You’ve likely heard that saying that it takes 30 days to make a new habit. But how long does it take for old habits to die? The answer: forever.
We’ve all done it. We start a workout routine. We lose weight. We quit smoking. We stop drinking. We’re doing great. We feel strong and powerful. We keep up our new healthier habits for a month, then two months, then longer and we think, great, I’ve got this now. “It’s a lifestyle now,” we might say. “I don’t even think about that (insert unhealthy habit here) anymore.”
Then there’s that one day where we think, “I’ve got control of this now. Just one won’t hurt” — and whoosh! It all slips away.
In April I made a radical change in my diet. Although I made the change to try to get some autoimmune diseases under control, I was also pleased to gradually lose about 35 pounds. I was feeling better physically, a mysterious rash I’d had for two years finally cleared up, my brain felt less foggy, my hair and nails looked better than they ever had, and I was sleeping better. Clearly the new way I was eating was a winner.
Then I decided to make a big change in my employment. After I announced my decision to leave my old job I was stunned and grateful to find that I had a flurry of invitations to celebrate — dinners, happy hours, going away parties.
I thought to myself, I’ve got all these celebrations and this vacation coming up, I’m not going to deprive myself of eating what I like. It’s just this one event. Then one event turned into another, and one meal turned into the whole day, and one day turned into a week, then another week. I literally went out every night for two weeks, plus several lunches. And then I went on vacation for a week, the universal “eat and drink like it’s your last day on earth” event.
Fast forward another two weeks. Yesterday I took inventory and thought, jeez why do I feel like crap? Why am I having another migraine? Why is this rash back? Why am I so bloated? How did this bottle of Coca Cola get in my car? Spoiler alert — I’m still eating like it’s that one special event from five weeks ago.
I’d fallen right back into my old bad habits without noticing.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not my first rodeo with this stuff. Those old habits are woven much more deeply into my brain than the new ones are. The new habit is like in the old days when we’d put liquid paper on a document. You could write over the liquid paper and it’d be fine, but if you scratched it with your fingernail the new writing disappeared and the old writing was still there.
So what do I do now? How do I get myself back on track? Unsurprisingly there are tons of articles out there about this very phenomena. Here are some suggestions I found that might be helpful if you have also slipped back into bad habits:
- Acknowledge what happened, and reflect on why it happened. Did you stop paying attention? Was it a big life event? Something bad happen?
- Remember why you made the change in the first place, and focus on that intention.
- Don’t beat yourself up about what happened, just move on. You can’t change the past, but you can definitely change the future.
- Set a goal and put your intention out there – tell your friends, write it down, whatever will help make it real for you. Make your goal manageable and use incremental goals to help make it less overwhelming.
- Start making small changes to move back in the right direction. Change one thing today, then build on your success.
- Get help — support groups, accountability partners, professional help, tracking apps, whatever will help give you the support to start making changes again.
- Manage stress – stress is the number one culprit for people returning to unhealthy habits. Do the thing that helps relieve your stress — unless that thing was the problem in the first place. Meditate. Hike. Journal. Practice Yoga. Dance. Sing. Play with your dog.
- Don’t wait for Monday or tomorrow to start — putting it off will just lead to further procrastination. Start now. Right now. Seriously, today.
- Check in with yourself daily — hourly if needed — to ensure you’re on track. If you start to slip into old habits, correct immediately. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, oh well this day is ruined, I’ll start again tomorrow.
It’s time my friends. Let’s liquid paper over the old bad habits and cover them with new ones. Who’s with me?
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