Breaking Bad Habits for Good

Breaking deeply embedded habits is hard even when you are ‘ready to roll’. It’s impossible if you are half-hearted. In order to successfully navigate the process of change you must be firmly committed to making a change, not just wishfully hoping for one.

Identify your level of commitment to making a change. The commitment to change goes through several stages. If you understand the stage you are in, there are strategies to move you to the next stage.

  • The “Uh, Whatever” stage.  At this stage, you haven’t yet decided to make a change. Perhaps you were told by a  doctor or nagged by a significant other to do something about your health, but you are not convinced that this is what you want to do, NOW!  As they say, “the advice goes in one ear, and out the other.”

Strategy to move you to the next stage: If the doctor’s advice is ringing in your ears loud enough to inspire an ‘openness’ to change, make a list of the reasons why you should live a healthy lifestyle and a list of the reasons why you should not. Unless the ‘reasons to change’ stir you more than your ‘reasons NOT to change’, you are unlikely to move to the next stage.

  • The “Well-maybe” stage.  This stage is similar to the previous stage, but it hits closer to the bone. At this stage you are thinking seriously about making a change, but wondering whether it’s worth the pain. If the future pleasure of having a fit body and healthy lifestyle  is not perceived as greater than the present pain of the weight loss process, change is unlikely to occur.

Strategy to move you to the next stage: Identify the pain. Let’s say you think it will be too painful to give up your sugary dessert in the evenings. You could put together an action plan where you can ‘have your cake and eat it too’, so to speak. Purchase a recipe book with healthy sugar-free desserts and choose a couple that will satisfy your palate without doing much damage. The key is  to ‘do something.’ and revise as you go. Moving in the right direction, will reinforce moving in the right direction

  • The “I’m ready to roll, now what do I do?” stage. This is the time to research options for reaching your goals. Gather your tools and begin to implement a plan. You can construct a self-directed action plan, but it is helpful to find a coach or a support group to guide and reinforce your commitment. If you need a personalized system and encouraging voice, go here.

Strategy to move you to the next stage: Outline the basic actions you need to take to  reach your weight loss goal. Invest in the tools and coaching you need to help you get and stay on track with the plan. Beware. Do not get stuck in the ‘research’ mode seeking the perfect option for you. Research is a handy tool for procrastination. It is a painless way to make you ‘feel productive’ without actually producing anything. Choose a sensible action plan and move forward.. If down the road you need to make revisions, do so.

  • The “oops, I blew it.” stage… Throughout the process of change there will be moments of messing up. Falling off the wagon, whatever you want to call it. Your ability to learn from the relapses and get back on track will be the determining factor in your ongoing success. It is also important to forgive yourself and recognize, no one is perfect.

Strategy to recovery from a relapse: Think through what caused you to stumble. Perhaps you had developed the habit of coming home after work, opening a bag of chips and a soda as you sink into the sofa to watch TV. When you come home from work you begin to salivate in anticipation of chips and a soda. You feel irresistibly drawn to the sofa. Develop a pleasant alternative. For example, when you arrive home have a health-oriented magazine by the sofa and sit and read as you savor a healthy snack. It will take an act of will for the first few days, but eventually you will rewire your response to walking in the door.

  • The “Wow. I’m doing it!” stage: As you reach each goal, your self-confidence will increase. The new habits are beginning to form. It still takes conscious effort, but you are becoming more habituated to the healthy lifestyle that will lead to your ultimate goal: weight loss.

Strategy to move you to the next stage: Continue to solidify an environment that supports your goal. Have the good stuff in the kitchen and the bad stuff in the dumpster. Buy a few pairs of sweats  so you always have a clean pair for exercising. Reward yourself for sticking to your plan.

  • The “This is who I am and this is what I do.” stage: The lifestyle has formed. Your inner coach is keeping you on track. You are not dependent on the guidance or encouragement of an outside source to maintain your new habits. You know what to do, and you are doing it.

Strategy to keep you on track: Celebrate your success, but anticipate your vulnerabilities and develop an action plan for overcoming them.  The key to an ongoing lifestyle change is to have ‘grace in the journey.” No one is perfect. But, don’t use grace as an excuse for ongoing indulgence. Get back on track quickly. If you need support of a coach or support group to get you back on track, go for it.

SUGGESTED READING TO DEEPEN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PROCESS OF CHANGE. Changing for Good by James Prochaska, the author studies individuals who successfully broke a bad habit and identified what sets them apart from those who were unsuccessful.