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

habits Jul 16, 2020

We lose so much time and energy vilifying our bad habits. We try to stop them, by hitting ourselves with the naughty stick. But it doesn’t work. 

So we repeat the process, by “ really” telling ourselves off, and still, nothing changes. 

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.

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

The habit loop

The trigger: The event, emotion, time, person or preceding 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 hard and rarely ever works. 

However, once you understand how habits are formed, you can decode the loop and get tactical with 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. 

For example, here is an unhealthy habit that has tripped most of us at some point.

The unhealthy evening snack.

This is the type of unwanted habit that can torment us for decades as we live with the perpetual frustration of believing that tomorrow we will not fall into the same unhealthy trap. Only for the clock to strike 7 pm and without thinking we reach for the crisps and the groundhog day begins again. 

You don’t want to do it and have berated yourself on numerous occasions, promising yourself 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 quickly pause here. Just think about how many unwanted habits, such as unhealthy snacking, that have caused you upset and regret. Not just for days or weeks, but years.

When you think about it, we have lots of these habits that hang around for decades tripping us up, making us feel miserable.

Let’s stop this!

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

Here is how you do it:

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

I KNOW - this is so much easier said than done but you get the idea.

This key to this little habit switcharoo is that you make it incredibly easy to do the right thing and difficult to do the wrong thing. 

So remove the junk snacks. 

I know you might be thinking but what about the kids, my partner or when I have a visitor? I can’t give them a cup of tea and some nuts!

This is the type of thinking that keeps you trapped

The limiting belief that you need unhealthy snacks in the house for the kids or a random visitor are keeping you eating the junk! 

So let’s remove both the unhealthy snacks and the limiting beliefs.

The kids won’t mind especially when you replace them with healthy alternatives and what about a delicious protein ball for your guest? 

I bet your visitor would appreciate a homemade healthy treat way more than another chocolate bar. 

And what if your guest is dreading coming to visit because they are trying to optimise their diet and they’re worried you’re going to try and stuff them with junk. 

What a pleasant surprise for them to experience a protein ball with their tea.

And while we are on a roll, how would you feel if you could transform a habit that has been nagging you for years by simply putting in a small bit of effort to stack the deck in your favour.

Also, it’s vital that you remember - we are perfectly imperfect humans and at a really basic level - we do what’s easy and avoid what’s difficult.

So make it easy to eat healthy snacks and hard to reach the junk. It really is that simple. 

But they don’t taste as good

I appreciate that healthy options might not appear 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. While also making the effort to create the most delicious healthy snacks.

That’s it. 

Your body is so clever that it will not take long before you crave the healthy option. 

And from this place of empowerment, you can also phase out the 7 pm snaking habit at a later date if it’s not serving you.

In short, there is no need to fight unwanted habits year after year, just replace them with new healthy ones.




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