A new approach to old habits

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Much of what I do as a nutrition and wellness coach is help people replace old habits that no longer serve them with new habits that are more in line with their current goals. Habits are funny things. We attach so much emotion to them. Sometimes we hate them, are ashamed of or embarrassed by them, and we just want them gone. Other times we find them oddly comforting even when we know they aren’t good for us. Often we feel trapped by them; they’re so deeply ingrained that we feel powerless to break free.

What if we took a less antagonistic approach and attitude toward the habits that no longer serve us? What if we showed them appreciation, thanked them for all the ways they did serve us once, even if in the long term the effects were not overwhelmingly positive and we now feel ready to move in a different direction?

Think about a habit you’d like to change. Odds are it had its genesis in a time of high emotion for you. Maybe that coffee milkshake and double scone on the way to work was the only thing getting you out of bed in the morning to spend your day at a job you hated. Maybe that nightly bag of chips in front of the TV was your way of coping with the stress of a sick parent or child. Maybe that pint of ice cream was a comfort after a brutal breakup that broke your heart. Maybe that bag of candy made you feel less lonely. Maybe that Sunday morning box of donuts made you feel closer to your donut-loving mom. Maybe that weekend booze binge let you feel like you were making one decision for yourself at a time when you felt all of your decisions were being made for you. Maybe that cigarette gave you a feeling of control, calm and ritual at a time when your life felt completely out of control. Maybe that lunchtime soda was a reward for getting through your morning and a bolster to help you get through the afternoon.

At one time, that habit served you. It gave you something you needed. It helped you cope somehow. It helped you survive something intense. And you liked that feeling of calm, control, comfort, reward, or whatever it was, so you kept doing it. Because guess what? You’re human, and that’s how we’re wired. We take an emergency, short-term measure and we turn it into a daily routine because we don’t want to lose the feeling that it gives us. We keep seeking that hit.

Realizing that our habits no longer serve us, that we’re no longer getting that reward from them, or that we’d like to get it in a more health-supporting way is absolutely the first step to changing those habits. But the second step is to reflect on those habits without judgement or shame and to feel gratitude for how they helped us cope. Those habits did us a service, they helped us survive, and they allowed us to get to the point where we are now — ready for change.

Affirmation: “Thank you for your service, old habit, but it’s time for me to put you back in the toolbox and move on to the next phase of my life!”

More about how to do that in future posts and future issues of my newsletter!

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A new approach to old habits