It’s hard to break habits, especially when it comes to losing weight.
My thoughts on the topic are a bit jumbled because my son is kicking me while lying on his stomach. Maybe it’s a bad habit to let him watch Bluey while I try to work…
Yet, here I am writing.
Why does any of this matter? Writing daily is a habit I have kept for the last seven years. Writing has been a part of my career, whether crafting an email to a client or a detailed caption for a post on social media.
Writing is a skill.
Skills require practice.
Practice requires mistakes.
Habits can either keep you consistent or prevent you from reaching your goal. By the end of this article will know precisely how to break the habits keeping you from losing weight.
So, let’s dig in, shall we?
How To Break Habits
Most of what I will cover can be found in either of those books.
According to James Clear, there are Four Stages in habit formation.
These four stages establish any habit and flow from one to the other in an endless cycle. Another way to look at each is:
- Cue ➡️ Make it obvious.
- Craving ➡️ Make it attractive.
- Response ➡️ Make it easy.
- Reward ➡️ Make it satisfying.
According to James Clear, it’s essential to ask yourself the following questions when you wish to form any habit:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
Here’s an example of a familiar habit for any parent.
- Cue ➡️ Your kids have finally gone to bed.
- Craving ➡️ You want to relax and unwind.
- Response ➡️ You grab ice cream and turn on the TV.
- Reward ➡️ You satisfy your craving to relax and unwind. Eating ice cream and watching TV becomes associated with relaxing after the kids go to bed.
The question is, how do you break a habit that keeps you from losing weight?
Reverse engineer the questions from above:
- How can I make it invisible?
- How can I make it unattractive?
- How can I make it difficult?
- How can I make it unsatisfying?
You can’t make your kids invisible 😅 however, you can do things that eliminate stress while they are awake.
Many parents I work with look at evening rituals such as a dance party or reading a book together. Everyone will be different, but looking at the obstacle and seeing other possibilities is a big part of learning a new habit.
Here are a few examples clients have used:
- Family dance party
- Family board game night
- Family walk after dinner
- Family playing with a pet
- Family reading together
Having a structured routine that limits screen time and brings the family together leads to more relaxation.
The Other Habit Option
Another option is to take the ice cream out of the fridge if that seems to trigger the cascade of events.
Is this saying that ice cream is terrible? No.
However, having a period when the ice cream isn’t there can lead you to look for other options like the previously mentioned options.
Also, if you like ice cream, taking your family for ice cream is different than falling asleep on the couch by yourself with Ben & Jerry’s in your hand.
Removing a stress-filled bedtime routine stops the unwanted habit in it’s tracks.
As you practice turning screens off before bed….you will fuck up. It’s okay; you should expect it to happen because you’re a human. Look at the other opportunities to create change.
How can I make the habit unattractive?
It may sound challenging to make eating ice cream on the couch to relax less appealing. And if you feel that way, I agree; ice cream is fricken delicious.
So, then, what is the alternative?
The short answer is to look at the people who share this habit with you. If your partner is doing the same thing & is unaware of your desire to change, good luck changing the pattern.
Surrounding yourself with a supportive community is critical & your family is a part of that. Does that mean they must stop having ice cream and relaxing on the couch, too? No, but it might suggest they support you when you decide not to have any.
The next step is joining a community where stress reduction and sleep are common goals. For instance, all the moms and dads in my FREE Facebook Community are focused on losing weight, getting stronger, & reclaiming their health.
Keeping yourself accountable by joining the Stronger Coffee Crew increases the likelihood that habit becomes unattractive because you have folks who are counting on you & maybe you want to fit in. 😎
You have covered 2 out of 4 stages & now you just need to make the habit more challenging.
How can I make it more difficult?
The more friction is associated with a task, the less likely you are to do it.
-James Clear, Atomic Habits
In this example, if there is no ice cream in the house, you are less likely to have ice cream to help you relax.
Taking it a step further, leaving your phone/tablet in your office away from your living room and bedroom makes it harder for you to use screens for relaxation, too.
Make the habit an inconvenience, increase the chances of breaking the habit.
Ah, and for the final step to break an unwanted habit.
How can You break the habit
This is quite possibly the most challenging step for most individuals. It requires time to sit down with your thoughts.
In weight loss, it’s vital to remember that, technically, foods are neither good nor bad.
- You will gain weight if you eat more than you need to maintain your current weight over an extended period.
- You will lose weight if you eat less than you need to maintain your current weight over an extended period.
- If you keep things status quo, your weight will stay the same.
Now that you and I are on the same page, I can tell you that if you eat 300 calories from apples or donuts, you will still be ingesting 300 calories.
In other words, if you eat 300 extra calories of apples before bed or 300 extra calories of ice cream, you could still gain weight if done over weeks and weeks.
Why bother to bring this up?
If you make the habit harder by removing ice cream and replacing it with chips, cookies, apples, oranges, cereal, and peanut butter, you are still getting the extra calories.
Your body still gets the reward signal you have linked with relaxation and unwinding after the kids go to bed.
Everything you have just read about is surface level & these habits are there for a reason. At some point, eating ice cream & unwinding on the couch served you well.
It solved the problem of needing more “you” time.
Heck, I will venture a guess and say it is something you did long before your kids were even a thought.
It’s a learned behavior; chances are, when your kids are full-grown, you will continue with the same behavior.
But all of this comes at a cost.
All of these minor micro-behaviors can be thought of as a ding on your credit.
- Every time you get less than 6 hours of sleep. *swipe*
- Every time you eat to soothe emotions. *swipe*
- Every time you skip going for the walk.*swipe*
- Every time you avoid drinking water. *swipe*
- Every time you let the gym membership collect dust. *swipe*
After years of swiping the health credit card without making payments, your credit score and you suffer.
Let that sit with you for a minute.
The last thing I want to do is come across as overdramatic; however, every time you lean into those habits, you suffer.
Maybe you don’t feel it now, but eventually you will.
Practice & Awareness Of Your Values
Sorry, I am pulling a 180 and will tell you that I don’t like “habits.”
And no, I am not trying to be pedantic or major in the minor.
Habits are real; however, they only allow you to pass or fail.
Either you hit the mark, or you are five towns away.
You might be the person who is okay with fucking up.
You might be the person who feels like they need to quit because they made one mistake.
Nine times out of 10, my clients are the latter.
That’s why we look at practicing skills vs. habits.
- Habits = all or nothing.
- Practicing Skills = all or something.
- Something is greater than nothing.
Something will give you something to work on.
All or Something
A quick recap of how to form “good” habits.
Cue ➡️ Make it obvious.
Craving ➡️ Make it attractive.
Response ➡️ Make it easy.
Reward ➡️ Make it satisfying.
All of the above still applies, but you first need to zoom out to look at your big hairy goal.
Do you plan on playing with your grandkids?
Do you want to be self-sufficient as you age?
Do you want to look good naked?
There’s no right or wrong answer. The only thing that matters is you are clear on what you want.
Maybe it feels like a lot to peel back the layers behind your goal.
If that’s the case, answer the following questions about your health/fitness.
- What ongoing activities would you like to start or take up again?
- What groups or centers would you like to join?
- What lifestyle changes would you like to make?
With those answers, you can work to choose your Values.
Values are character strengths you wish to bring into the world.
Goals are something we can complete & once they are done, you cross them off the list.
Values are ongoing behaviors you follow through on to become the best version of yourself.
If you need help understanding your values, here is a free resource to point you in the right direction.
How to Use Your Values
Take a moment to imagine using Google Maps.
You enter your destination (Goal), and then Google will give you your options, choosing the one with the best ETA (Values).
Values allow you to make the best decision, leading you one step closer to your goal.
When you reach the goal, your values will help you determine the next goal.
If you know your values, then the next step is choosing your goal.
How to choose your goal
Goals are fantastic; however, if we return to our Google Map example, how will you get to your final destination if you don’t know where you are going?
There are two types of Goals.
- Losing 10 lbs.
- Running a marathon
- Not needing a 3 PM nap.
They are the endpoint, and a skill in and of itself is working backward to determine the steps that will help you get there.
Behavior or Action-Based Goals:
- I will plate a balanced meal three times a day.
- I will go for a 20-minute walk Monday through Friday.
- I will get to bed by 9:30 PM.
You can take action-based steps to get one step closer to your goal.
The wonderful thing about action-based goals is the ability to keep digging until it feels silly not to do the behavior.
👇Plate a balanced meal three times a day.
👇 Make sure there’s one palmful of protein on my plate, three meals per day.
👇 I will cook enough lean protein for the week.
👇 Be sure to make a shopping list with the ingredients for the week.
Try using the Will-I-Do-This-Scale.
Be honest with yourself, and using a scale from 1-10, rate the likelihood you will follow through on your behavior goal.
1 = 🦆 NO.
Now, before you go and pick something too easy, like… breathing, you need to have still a certain level of “I may still f**k this up.”
Aim for the sweet spot for goal setting.
In the book Lean & Strong written by Josh Hillis, he calls it Goldielocksing Skills.
If you never make any mistakes, you will get bored, and that’s pretty unmotivating.
If you consistently make mistakes 100% of the time, that is pretty discouraging, right?
Enter the 80/20 principle.
You aim for 80% consistency, leaving room for mistakes 20% of the time.
Fun fact: the 20% is where all the good stuff happens.
My son used to poop on the floor…a lot. TJ wasn’t the biggest toilet fan during potty “learning;” however, when he needed to help clean up the poop, he realized it wasn’t cool to poop on the floor.
Now my son poops on the potty.
Quite literally, shit happened, and he figured it out.
You need that 20% of shitty things happening to determine the consistency of the other 80%.
This relationship between mistakes and making progress is serious work.
It requires you to be okay with not being perfect.
Lucky for you…no one is perfect.
Everyone’s poop smells, even your partners…even if they tell you they don’t poop.
In other words, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s to be expected.
Your best option is to accept the facts and take action that makes a difference.
You have made it to the end, and there is quite a bit of information to digest.
So here’s your TL;DR version.
The best way to stick with your habits is to be okay with f***king up.
The best way to form new skills is to practice, make mistakes, learn, try again, and make progress. Repeat this from now until the end of time.
Follow this formula for creating or breaking any habit:
Cue ➡ Make it obvious/invisible
Craving ➡️ Make it attractive/unattractive
Response ➡️ Make it easy/hard
Reward ➡️ Make it satisfying/unsatisfying
So here are my parting words:
Bluey is quite honestly the best TV show.
Oh, and practice is required for any new/old habit. That’s the cheat code. Be okay with making mistakes because it’s par for the course.