Are you tired of your own bullshit? I’m sure you’d agree that we all have our “stuff” we’re trying to handle. But some people are doing a much better job than the rest of us at breaking their bad habits.
When I first got sober, I had a lot going on (tough pregnancy) and I used it as an excuse for letting in new bad habits. Now that I’ve got a couple of years of sobriety under my belt, I’m actively working to fix it.
I’m going to give you some exercises you can use to probe your bad habits and start eliminating them.
Step 1: Identify the Problem
My pregnancy and the first few months of my daughter’s life were an absolute whirlwind. I was not sure if I was going to come out with my mental health intact.
Because I wasn’t smoking or drinking, I had to channel all that energy onto something else. My “drug” of choice? Diet soda and ordering out.
You might roll your eyes a little. Those seem relatively benign, right? Wrong. I’ve consumed up to six cans of soda in a day, though my average mostly taps out around 3-4. Ordering out? I have hopped onto my delivery apps up to 4 or 5 times per week with perfectly edible food available in the fridge.
Sit with yourself for a minute and think about the bullshit in your life that you wish you could stop. It doesn’t have to be a big deal to anyone but you. If it’s negatively impacting your life, then it needs to be handled.
Get out a notebook and list the 1-2 things that you want to get a grip on right now. I don’t recommend more than that because you don’t want to overwhelm yourself.
Step 2: Write Down WHY This Problem Exists
Why am I slamming Diet Cokes on the ‘reg? When people quit drinking alcohol or using, it is not uncommon for them to develop a sweet tooth. Our brains miss that old dopamine rush and sugar is an excellent substitute.
Psychologically, I began to use soda the way I used to use cigarettes. If something bothers me, I grab a can to feel better. Sometimes I use it for energy, but mostly I use it because the fizzy sweetness comforts me.
Ordering out? It’s not that different of a behavior. I compulsively order online when I’ve had a long, stressful day. When you have a one-year-old, that can be often. The way I “treat” myself is by ordering fairly unhealthy food and then devouring it with a can of soda once it arrives.
It’s a form of emotional eating.
List out all the reasons this problem exists for you. If you want a template for this, send me your email and I will provide one for you.
Having trouble unpacking why you do the things you do? Here are some questions to help get you started:
- When do I do this?
- Are there any common triggers for this behavior?
- What makes me engage in this behavior more? When I do I do it less?
Step 3: What Impact Does This Behavior Have On Your Life?
My diet soda consumption is wreaking havoc on my teeth. I can feel the sensitivity. The color is not as sparkly white as I would like. I’m also fairly certain that I’ve got new cavities as I can feel gaps forming and food getting stuck more frequently.
My stomach feels bloated and I’ve got some digestion issues that I’m fairly certain are connected to the soda consumption.
Ordering out is killing our household budget. It’s expensive. Half the time I don’t even like the food and I always FEEL like shit when I’m done eating it. Very rarely do I order food and not beat myself up about it after I’ve eaten it.
The cherry on top? I’m not losing weight and I am increasingly bummed out by what I see in the mirror.
List out all the things this behavior is doing in your life. Ask yourself the following:
- How do I feel when I’m engaging in this behavior?
- What negative consequences does it have on my life, emotionally and physically?
Step 4: Do A Deep Dive On WHAT You Feel Before, During, and After You Participate in This Behavior
I like to use a three-rowed table for this activity. You can set this section of your notebook up similarly to mine. If you don’t want to bother with it, sign up for the worksheet at the bottom of this article.
This part is all about being curious about this problem and paying attention to what is going on in your brain and body. This will help you get at some of the deeper issue driving the behavior.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll use my diet soda habit as an example.
|Before: I sometimes feel an actual urge in my body, similar to thirst. If I am stressed my heart rate might speed up or my chest tightens. Perhaps I feel an emotion I can’t quite name and it starts to well up.|
|During: At first I feel satiated. Sometimes I start to feel disappointed in myself. Why did I get out another can when I just had one an hour ago? Other times, I can feel the bubbles attacking my stomach and have to toss it out knowing I will crack open another one later. If I am eating, I notice that it messes with the taste of my food.|
|After: If I’ve had a few cans already that day, I might physically feel sick to my stomach or gassy. My teeth might tingle. I sometimes feel angry with myself. This can feel like anxiety in my body. The exact same emotion that drove me to get the can is now in my body because I am mad that I did it. (You can see how it is cyclical in nature).|
Step 5: Make of List of All The Ways Your Life Would Improve Without This Habit/Behavior
This is fairly straightforward but important to put down in writing. All of this is important to write down because the process of writing itself is helpful to your success.
For the sake of continuity, I will go back to my diet soda dilemma. My list looks something like this:
- My teeth would look and feel better
- I would avoid expensive dental work and whitening procedures
- My gut health would improve
- I would be less gassy (a win for everyone, honestly)
- We would save money
- I’m likelier to lose belly fat if I cut down
- Similarly, I will be able to lose weight more efficiently
- My blood sugar will be more regular
- I won’t be as tired from constant sugar crashes
- It’s likely my headaches will go away
- My food should start tasting better
- Without the sugar spikes, I will crave sweets less
- I won’t be getting mad at myself every day for drinking so many cans
- I’ll feel more confident because I’ve beaten this habit
I could probably continue this list, but I will stop so we can move forward. There are a few things I want you to notice about my list.
- It addresses both easy/obvious perks (teeth look better) and less obvious (my food should start tasting better)
- I’ve done some research. I researched the effects of soda consumption on the body and learned that it can cause headaches, a problem I currently face.
- It examines both physical and emotional benefits
If you want to this process to be as powerful and effective for yourself as possible, force yourself to dive deeper. When You think you have all the reasons listed, push yourself to create one or two more.
Step 6: Brainstorm Positive Replacement Behaviors
Most people cannot white-knuckle their way out of a bad habit or behavior. We’ve all tried and likely all failed. If you are going to be successful, you have to set yourself up for success.
Once you have dug into the behavior you want to change, think critically about what you could do instead.
I find it very helpful to look back at the section on WHY you engage in this behavior to create effective alternatives. Let me show you why.
|Behavior||WHY I do this||What I can do instead|
|Drinking diet soda||I feel an urge or craving||Force myself to fill up my water bottle and drink first|
|Drinking diet soda||I feel stressed by something||Stop myself before I grab a can. Take some deep breaths. Pay attention to how my body is feeling|
|Drinking diet soda||I feel tired and want a pick-me-up||Take my behind to the gym|
If you connect your healthier replacement behaviors to the reason you have this bad habit, they will be more effective.
We’re almost done. Don’t worry.
Step 7: Identify Rewards And A Timeline To Keep Yourself Motivated
A word of caution: don’t sabotage yourself with this reward. If you are trying to stop binge eating, then rewarding yourself with a piece of cake is counterintuitive.
When I was drinking, I used to reward myself for not drinking for a few days by getting smashed during the weekend. Don’t do that.
We want to break the psychological link between this bad behavior and the rewards center in your brain. Make sure that you don’t accidentally reinforce the connection.
I like to use “if…for…then” statements. Choose an action that will help you towards your goal, give yourself a timeline for this action, and then name a reasonable reward.
Here’s an example of a current one I have for diet soda.
“If (action)I only drink two cans of soda per day for (timeline)one week then (reward)I will treat myself to a pedicure.”
Pedicures and diet soda are completely unrelated. The goal is small and the timeline is immediate enough to be motivating.
Get to Work
That’s it! I update and revise this list until I’ve got the behavior either eliminated or to a place that I want it to be.
As a caveat, understand the nature of your habit as best you can so that you can set yourself up for success.
Whereas I can reasonably reduce my diet soda intake down to 1 can per day (my goal), I would not employ the same method for something like smoking or alcohol. For me, those last two were all or nothing substances. I could not moderate either so bothering to try with promises of pedicures would be pointless.