Drop It Like A Bad Habit

I know I should save my coins but every month, I find myself living paycheck to paycheck because #Shopping.

I know I should cut out sugars from my diet and eat more greens, but I can’t seem to stay on track for more than a couple of days.

 I know contributing my thoughts during meetings would help me get promoted, but I just can’t get myself to speak up when I feel intimidated.

 Why do we do that? We know exactly what we should do but for some reason, we do the exact opposite.

I pulled the third quote from a conversation I had with a very successful friend. When we talked, I gave her suggestions on how to speak up at meetings but I walked away feeling like we didn’t solve the deeper issue. Why didn’t she speak up if she knew it would help her career? And how could we change that moving forward?

I later learned that the decision to not speak up was a habit. At her last job, junior-staff were discouraged from speaking during meetings so she was struggling to break that habit in her new position. I do the same thing when I claim that I’d like to be healthier. I know that I need to cut sugars and eat more greens, but I don’t. As it turns out, that’s a habit too.

According to Dr. Judson Brewer; a psychiatrist and addiction expert, we all have triggers (like being stressed) that motivate a behavior (like eating a cookie), which results in a reward (a little sugar high and a diversion from dealing with the stress). This makes it so that next time we’re stressed, our brains remember that we can ease the stress by eating instead of directly dealing with the issue - and then we learn to repeat the cycle. Eventually, this becomes a habit.

So what’s the solution?

In this Ted Talk, Brewer explains that forcing ourselves to change a habit doesn’t actually work. Instead, he encourages us to get curious and observe our actions in our moments of weakness. This is a mindful approach to dealing with the behaviors we want to change. Getting curious about the cycles we put ourselves in takes us from theoretically knowing that something is bad for us, to changing that behavior for good.

I'll be honest, I first rolled my eyes when I heard about the mindful approach to changing habits (because #PopPsychology) but the more I read more about it, the more curious I became. In one study, twice as many smokers stopped smoking when using a mindfulness approach compared to those using traditional approaches. So in the name of science - and being candid, I am going to try that approach this week and report back on whether mindfulness actually breaks the habit of eating unhealthy foods during moments of stress.

Check back with me on Friday, I’ll give you a run-down on how this worked for me. Until then, this is our little experiment.

If you have a habit you’d like to change, why don’t you try this with me? All you have to do is be curious about your action the next time you decide to spend your last dollar on a sale item or eat the cookie or sit silently in a meeting (or whatever your bad habit is). Instead of getting mad at yourself for your action (or inaction), you simply observe what is happening and how it feels. The idea is that eventually, the behavior simply stops being an appealing response to the trigger because you are operating from a mindful place.