Have you vowed a million times to stop doing certain things, but you keep doing them anyway? Like, you swore you were going to lose some weight and stop snacking in front of the TV after dinner, but you still do it?
Or you keep promising yourself to stop spending too much money, only to keep making impulsive purchases?
Then, do you get upset and beat yourself up over it? If so, you’re not alone. These are self-sabotaging behaviors. We all have them.
But you don’t have to resign yourself to making the same mistakes over and over again. The problem is that you’re using the wrong approach to change your behavior.
Vowing to stop doing something doesn’t work. You need to have a plan to change your behavior and establish a different habit. You need specific, doable strategies to overcome your obstacles.
What if, instead of vowing never to snack after dinner, you assume that you will continue to snack after dinner unless you design and implement strategies to remember not to do that and to prevent you from doing it? Strategies to replace that habit with a different one.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say you love sweets and even though you’ve eaten a healthy dinner, you sit down every evening in front of the television and eat a few helpings of cookies and chocolate.
You feel terrible afterwards, both psychologically and physically, and you have trouble sleeping because your body is working to digest all of that junk. Instead of vowing to never eat dessert after dinner, or to stop snacking in front of the television, you decide to approach it as a problem that needs solving.
So, what do you do? Here are seven steps that I’ll explain in the context of the example above.
Getting upset at yourself and shaming yourself never produces positive, lasting results. Shame and the lack of compassion for yourself can actually prevent you from making the changes you want to implement.
The next time your inner voice berates you, look at your negative self-talk, and think of how you’d feel if your boss or partner spoke with you that way. If you would be upset or think they were being harsh or unfair, that means it’s time to stop talking to yourself that way!
Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend who told you she did what you did. You wouldn’t berate her and tell her she was weak-willed or stupid. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself. You’ll get better results.
Back to our hypothetical situation. After giving it some thought, you decide that the problem really isn’t that you’re eating sweets, but that you’re eating too many sweets and you aren’t even enjoying them.
You’re so busy watching TV and not paying attention to what you’re chomping down that you’re not feeling satisfied, so you keep eating more and more.
You decide that you could solve this problem by arranging to eat these foods in a way that is more satisfying so that you won’t be tempted to eat as much. Your plan is to have a maximum of one serving as long as you don’t eat past the point of being comfortably full.
This means you might have to choose between eating a cookie or eating chocolate. Your plan requires you to eat the sweets mindfully at the kitchen or dining room table so that you won’t be distracted by the television, and can really enjoy what you’re eating, thereby eating less and feeling satisfied.
First, it causes you to pay attention while you’re eating dinner so that you leave room for dessert. This may prevent you from overeating. Secondly, you will have to make a choice between eating dessert and watching television.
There might be days when you’d rather watch TV, and that’s fine. Or there might be days when your dinner is so yummy that you’d prefer to eat a few bites more than have sweets afterwards. Lastly, you won’t feel terrible after you eat too much, and you’ll sleep better.
So, rather than vowing to stop eating snacks at night, you’ve actually got a plan for what to do instead and a list of benefits to go with it.
Something else that will help is to set up reminders. Perhaps you can stick a note to the table to remind you to stop eating before you’re full if you want dessert. How about making the room with the television a no-eating zone or put a sticky note on the TV.
Not eating in rooms other than the kitchen and dining room is a great practice if you want to lose weight or not gain any because it prevents mindless eating, not to mention avoiding spills and messes.
Writing down your commitment to do this and the benefits of it will also help you reach your goal. I write mine in Evernote so I can access it from my computer and my iPhone. Then, before eating dinner every night, read your commitment as a reminder of why it is important to do this.
Another thing that has been proven by research to be helpful in establishing a new habit is to celebrate your wins. Every time you follow your new protocol, congratulate yourself. Give yourself a fist pump or something like that. Even better, keep a record of your wins.
You can create a chart where you mark down your successes each time, or keep a journal and record how much better it felt to not overeat and how much more you enjoyed the food. This reinforces the good feeling you get from making the healthy choice and makes it easier to do in the future.
Changing any habit takes a lot of time and repetition before it becomes second-nature, so don’t expect perfection. Sometimes, it takes a while to change these repetitive patterns.
If you forget one day and find yourself munching on a bag of chocolate-covered almonds in the living room, please do not beat yourself up! Guilt, shame, and self-criticism are not good sources of inspiration and might set off a bout of emotional eating.
Also, don’t give up. Take a few minutes to notice why this happened and consider what you can do to prevent it from recurring. We’re problem-solving, right? As I said, you probably won’t do it perfectly, but the only sure way to failure is giving up. So, don’t do that.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Your tenacity will pay off in the long run. Your new pattern will become a habit. One day, you’ll notice that you do it automatically, just like you currently do the old pattern. It will become easy.
If you feel overwhelmed, that will make it harder to focus. Decide what you want to change, depending upon how much time and energy you have to be mindful. Be reasonable. It’s better to focus on one or two areas and be successful than spread yourself too thin.
Although the example I used here involves food and eating, you can use these strategies to get unstuck from any self-sabotaging habit.
I help people develop strategies to address their weight loss challenges so they can change their habits, lose weight, and keep it off without dieting.
What toxic habits do you want to leave behind? Have you tried in the past? What were the results? Do you think you can implement these seven strategies to change your life? Please share your thoughts with the Sixty and Me community!