Why is it so tough to kick a habit

Why is it so tough to quit something that is bad, usually it is something that is soooo good too?

You know what I mean; chocolate, alcohol, laziness, even what you eat for breakfast. We all have habitual actions that we often feel a little embarrassed by, such as buying a chocolate bar and a can of coke every time you go to the petrol station to fill the car up… that one used to be one of my worse habits, I just knew it was not good for me, but I just couldn’t quit it. It was like I was on auto pilot.

Do you get home from work, immediately turn on the TV instead of doing your workout?

Do you go out on a Friday and Saturday night, just because it is the weekend, and then spend the rest of the weekend in bed regretting your excesses?

One of the problems I face as a fitness professional is to get my clients to change what they eat so that it compliments their training efforts. One common hang up relates to breakfast, getting them to stop eating cereal based breakfasts is like putting a heroine addict through cold turkey!

The problem is our bad habits can cause us a myriad of health problems, such as weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, a weak immune system, and poor structural health. All of which cause a great deal of misery.

Brain researchers at MIT in the US have discovered that once a poor habit is established, certain neural patterns are created in the brain which ingrain the habit to becoming almost completely automatic. We just don’t even think about the action, we just do it. These patterns can be erased just as readily as they are created in the first place, BUT the patterns can be rekindled much quicker the next time round.

Obvious stuff really, when you think about how many people relapse back into a smoking habit, or poor nutritional habits.

Breaking habits can be tough though. The fear of social alienation if you stop smoking (where will you get the office gossip from, if you are not smoking with your co-workers!). Having to avoid going out on a Friday night can cause a similar problem, with your normal social circle. Not having that glass of wine with your evening meal each night, it has become so ingrained that you would feel uncomfortable if only water was available.

Thankfully there are solutions to these problems, and it is not just down to will power. Pattern breaking is simply a matter of becoming more conscious of each action that you take. A simple example:

Do you drive the same route to work each and every day? I bet on many days the journey to work does not even register, it is just like you are on auto pilot. You have no idea of how many cars cut you up, or even if you indicated at the right moments, or even indicated at all!

Breaking this habit is a simple act of deciding to take a different route to work. In fact I have about 5 different ways to get to the gym and regularly go further out of my way, just to break the monotony of the journey to work.

For the more serious issue of eating and drinking habits, simply get into the habit of stopping just before you consume something and make a judgment on the quality of the item you are about to eat or drink. I use a 3 point grade A, B or C type foods.

A’s are your good clean foods like fresh fruit and veg, meat, fish and water plus some diary items like eggs too. B’s are not so good, slightly processed products including breads, pasta, cereal based products C’s are the really bad foods, including fizzy drinks, highly processed foods which are high in sugar like cakes, plus all the junk food such as chips, burgers, pizzas etc.

This simple process makes me more conscious of my food choices, allowing me to make better choices and ones that compliment my exercise habits.

One other common poor habit is laziness or procrastination from exercise, this is because you may associate exercise with hard work, pain, or you have low self efficacy. To break this habit you may find it useful to find a purpose for actually doing your workouts…

Getting involved in a sport may just give the reason you need to start doing your workouts. Rather than simply working out to lose weight, why not make your workouts more focused towards a sport, so that you improve your speed, agility, flexibility, balance and strength. You may just find that the side benefit is that you’ll lose that weight after all.

One of my current clients came to me a few months ago with really poor motivation, the habit to workout just wasn’t working. It was becoming a real struggle to get to the gym to do the workouts. I simply asked her one question – has there ever been a sport that you thought would be just so cool to do? Immediately I saw a spark of excitement in her face, she told me she always wanted to do rock climbing, but never had the belief that she could do it. Fantastic we had just found her motivation.

Two weeks later after the change of focus and some adjustment to her routines, she joined a local club and got right back into the workout habit. 30 days later she had dropped a dress size and was really enjoying her time in the gym, plus doing great with the climbing too!

So you see habits can be broken down, simply by recognizing the patterns, then making a conscious decision to do or try something else. Yes it is NOT easy, but don’t you think your life would be fuller, richer, more interesting if you didn’t spend so much time on autopilot?

So start right now, decide what different route you are going to take to work tomorrow, stop yourself before consuming anything and really SEE what you are eating, and start making better exercise habits by changing the focus to an outcome that really excites you!

The best of luck

Tim