Breaking Bad Habits & Accountability
I think we all would like to know the magic solution for breaking bad habits. We all have them, we can recognize them in ourselves, and oftentimes we really want to change them or break them but perhaps are unsure of how.
First, let's talk about why certain habits are formed. Habits are oftentimes coping mechanisms that are formed from us wanting to feel good.
We know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain governs rational thinking and decision making. While another region of the brain, the basal ganglia, houses the reward-based learning system. Plain English? One part of our brain tells us to order the nutrient dense grain bowl, while the other part of our brain says to 'treat yo self' and have the burger. OR another way of saying it, one part of our brain tells us a deadline is looming and to write that weekly newsletter article, while another part of our brain is saying 'binge scroll through Instagram!'
In ancient times, these two parts of the brain worked well together in certain situations. Think of the hunters and gatherers. When food was scarce and they saw berries, it triggered the behavior to eat the food, and the rewarding feeling came from survival - they didn't die.
The hard part is that our brains still very much function in that way. It's called a habit loop, which is the three-parts that start with the trigger, the behavior, and then the reward.
Ok, so how do we replace the old habits with newer, more desirable, and/or healthier ones?
Here are some science backed strategies for you to try:
- Find ways to make it easier for you to succeed. Here's an exercise example, analytics show us that people are more likely to workout if they have to travel shorter distances to get to the gym. So in this example, if the changed behavior is that you want to get to the gym three times a week, this strategy would suggest finding a fitness facility that is either closer to your home or your place of work.Think of it this way - this strategy is trying to minimize the boundaries (real or perceived) for the behaviors we do want, while increasing the boundaries for the behaviors we don't want.
- Repeat until it becomes autopilot. Let's say you find yourself always reaching for that bowl of ice cream when you get home, your brain has been trained to do that overtime with that becoming a habit. Research suggests that different behaviors tend to require different amounts of repetition before becoming automatic. So try adding the new behavior onto one that is more neutral. Using the ice cream example, after you come home and put your keys down and take the dog out, meditate for five minutes, and make a bowl of Devotion fluff instead with the Brownie Batter or Angel Food Cake. Whatever it is that you want to replace the old habit with, try pairing it with something you do repetitively already that does not need changing.
- Make it a game. This is essentially turning a task into something fun in order to encourage yourself. You know when you're walking and you hear someone walking behind you, so you speed up your pace because ain't no way that person is going to beat me... or is that just me? It's the same function in your brain. There are apps that use this technique - like Zombies, Run, which tricks you into interval training by challenging you to outrun zombies. Whatever it is, it's finding your sticker chart reward that gives you that carrot approach to changing the habit.
- Pause and face it! This is a strategy I use myself and often coach my clients on. It is rooted in mindfulness. It involves stopping the moment the urge hits, physically stopping if you need to, and asking yourself why you're doing it. Do you really need that? Do you really want that? Why are you really doing that? Write it down if you have to. It forces you to stop and not allow your brain to go on autopilot and the next thing you know, you're three sleeves deep into a package of Oreos. It's essentially getting curious about yourself and your behaviors and realizing you have the power to face them head on and change them.
Another great strategy for changed behaviors is to hire a mentor or a coach. I work with clients as both a mentor and coach. However, understand that YOU will be the one that has to ultimately do the work. Your trainer, coach, or mentor can't be with you 24/7 to force you to hit the gym, slap the pizza out of your hand, or tell you to turn off your phone and write your report.
Create your own routines too! A solid morning routine to start the day and nighttime routine to set yourself up for success with proper rest and recovery. My morning routine always starts the same with my morning cardio. After my cardio I fill a shaker to the brim with water, add a shot of apple cider vinegar, and a scoop of GI Tranquility, then down the rest of my supplements. My nighttime routine is pretty dialed in too. After I get my daughter to bed, I wash my face, take out my contacts, and make my “nighttime sleepy slushy.” My slushy is a scoop of PM Sleep Recovery, a bunch of ice, a little water, and blended into slushy consistency. I lay down in bed and read while eating my nighttime sleep slushy and doze off. YOU have the power to create positive habits too!
Ultimately we all have habits that were formed to protect us, to make us feel better, and to help us cope with life situations. These habits aren't always the healthiest for us mentally, emotionally, or physically. Having bad habits doesn't make you a bad person. So let's work to be the best people we can be, recognize these habits, and change them!