I'm too lazy, I will never lose weight, so what's the point, or I need to try another diet, the one I'm doing doesn't work, or, I will just start over tomorrow.
How to change habits for good
To change your habits, you must have a plan; one that is realistic and doable. You must be tenacious about it while being willing to break through the terror threshold, no matter what persuasion the subconscious ninjas use to pull you back into your old sticky ways.
Once you give in to that one little negotiation of, "oh it's just one cookie," or "I need that glass of wine to help me relax," you've abandoned yourself once again and given your power over to the habit you are trying to break.
So let's look at the steps you can take to build NEW, healthy habits and get rid of the ones that are keeping you stuck in the vicious cycle, that you KNOW you want to break out of.
You can't do anything if you try to do everything. -Jen Sincero
Know your why and hold it tight
It will be pretty dang hard to change habits, if you don't know why you are doing it, or if you don't have a big enough reason. If your goal is to get healthy, lose weight or give up binge eating, you must know WHY you want these things.
What will having those things provide for you? Will it give you freedom, peace of mind, the grace to live your life guilt-free, or what? What is your BIGGER WHY? Just stating that you want to get healthy is not enough.
Honing in on your why may seem cliche, and you might even be thinking, "Well Melissa, I know my why, but still can't freaking change my habits no matter how hard I try." Trust me, I hear you, but that's where you are already starting to make excuses for all the reasons WHY you can't change, instead of staying focused on what it is that you really, truly want and what you need to do to get there.
So get out a piece of paper and write down ALL the habits you want to change along with your BIG FAT WHY next to each one.
Circle the ONE habit that you know is preventing you from reaching the next level in your life. That's the habit we are going to work on shifting for you. It's best to start small, gain momentum and then move on to the next habit.
Negotiations be gone!
Oh boy, how many times have you negotiated yourself right of trying to form new habits? I bet a lot. Believe me, I've been there....Here's the thing, you must be willing to remove yourself all together from the negotiation process.
Let's say you want to lose weight, and you know that the nighttime mindless eating in front of the TV is not helping with this goal, but you had a cruddy day at work and all you want is one glass of wine to help you relax. So you have the wine, and then you get the munchies. You tell hubs to put on a pot of popcorn, and before you know it, you've drunk a bottle of wine and ate a tub of popcorn.
Or you want to start a morning workout routine, but the alarm goes off and you tell yourself you'll hit snooze one time, and 30 minutes later you're still snuggled up in dream land, and hitting the treadmill is a distant memory. You, once again, tell yourself you will do better tomorrow.
It IS these tiny moments, these split second decisions upon which your success rides. Each one of these tiny little decisions adds up, and serves as a crack in your resolve where other excuses can seep in, and believe me, they will.
So in order to anchor in some non-negotiation skills, here's where you can start:
1. Identify with a new habit - meaning OWN it, by saying, I am a person who sticks to my commitments, not someone who lets an Oreo, or one or two, take away my power to know better.
2. Know when the negotiation ninjas come to visit - when we try to talk ourselves out of things that we know are good for us, we tend to not be super creative or varied (again, thanks Jen S.) We tend to stick to the same old, lame-o excuses. When you do this, it should be EASY to recognize your tried and true method for knocking yourself out of the new habit-building game. Be on the lookout for these favorite excuses of yours, and the second one comes up, recognize the negotiation and DO. NOT. CONSIDER. IT. for even one minuscule of a second. Just move along like it didn't even happen.
Know your triggers
Preceding every habit is a trigger of sorts. Triggers can be almost anything: a sound, smell, feeling, time of day, season, another person, etc.
It's important to know what triggers come before your habit kicks in, especially the ones that are not serving you right now. How we react to the trigger will make all the difference in the world when we are trying to change our habit.
Here's how to identify your triggers. Write out the habit you want to change. Example, I want to stop drinking wine every night when I watch TV.
Then write out the triggers of that habit using the following headings (I've included some examples to help you)
- Feelings: I'm exhausted, I've had a long day, I deserve to have a glass of wine
- Time of Day; After dinner, it's getting late and I want to wind down
- Sounds: TV is on and I just want to sit and chill with a glass of wine
- Places: The couch looks cozy and relaxing after a hard day
- People: Hubby is cozy on the couch with a glass of wine and I want to join him
- Smells: Popcorn is on the stove and I love drinking a glass of wine and crunching on popcorn
Now go through the list and pick the biggest trigger that is linked to your bad habit, and write it down including the action you take with the trigger. For example; Biggest Trigger >>>> I'm exhausted and I deserve to have a glass of wine. Action: Gets glass of wine and sits on the couch, then starts to eat popcorn.
Now for the juicy part. It's time to identify 3 small positive actions you can take when your biggest trigger hits you. For example: When I feel exhausted and want to relax, I can
- Take 10 minutes and sit quietly
- Take 3 deep breaths to calm my nervous system down
- Put on some soft music and close my eyes while listening to it.
Now it’s time to try your new habit! Today or tomorrow, when you sense your old habit being triggered, switch gears and try out one of your new actions you listed. As you repeat this new behavior, your brain will change and the new behavior will become automatic.
Once this new behavior becomes automatic, you can go back and try this same process for the other habits in your life that you want to change. Tackle one at a time for best results.
The bottom line is that changing habits takes time and consistency. The more you focus on taking small steps, the more momentum you will build with changing your habits. Try this on and let me know how it goes for you!
*Habit makeover adapted from Mel Robbins Spring it On session
Are you ready to break out of the vicious food cycle?
I work with smart, busy professionals, just like you, who are frustrated and tired of the vicious yo-yo dieting cycle. I help them to stop dieting and radically transform their relationship to food so they can say bye-bye to diets once and for all, and find their natural body weight. If you're ready to finally BREAK FREE, learn more about my private and group coaching to see how you can finally create the life you have dreamed of that is free from diets and food struggles.