What Makes Breaking Habits So Difficult? - It Begins With A Thought Coaching

What Makes Breaking Habits So Difficult?

Breaking habits
Breaking habits Natalie BrownMany of my clients are in the habit of eating beyond satiety. This was something I really struggled with once upon a time as well. We get in the habit of eating until our plate is clean, or until the bag or container is empty or until everyone else is done and gets up from the table, or eating until you feel a certain feeling of over-fullness, a certain level of physical discomfort that triggers your brain into stopping. Like once you feel like you need to unbutton your pants or lay down or you feel nauseous…then you stop.

This is not an indictment of your character or a moral failing or a weakness. It’s a habit. Once a habit is established, it is challenging to break…because doing what we’ve always done is easier…and change means a new flavor and new level of discomfort. The habits that are the most challenging to break are those that take you from relative fun, or freedom or comfort…to something else.

Breaking and creating habits are in essence the same thing. Because if you are creating a new habit, like consistent exercise, you are at the same time breaking the habit you’re already in…the habit of resting, sitting, not exercising-whatever that looks like. The challenge will always be going from the easier default habit to the more challenging/more work habit.

It’s easier to not workout than it is to workout…which is why it’s common to get out of the habit of working out to go back to the not working out. It’s easier to not plan your food in advance and to just eat whatever is in the fridge. It’s easier to not cook and to eat whatever fast food you drive by. It’s easier to watch tv than it is to read. It’s easier to keep eating sugar than it is to not eat sugar when you are craving it and it tastes good.

As you are working to break and create new habits on your weight journey, give yourself some grace. It makes perfect sense that your brain slides back to comfort. It just thinks that is its main objective…to keep you in comfort. Even if it’s a habit you have been in pretty consistently for months…your brain will continue to push the comfort agenda and you can still find yourself breaking the more challenging habit to go back to the easy one.

When it comes to eating beyond full habit…the reason this feels so hard to break for so many of you is two-fold. Your body loves to maintain and to gain weight. It does not like to lose. Its goal is to make deposits for future energy, and keep them full and make more of them. That is your body doing what it evolved to do…keep you alive through all the famines it thinks you will face. Investing for future energy needs. Your fat stores are your bodies 401K plan. It’s much easier to put in than it is to withdraw.

So this eating beyond full you do, feels to your body like it is supporting that energy investment strategy. In order to break this habit, you have to welcome the discomfort of extra space. Of a sense of emptiness. Eating less than you are used to eating in a sitting will feel like a deficit. Deficit feels uncomfortable to your brain and body. Letting go of some of those fat stores feels like overspending to your frugal, savings focused body. But eating the amount that you are in the habit of eating now-the amount that makes you feel like you’ve had enough or more than enough is making you stay here where you are or gain and never gives your body a chance to burn some of that stored fat.

We have to break the habit of stuffed and create the habit of satisfied. Any breaking and creating will be uncomfortable. Expect it. Anticipate it. Allow it to feel hard. It won’t feel hard forever. Give it a week and you will likely notice you are already getting in the habit of eating to the new fullness threshold.

Beneficial Habits

Take a minute with me and think about some of the things in your life you are in the habit of doing. Let’s start with the habits that you would label as good or beneficial or maybe even neutral. And maybe let’s just zoom into one particular set of habits just for the sake of example: Your nighttime, before-bed habits.

When I decide it’s time for me to go to bed, I make the rounds in my house making sure lights are off and doors are locked. I plug in my computer, my apple watch and my phone. I change into pajamas and wash my face every night. I also always brush my teeth, use mouthwash, go to the bathroom, and take my supplements. I cuddle up with my heating pad for a little while and watch tv until I get dozey and then I put my heating pad away, turn off the tv, put my eye mask on and turn onto my left side and go to sleep.

Every single one of those things I do for a reason. And doing them makes my life better in some way in the future than if I were not to do it. It’s not easier to do it…It would be much easier to not do any of it and just lay down and go to sleep.

But if I don’t wear my eye mask-I am really sensitive to light and so I will wake up throughout the night and not get a deep restful night’s sleep. If I don’t take off my makeup/wash my face before I put on my eye mask, the mascara on my eyelashes makes my lashes less bendable and so they break off. If I don’t plug in my computer and my phone, I won’t be able to use them the next day which will make my life much harder. If I don’t brush my teeth I get cavities and have terrible breath and unhealthy gums and on and on.

It’s easier in the moment to not do these things, but the impact of not doing it, makes life harder in the future and so the small challenge of doing all the things is worth it and therefore I do it, also…because I have been doing it for some time consistently. Even though it was a challenge to remember and I had to push myself to follow through at first…it is basically automatic now. It feels pretty easy.

These are all habits I had to create. Once upon a time, I wasn’t in the habit of any of them. But one by one, I noticed that my current habits, though easy in the moment, were creating hard later. When I was 10 I went to the dentist and had 6 cavities. I had to go in and get my whole mouth numbed and the cavities drilled out and fillings put in and it took what felt like hours and I hated it. That was where my consistent brushing habits started. I was in the habit of going to bed without brushing…which got me 6 cavities at once, and so I created a new habit of brushing every night in addition to my morning habit and avoided cavities in the future. I sacrificed easy now/hard later for harder now/easier later.

I realize that brushing your teeth isn’t necessarily “hard” but it is more work than not brushing…it’s the principle we’re talking about here.

Whether it’s planning meals ahead v. fast food on the way home, or working out versus not working out, or eating at night versus having a cut off, reading v tv, water v soda…The habits that we fall out of are often uncomfortable-the ones that challenge us-it’s less work to not do it or do the other thing instead. The habits that are hard to break are comfortable-it is less work to keep doing it than to stop and do the new thing.

That’s always how it will be. That is how it is supposed to be.

As you think about the habits you want to break and the new ones you want to create…make sure you honor this aspect of the process-the habit you are in that you want to break is comfortable…why? Why is it more comfortable to do things that way? Be honest, not judgmental here. Give your brain some credit for why it is currently doing things this way. And then think about how the current habit is making it easy now, but hard later. Be honest here too. Really allow yourself to explore the impact this habit is having on the future.

And then think about the new habit you want to create. How will it be hard now, but make things easier later. Are you willing to deal with the hard for what it will create for your future?

Don’t beat yourself up about choosing easy. Of course you are. Being comfortable is one of the most important things your brain wants to do for you.

But you need to remind your brain that discomfort now will equal more comfort in the long run…so the objective remains the same…the means and timeline are just different.

If you are wanting more help with accepting that discomfort, let me help! Join my coaching program here!

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Meet Natalie

I spent over 2 decades battling my weight and hating my body, before I found a solution that worked FOR GOOD. I lost 50 pounds by changing not just what I eat, but WHY. Now I help other women like me get to the root of the issue and find their own realistic, permanent weight loss success. Change is possible and you can do it. I can help you.

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