Why bad habits don’t need telling off - they need replacing

habits Mar 31, 2020



Why bad habits don’t need telling off they need replacing

We lose so much time and energy vilifying our bad habits. We try to stop them, by hitting ourselves with the naughty stick every time we succumb. But it doesn’t work. How many times have you given yourself a good telling off and promised you will “never” drink again, smoke, eat the cake, miss the gym session, lose your temper, not stick up for yourself….. Only to do this exact thing month, weeks, minutes later. So we repeat the process, by telling ourselves off, and nothing changes. STOP. Bad habits don’t need telling off they need replacing, here’s why:

Bad habits don’t need telling off they need replacing

10 years ago, I was driving myself mad, trying to change habits by shouting at myself each time I slipped up. As a wise man once said, “the very definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.” But luckily, rather than give up I became intrigued and began to study behavioural change. This led me to a great discovery - the habit loop.

I discovered the habit loop and everything changed

Once you understand how habits are formed, you will realise why telling them off doesn’t work! 

The science shows us that habits are formed by three main elements:

The habit loop

The trigger: The event, emotion, time, person or proceeding action that kick starts the loop

The routine: The habit you perform 

The reward: The reward you receive for playing the routine.

Finally, craving for the reward ignites the whole system.

You can think of a habit like a groove of an old vinyl record. The more you play the habit the deeper the groove. So trying to overwrite a habit by telling it off - is like trying to replace the groove on the record. It’s incredibly difficult and rarely ever works. 

But once you understand the parts of the loop you can decode the system and get tactical with your habit change. Rather than try to overwrite or erase the whole habit, you keep the trigger and reward, but swap the routine. It’s so simple yet incredibly powerful. 

3 steps to overcome a 7 pm unhealthy snacking habit

Let’s take a 7 pm unhealthy snacking habit for example. Over time this is the sort of habit that is really annoying. You don’t want to do it and have berated yourself on numerous occasions, promising yourself that tomorrow will be different only to trip up again and again. In fact, you feel regret almost daily because of this annoying habit. Let’s stop this!

Step 1:

The first thing you need to do when transforming a habit is to identify all the parts of the loop:

In this example it might look like this:

Trigger: 7 pm 

Routine: Walk to the kitchen open the cupboard and grab a chocolate bar

Reward: Comforting food

Step 2:

From now on rather than trying to rid yourself of the habit - get tactical and replace the routine.

You keep the trigger 7 pm and also keep the reward of a comforting snack - you swap the routine by eating a healthy snack.

Trigger: 7 pm 

Routine: Walk to the kitchen open the cupboard and grab a healthy snack (Fruit, nuts, health bar…)

Reward: Comforting food

I GET IT - this is so much easier said than done but you get the idea. Also to help, remove the junk snacks and make sure you have healthy ones at the ready for where the trigger comes.



Protein bars…

Step 3:

Repeat this process a few times to get the new routine to stick. 

I know the healthy options routine might not at first be as appealing as a chocolate bar, but this is your challenge. It’s not a massive one - all you have to do is force through the fact that you are eating something different. That’s it. 

You will be amazed at how quickly you will crave the healthy option. And from this place of empowerment, you can also phase out the 7 pm snaking habit all together at a later date if it’s not serving you.

In short, there is no need to fight old habits, just start new ones.


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