Do you ever blame yourself for not having enough self-control? You think, “If only I had enough willpower and resolve, I would be able to push through this and stay on track.” For those of us who are working to improve our health, it can be very confusing when it comes to willpower. Sometimes a challenging situation will arise, like bagels in the breakroom, and it is easy to navigate that situation. But then, there are other situations that completely deplete our reserves of willpower and bad habits take over. Driving us backward, and then comes the dreaded vortex of shame, “I can’t believe I did it again!”
Let’s start this post by saying, falling into the groove of a bad habit is normal, and should not be received as a source of shame. I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of what is really going on when we (all) fall back into bad habits from time to time.
Sometimes habits become encoded in the brain, and they are activated by a situation. If I am attending a holiday with my extended family, I will eat and drink much more than I would at home. That response is an encoded habit for me. If I go to the movies, I’ll want popcorn – another encoded habit. Think about yourself, what situation would activate an encoded habit? You find yourself in a situation, and internal forces wake up to trigger a response. The situation and the habit work together and suck you in as if you were in a whirlpool on the ocean.
Top 5 Strategies for Breaking Bad Habits
- Avoid the situation – if you don’t want to eat the bagels don’t go into the staff room.
- If a situation can’t be avoided, make a detailed mental story – if I’m going to a wedding I will wear an outfit I feel great in, I will eat 3 hors d’oeuvres and my entree, and spend the rest of the time socializing and dancing.
- Create a network of others to draw strength from, I am going to face a challenge next weekend like going to a winery, so I will talk about it with my weight watchers community to help me focus on what I really want.
- Disrupt a situation by inserting a new cue – I come from work and sack out on the couch but no – my workout clothes are there waiting for me to put them on. I work out instead.
- Find new rewards that will develop healthy habits – Instead of rewarding myself with a latte for a job well done, I put the money in a jar and let it collect there as a reminder of all I am accomplishing. Then spend it on something bigger and better.
Beware, bad habits. Steer your ship away from those insidious whirlpools. For they have no choice but to suck you back into the old lifestyle you are trying to escape. This journey is all about making the most of the situations you find yourself in, avoiding unhelpful situations, and building momentum for the good. You are the one who decides how this will go – never doubt that you are powerful! We got this.
Just for fun
Remember when we were all watching videos of sea chanties?
If you’d like to learn more about Whirlpools, this is a great video: