Losing the Habit

Every night after my children go to sleep, my husband and I sit down and watch a little TV before we go to bed. Its an innocent little habit that really hurts no one, not even me. However, while we watch that little slice of  entertainment, I am also, almost always, indulging in some sweet treat. Hm, now that sounds innocent enough too doesn’t it. Now let me tell you the full truth of it. It is never a normal size treat, it isn’t a taste of something sweet, heck it usually isn’t even one portion. We are serious about our gluttony around here. Just a few days ago, we actually had an ice cream eating contest, he had smores ice cream and I had triple chocolate death ice cream. I am proud to say he won the contest by eating the entire carton while I could only manage half (never fear I did finish the remainder the following night. No ice cream shall go bad in this house!)

This is a habit I have had most of my life, even before children. There is something about winding down from the day, slipping on my comfy clothes, kicking back with a good show and stuffing my face with desserts. I believe this habit makes me happy. I feel like I deserve this one little moment of pleasure because the days are so hard. I justify the habit because I work out on a regular basis and for the rest of the day, everyday, I eat very healthy. Lots of veggies, fruits, lean protein ect. Surely that means I can indulge in this one little, tiny habit of over indulging in craptastic food right?

Letting go of habits can be extremely difficult. Especially when you might have gone to great lengths to justify the habit as I have above and continue to do on a regular basis, nightly in fact. But not all habits are good for you and no matter what justification you give them, it is time to let them go. So how do you let go of something that you think is working for you when it is really working against you?

I want to feel good and be healthy. My family has not been blessed with the best genetics and my mother was a mere one year older than me when she had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. So I am eager to remain as healthy as possible and I truly believe that at least part of that equation is in my hands. I control the daily maintenance of my body with lots of really good habits. I drink lots of water, take my multi-vitamins, I don’t eat fast food, I get regular check ups, I workout at least 4 times a week, I make our dinners from scratch, we eat lots of whole foods, I have only 1 twelve ounce soda a day. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, I never have. I have lived in terror of heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes for as long as I can remember. Complete terror I tell you. So with all those good habits I have managed to create and maintain, you’d think limiting sugar and stupid yummy evil desert would be right up there on the list.

Well, honestly I have tried. Lots of times, and sometimes I succeed for awhile, sometimes even months or a year, but invariably I always slip back off the wagon and the little fat girl from childhood who still lives inside me will make brownies or stop for an innocent cone and the next thing you know I’m having “cake offs” with my husband while we watch The Biggest Loser- true fact, not joking. What is a cake off? that is when I ask my husband to get me a Pepridge farm chocolate cake and he brings home two and says lets see who can eat theirs the fastest. He’s very competitive my husband. Maybe the competition makes him feel less guilty? But I digress.

So clearly letting go of habits is a tough one and I imagine it is tough for just about everyone, if the habit is bringing you some kind of pleasure or fulfillment. Bad habits are the most frustrating thing to let go of when you are trying to live intentionally. The main reason is that YOU are holding you back. You are the big road block in the way, you and you alone control the creation and maintenance of habits. If a habit isn’t working for you, or is preventing you from attaining the life you want, then you must find a way to let it go. Life will provide you with plenty of obstacles between you and your goals, don’t let yourself be one of them.

The best way I have found to let go of a bad habit is by replacing it with a good one. It is extremely difficult to cut out a bad habit and just leave a hole. What will fill the place of the hole if you don’t consciously choose what to put there? I will tell you, the original habit will just seep back in, or a new equally terrible habit will sneak in. Its funny how habits that are bad for you are easy to start and hard to quit, but habits that are good for you are often hard to start and easy to quit.

If I don’t make a purposeful decision of what I will do instead of the bad habit I almost always fail. The only exception to this is life threatening things where the fear of a negative result motivates you to change suddenly and without problems. My son being diagnosed with Celiac Disease was all I needed to go Gluten free. Bam! Overnight the house and my life was purged of gluten. My son’s life was at stake, it was an EASY change to make. I can almost guarantee you that if I had just tried a gluten free diet for weight loss or because I thought it was healthier, I’d have failed the first Friday I couldn’t eat pizza. I promise you that is what would have happened. Tell me it’s killing my kid and I drop that habit like a freaking live hand grenade. Not in my house! Oh hell no!

The first step to letting go of bad habits is identifying them. This can be tricky but if you look at the areas of your life that don’t seem to be working well, or have prevented you from moving forward, you can usually find a bad habit skulking around. Want a promotion but keep getting overlooked? Maybe it is because you are habitually late getting to work or you eat in every meeting? Finding it hard to lose the last 5 pounds? Maybe it is habit of taking just a few candies from your coworker’s candy dish every day. Most failed attempts at reaching our life goals can be traced not to your own inadequacies but to a simple habit that prevents forward momentum.

Once you identify your habit, find an alternative habit to replace it. This is usually something either similar but better or something completely opposite. For me, I find riding the stationary bike in our living room prevents me from eating, or even wanting to eat. I have also found that not watching the tv but reading or playing a game is a good way to break the cycle too. Want to be on time for work? Start going to bed earlier. Want to resist the candies to lose the 5 pounds? Try bringing a health snack, avoiding the cube with candy, or taking a walk outside when you feel the urge to eat.

I don’t think my nightly habit is the worst thing in the world and on some days I really do feel like I might crumble into a million pieces if I don’t indulge (my emotional eating is a topic I am certain we will cover later). However, I also made a bet with the hubby that I’d get 4 pack abs before him and I’ll never beat the snot out of him if I don’t let go of my need to binge. I’ve moved our recumbent bike to center stage in the living room as a reminder to ride not eat, so far I haven’t done so. Letting go is tough, and for me, letting go of sugar is the toughest.

What habits are holding you back? What do you need to let go of? What new habits will you start to fill the hole left behind?

High points this week: On the road to financial recovery, learned that sometimes confrontation is a really good thing, almost accomplished a head stand in yoga, stepped in poop but found some beautiful flowers, and was given thoughtful gifts out of the blue :)