Repurposing Your Hidden Talents

4 Tools for Breaking Bad Habits

Jellybeans are my kryptonite. I don’t know why they’re a bad habit for me. I don’t like them all that much and all that sugar makes my asthma go bonkers! But if they’re available, they’re mine. All of my healthy habits are in the rear view as the power of all that gooey sugar takes hold.

Such is the pattern of habits – the good ones and the ones we wish we didn’t have. There are four things that make a habit. And, the same four apply whether the habit supports our well-being or results in adverse effects on our health and happiness. According to author James Clear of Atomic Habits fame, strong habits are built on being obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

The Jellybean Conundrum

Last weekend, I was reminded of the power of these four things when a bag of jellybeans landed in my home. The result? Bag empty in just a few hours. How did that happen when I haven’t succumbed to my jellybean shame in ages?

Obvious: The jellybeans were within arm’s reach on the counter.

Attractive: They’re bright, cheery colors beckoned me with the promise of sweet, chewy goo.

Easy: It’s was so simple to grab a handful or two or nine.

Satisfying: Duh, they were yummy.

The same theory of habits gone wrong applies to our bigger habits at work and in life. Regular exercise can fall victim to the allure of the couch. We may think we’re just going to sit down for a few minutes and watch one quick episode, but the couch knows better.

We fill our schedules with too much, even though we know better. The pull of never having to say no and disappoint people, combined with the appearance of looking super busy, is just too strong.

Obvious. Attractive. Easy. Those three make complete sense to me. It’s the fourth one that trips me up when it comes to some of my bad habits. Most of them are not satisfying for more than a fleeting moment. Whereas my good habits leave me feeling, well, good for much longer stretches of time.

Eating an entire bag of jellybeans was probably a bad life choice. Sure, they tasted good, but the after-effects were just awful. I noticed the feeling of sloth and heaviness grow throughout the day. Worse, I knew that feeling would come and I made the choice anyway. Why? Because they were there.

4 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits

Fortunately, the same four things that strengthen habits can be reversed while we aim to replace a less functional habit with one that supports our well-being.

Determine the object of your habit and then:

1. Make it Invisible: In the case of the jellybeans, had they not been in my home in the first place, let alone out on the counter, this never would have happened. Removing access or visual cues reduces your encounters, making it easier to not even start thinking about the thing.
2. Make it Ugly: Being faced with the nutritional facts on the bag of jellybeans may have made me think twice about consuming all nine servings in a single sitting. It was a rough truth that I only noticed when flattening the bag to throw it in the trash.
3. Make it Difficult: Making it tougher to get to the thing you’re craving reduces the probability that you’ll keep striving for it. Had the jellybeans required me to get off the couch, walk to the kitchen, pass the available fruit, get the step ladder, open the cabinet, move sixteen precariously stacked items, and reach to the far corners of the top shelf, I may have been less prone to keep going back to them.
4. Make it Deeply Unsatisfying: I don’t like salad. Not even a huge fan of vegetables, unless they come with cheese. But, I know that my jellybean debauchery now demands strict adherence to healthy eating, at least for a few days. I’m much more of an everything in moderation kind of gal, but overdoing the jellybeans has resulted in a necessary overdoing of healthy eating.

Building Good Habits

When it comes to habits, building new ones takes time and effort. Replacing our less desirable habits requires no less determination. But, there’s plenty of reason for hope.

If we give our best habits the oxygen they need to thrive while making conditions for more challenging habits untenable, we can really make progress toward tipping the balance in our favor; making sure the jellybean habits of the world don’t get the upper hand.

Start small, stay committed, and celebrate small victories. Add personal accountability and you have a winning equation for personal growth. Challenge accepted!!

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