I was up at my usual time this morning (430am) so it feels great to get a jump on the day and look at something that you’ll find me often talking about as being critical to all of our success.
This is the power of habits – i.e how you spend your time, and what specifically you spend doing with it.
I’ve just finished reading this excellent book:
You can head over here to read my book notes on it.
But I want to dig into how you can take this expression and use it to leverage a massive impact in your own life:
What are habits first of all?
Well – anything that you do routinely – is a habit.
Habits turn into routines over time, and routines become almost subconscious.
When you are attempted to learn something new and develop a new habit in your life – this activity is determined by the cerebrum.
The cerebrum is in control of complex brain functions.
An example of what would be a complex brain function could actually be the development of a new habit – such a running in the morning as the first thing that you do when you wake up.
Now in principle – depending upon how you feel about this activity – it might be simple. HOWEVER – if this ISN’T something that you yet do – then it’ll live in the cerebrum as you consider:
- Your current morning routine and disrupting that
- Getting your clothes laid out for when you wake up
- Whether you’re motivated to run in the rain and cold
- Doing this every day…
There are a lot of complex considerations here which require brainpower – as you’re trying to develop a new habit.
A habit I’m currently trying to develop is to record 2 videos every time I go for a walk. Two YouTube shorts.
This is currently a complex activity for me until it becomes muscle memory.
Once a habit has become, habitual, it requires much less brainpower than it used to – and then it can be performed with much less mental activity – at least consciously.
So then it moves to the basal ganglia – which is where more of our autonomous processes lived.
We’d never get ANYTHING done if we had to consciously think about everything we did.
How Does Habit Formation Work?
The theories presented in the book I read above are fascinating.
But let’s talk more broadly about habit formation.
There is a cue to do something –
This is a trigger – a trigger to engage in some kind of activity.
An example for me is that in the evening before going to be my body craves sugar. Whether it’s a learned response (it absolutely is lol) or not – I want sugar.
The net thing that follows is the ‘routine’ or the ‘action’ – and that would be buying Haagen Daaz or buying AND eating Haagen Daaz.
Consequently – I’m able to get my reward – which is the sugar rush and pleasant sensation when a cocktail of powerful neurotransmitters are released into the brain. Dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin all swirl around.
These simple loops lead to the very fast reinforcement of this habit.
All in a loop.
And as my reward centres (i.e these chemicals) don’t get the EXACT same stimulation the next time I eat 100mg of Haagen Daaz – I end up eating 110mg and so on and so forth. Before you know it – I’ve seen myself eat 300mg in one sitting.
What current habits do you have?
With this framework in mind – it’s then worth thinking about the current habits that you have that make up your day both good and bad.
I’m going to right now walk through all of the obviously bad habits in my life:
- Eating ice cream after dinner
- Eating a bag of grapes each day to get my sugar rush
- Eating takeaway almost every evening
Most of my bad habits actually revolve around food and diet.
It’s interesting to take a look at your own habits and immediately knowing where your weaknesses lie.
I encourage you to carry out the same exercise to get a sense of what your worst habits are.
How To Stop Bad Habits
This of course, for many people could be the key to transformation in their lives.
What if I could suddenly stop eating ice cream completely?
What if I could stop eating a bag of grapes per day?
What if I could switch from takeaway to home-cooked meals?
If that was possible I think I’d see my body fat drop around 3% just by itself without me changing anything else. I think I’d have 15% more energy.
And those two things – would have a significant impact on my life.
It’s already motivating in truth just to give these things proper consideration.
In order for me to make these transformations (which I’m going to attempt to map out through the course of this blog) – it’s going to require some intense work!
Let’s get into it!
You Can’t ‘STOP’ Bad Habits
This – when it comes to eating 125ml of Haagen Daz ‘Cookies and Cream’ 2-3x per week is probably a fool’s errand.
Stopping habits, in general, is an ineffective strategy.
What needs to happen is that you need to replace this habit with a new one.
‘Stopping’ stuff doesn’t work because as human we’re wired for routines.
What needs to happen is a combination of things:
I need to remove Haagen Daz from my freezer.
I’ve actually just gone and taken out my 450ml tub of ice cream and I’ve left it outside so it’ll melt and then I’ll throw it away.
It’s painful to even think about that – but in doing this it’s a VERY powerful act:
- It’s a waste of ice cream
- It’s a waste of food
- It’s a waste of money (£4.99)
- It’s reframing my relationship with Haagen Daz
When you combine all of these things together – it’s an incredibly powerful act of symbolism that reframes my relationship with ice cream totally.
What can you do in this manner that is similar?
The second thing I did was this:
Replace my 450ml tub with a 95ml tub
In the local store, I get my ice cream tub from – I discovered that they have a 95ml tub also.
Over the past several months I had been gorging on the 450ml tubs sometimes finishing it within 5 days – which would equal – 90ml per DAY.
Once I switched out tubs – my weekly consumption immediately dropped from a maximum of 600ml per week to 190ml per week – so over a 300% drop.
This one change (because I could never bring myself to buy more than TWO of these tubs per week) made a huge difference to my ice cream intake.
Yesterday, however, when I went to my local corner shop – they were OUT of the 95ml option 🙁
Habits take time to change but building in steps on a consistent basis to make the act of that habit more difficult and to make the association negative is a powerful first step.
Make the association painful and negative
Negative associations. It’s something we should really consider incorporating into our arsenal when dealing with bad habits.
What I mean by this is asking yourself ‘what bad habits do I currently have?’.
No doubt you’ll list a load of them out.
For me, Haagen Daz is still the killer – until I did something interesting.
I conducted a ‘negative’ visualisation exercise – where I thought about eating my ice cream (and then I extended it to ice cream of any kind) and literally burning a £5 banknote.
I took something that modern culture (myself included) connotes with wealth and success – and I imagined burning something that’s central to my values. Progression and success.
I clearly (even right now) think of Haagen Daz in my head and can’t imagine it without the burning of the £5 note.
It puts me off eating Haagen Daz and anything else similar…i.e ice cream.
I didn’t actually even need to burn the £5 note – just imagining it was enough.
To get to the ‘note burning visualisation though – I first began with something smaller…(for me anyway).
I had bought a £4.95 tub of Haagen Daz, ate my initial sitting – and then left it outside to thaw..thus wasting it.
Again – just doing that was powerful for me psychologically.
It’s painful to lose money but also underlined what I’d in fact done by buying it – literally waste my money.
So when combining these together I’ve ultimately been able to stop my Haagen Daz consumption dead. Even the thought of eating it at the cinema now puts me off – because I know I’ll need to finish the movie and then burn a £5 note.
Reframe Your Habit
There’s something I tried literally 3 days ago which was an ‘early’ success. I’m yet to determine what long term change it’s going to drive (if any) because it’s literally not been long enough yet.
But I’ll talk you through it right now –
There’s nothing more I enjoy than heading to my local pizza place (Pizza Go Go) and getting an American Hot (Double pepperoni pizza with chilli) thick crust, Garlic Bread with Cheese and BBQ Hot Wings…and devouring it.
This is 100% deadly if I’m looking to keep in shape and get better with eating.
The challenge is – is that bad habits which make you feel ‘great’ (i.e when I eat) quickly become habitual.
Every time at the weekend when I dig into a slice of pizza I get a sensation and therefore the association of eating the pizza and deriving pleasure from it
Consequently – I go back for more.
Here are the steps that I followed to try and fix this:
ONCE (and it was damn difficult to do) – I ordered the SAME meal but thin-crust instead of the usual thick base.
That was a significant moment in my Pizza Go Go journey.
I discovered that the thin-crust still tasted good – but it was 30% less bread and I still 100% enjoyed it.
I then switched from ordering deep-pan to a thin crust permanently from that moment.
Then 3-days ago (and here’s where the original reference for this section comes in) I took it a step further again…
This time I ordered NOTHING but BBQ hot wings. Then when it arrived I ate it with broccoli and blueberries (whatever was available in the fridge that seemed healthy and that I would enjoy).
And I loved it!
I’ve successfully (and ultimately progressively) been able to reframe my eating habits around Pizza Go Go – and now will the next 3 times I order – ONLY order BBQ wings.
And WITH you right now – I’m going to visualise me tucking into a pizza (of ANY KIND) and imagine it having warmed up faeces on it. The slurred brown of someone’s stools after a heavy night of drinking.
And I’m going to REALLY visualise tucking into it and it rolling around sickly bitter inside my mouth…
Hopefully, you’ve having really negative visualisations of pizza as well now!
I’m trying to help you associate pizza with horrible images and tastes in your mouth and a sick feeling in your stomach.
…This is the latest trick I’m trying to employ in my journey of rebuilding and redefining my habits!
There’s of course more to the world of habit formation – but I hope this offers a solid start to changing your habits and then changing your life.
As I grow older I’m becoming more aware of the damaging habits I keep and recognising that they need to change in order to have the healthiest possible future.
And if I can understand the core of how my negative habits have been built and inverse my associations with those damaging habits… then (I hope) – success awaits.
For you and me both!
Please do share in the comments below how you’re going to be using reframing and visualisation and reframing to KILL bad habits 😛