On Christmas Day as I lifted that sixth chocolate crinkle cookie to my mouth, I knew it wasn’t good for me. I knew I’d feel sick after. And I knew I’d have to sneak away to use the hair-tie trick for the first time since I was pregnant with Bailey.
But I didn’t care.
Our brains are wired to care more about the immediate and tangible, not the delayed and intangible. So if I eat that cookie now, I get immediate and tangible pleasure from the chocolatey goodness, whereas the consequences – the possible impact to my weight and health – are delayed and intangible.
Your Willpower Won’t Save You
You CAN overcome that urge for deliciousness in the here and now by using your reserves of willpower, but those reserves are unreliable. This is because because willpower ebbs and flows depending what’s happening and how you feel. Nobody has a willpower that’s reliable 100 percent of the time, not even perfectionists.
In fact, relying on your willpower may even tire you out. In one study, researchers placed people in a room with freshly baked cookies and told them they couldn’t eat the cookies. Nobody gave in – although I surely would have.
Another group was put in a room with a bunch of radishes and told they couldn’t eat the vegetables, but they could have all the cookies they wanted – no willpower necessary there. Then the researchers gave everyone a test that couldn’t be solved, but the subjects didn’t know that. The lucky folks who got to eat cookies kept trying on their tests for an average of 19 minutes. The people who had to use up their willpower to not eat the cookies? They gave up after only 8 minutes.
A New Year’s Buzzkill
With the new year around the corner, everyone’s all “I’m gonna exercise more!” or “I’m gonna eat better!” or “I’m gonna stop spending my kid’s college fund on new Candy Crush lives!”
I happen to love the idea of New Year’s resolutions. They appeal to my perfectionist tendencies AND they’re an excuse to make another list.
But right now, I barely have the energy to brush my teeth before collapsing into bed every night.
If any New Year’s resolutions are going to happen around here, they’re going to have to be REAL DAMN EASY.
5 Easy Ways to Break a Bad Habit
If you have a bad habit that needs breaking but you’re a tired parent like me – or just plain tired – here are some ways you can trick yourself into breaking that habit.
I have a few family members and friends who are trying to cut out diet soda, so I’ve used that example throughout. But you can apply this advice to any habit of yours that needs a good kick in the pants, whether it’s biting your nails, eating junk food, or watching too much reality TV.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to form a new habit, check out: 5 Ways for Busy Moms to Create a Habit.
1. Remove the Temptation
Get that soda out of the house. If you always have a soda in the morning because you’re tired from staying up late, try moving your bedtime up half an hour at a time until you no longer need the caffeine or sugar to keep you going in the morning. If you always have a Diet Coke when you eat out, make a list of restaurants that serve only Pepsi products and stick to those restaurants for a while.
Think about when and where you indulge, and remove the badness (and yourself) from those situations. Get the junk food out of your pantry. Cancel your cable. Have your fingernails surgically removed.
2. Avoid the Void
It’s easier to give up something you enjoy if you have something else enjoyable ready to take its place right away. For example, you could replace soda with:
- Lightly sweetened iced tea
- Spritzer with carbonated water and a little juice
- Iced tea mixed with a little bit of lemonade or pink lemonade
This trick was the key to my success when I kicked my soda habit. I replaced soda with sweet iced tea, then downgraded to lightly sweetened iced tea, then unsweetened. At which point I magically lost five pounds…not that our brains are wired to give a flying flip about that.
3. Say “If…Then”
Come up with a simple “if…then” plan. For example: “If I think about ordering a soda, then I’ll order an iced tea instead.” Or: “If I’m at the grocery store, then I won’t even walk down the soda aisle.”
In one study, people trying to eat less of a certain food repeated their “if…then” plan to themselves three times, and the plan helped them achieve their goal compared to people without an “if…then” plan.
Writing down your plan helps too. Try using washable window markers to write it on your bathroom mirror.
4. Tell the World
A good support structure is a must for breaking habits. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers. These will be the people who encourage you to continue and who ask you how things are going. You need them.
5. Look on the Bright Side
Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, recommend looking for the “bright spots.” Are there times when it’s easier than others to not indulge in your bad habit? Focus on what makes those times successful, then try to recreate those circumstances.
For example, maybe you notice that if you have a full glass of water in the morning, you aren’t as tempted by a soda at lunch. Then all you have to do is drink that glass of water every morning to avoid temptation.
For more tips on winning at life, follow my Pinterest board The World’s Okayest Parents.
What bad habit do you want to break? Share in a comment below!