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How to Change a Bad Habit

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The struggle is real. Habits are tough to form and even harder to break. How can you change a bad habit in order to make room for new ones?

When you own a gym and help people transform their lives, you have a front row seat for the battle of habits. This tug-of-war lives inside all of us, good habits vs. bad habits.

Unfortunately, I still see bad habits win out all too often. I’m not talking about habits like my ice cream addiction (which I will get to later), but much more serious habits that keep people from even reaching a base level of health and wellness.

It’s the number one reason people drop out of CrossFit and any gym really, they simply can’t let their new healthy habits become greater than their old ones.

Many times, these habits have been formed over years, decades even. To think that a 40-Day Challenge at your local CrossFit is going to wipe those clean is a mistake. You have to recognize how much pull your current habits have over you. That is the first step.

Second, you have to give your new habit time to take root, poke it’s little tree head through the dirt, and grow into that gigantic sequoia you know it can be. Be patient and choose simple habits you can give a little watering to each day. Resist the urge to choose high maintenance habits.

When it comes to bad habits, a lot of times they form and it can be a long time before you ever notice it. Ever use an app to track your ACTUAL Facebook usage? Or how about tracking how much you eat out, and how much that is costing your health and wallet? How many drinks do you have in a week? How many days of the week do you have ice cream?

That last one hits home. For most of 2017, it was 7. 7 days a week I was eating ice cream.

I know, how can I write advice on habits while I’m spoon deep in Halo Top? Well my habits have changed fortunately and this year has brought about a healthy nightly ritual.

The thing with having that beer or glass of wine after that long day of hard work is that it’s never about the booze. It’s about the ritual. It’s about reaching into the fridge and grabbing your Budweiser like it’s a golden trophy. Or pulling out your favorite wine glass and hearing the celebratory pop of the cork displacing itself from your bottle. (Maybe if you are drinking boxed wine from 7-11 through a straw it could be about the booze and you should probably seek professional help.)

With ice cream, it’s a little bit about that sugar rush and endorphin response, but it’s more so about what it signifies. It’s a ritual that tells me I did a damn good job at daddying today. I tuck my son in, my wife tucks our daughter in, we high five because it goes smoothly every night (sarcasm)… But we feel like we deserve some sugar and/or alcohol once we finally get an adult moment to ourselves at 8pm at night.

Every habit has a cue, a behavior, and a reward.

Our cue is the kids are in bed and this sense of freedom/accomplishment. I know many of you can relate. Even if you don’t have kids, you probably have a 9-5 that takes it all out of you in many of the same ways. Similar cues might lead us to the bar for happy hour or a not so healthy take-out choice.

When we want to change a habit, we aren’t going to have much luck trying to avoid the cues. The cues are going to happen. What we can change is our reaction to that cue and the behavior we perform.

The moment I knew something had to change came when I read an entire story to my son, and all I was thinking about was ice cream. I had recited the story from memory without being in the present moment with my son.

Telling myself to not think about ice cream in the nights that followed only made me want it more. Or if I got through one night without it, I just had a serving twice the size the next night. I tried having a little bit while the kids were still up hoping that I would have satisfied my future craving. That failed miserably as well. It felt too gratifying to open the freezer after they were in bed. Cue. Routine. Reward. I could not break the cycle.

So what changed? My routine changed by creating something new for my body to do after the kids are tucked into bed.

My new habit is to have a cup of tea, bone broth, or protein in hot water every night that I’m at home. The protein is the bone broth brand we sell at the gym but comes in chocolate, apple cinnamon, and banana, and all these in hot water are amazing! I will even add some grass fed butter or stevia sometimes to make it even better. It takes less than two minutes to make. I make life easier too by having a plug in carafe that boils water in under 60 seconds, and a small stick blender to mix the powder.

It’s not enough to say no ice cream every night. To my body that’s like saying, you’re going to have no reward for a hard days work. My body will not let that fly. But if I’m recognizing the end of my day with a healthier option each night, my body will learn to love that new celebration and feel better because of it.

Where we can, we should always substitute a new, positive, behavior, rather than just trying to do away with old ones. As I mentioned before, telling myself no ice cream only ensures ice creams stays atop my mind. There’s also a huge advantage in recognizing when exactly you do a habit, and what cue is causing you to perform that behavior. Cues can come at any time of day and show up in many forms. Be aware to what triggers certain feelings or behaviors for you.

The last thing I will mention about my ice cream habit change was changing the story around ice cream. I began to let my body tell my mind the truth about how ice cream makes me feel. Previously, my mind only knew the rush of good feelings from downing a spoonful. But after really giving some thought and examination to how ice cream makes me feel, it makes me feel less than superhuman. I can usually guarantee I will get some kind of stomach discomfort or acid reflux that night or early the next morning as I’m trying to get ready for a 6am workout.

Knowing that I’m doing something healthier for my body each night makes my body happy, and I have much better workouts the next morning. Changing the story around my nightly ritual gets me excited to do something positive for my body. And I don’t know if it’s just my mind playing tricks on me, but the healthier stuff begins to taste better when I know it’s better for me.

This is where I usually say “Keep Living Superhuman” but here’s a slightly different and honest sign-off for today. It’s one I tell myself daily.

“Stop putting limits on your Superhuman potential”