5 Simple Keys To Breaking Bad Habits

How do we get kids who don’t like spinach, to eat spinach? Well, we threaten, force, trick, or promise rewards – you know – carrots and sticks. It’s the same tactic our companies use to manage us. The tools we use to get our kids to eat spinach are the same tools our companies use to affect our behavior.

They use carrots like bonuses and promotions or sticks like being fired and disregarded. Does all this work? Sometimes, that’s why they keep doing it. But getting kids to eat spinach or encouraging new habit changes for the good, requires a new perspective.

The problem with habits is it’s less about others manipulating us with positive or negative consequences – it’s more about us managing ourselves. That is tougher. How do we get kids to eat spinach? (See the last answer below.)

Here are 5 simple keys to success in breaking bad habits!

1. Change our inner story – We have a bad day or good day and we reward ourselves, often with the temptation we would most like to change. Our stories reinforce our actions in ways that cement bad habits. “I could never drink decaf” or “I have to have my coffee.” “I just have to do this one thing, gimme 5 minutes (30 minutes later you are still not where you promised).” Our story has to begin with setting real goals that are written down, and are not shaped by our emotions. Feeling good or bad should not be motivators for continuing habits that mentally you know you want to change. Our story begins with delaying gratification for accomplishing even small steps, not rewarding ourselves too often and too fast. Your company will pay you a bonus for the results of hard work paying off, not simply doing the hard work.

2. Celebrate yourself – Being perfect becomes a burden and less a goal. We can’t be perfect, but to strive for perfection we may find excellence. And when we fall short; we screw up, or just don’t do our best – we should try to smile, pick ourselves up, and think about what went wrong. My daughter has had ongoing drug problems, and if she says, “all my friends do it,” as she talks she reinforces her story. If she takes the conversation further and  says “I need new friends” she might be able to make changes. Also finding ways to enjoy her friends by finding activities that don’t involve drugs. Change and share your new story and gain their support, or find friends who support your goals. Those friends matter.  

The greatest gift we have, is tomorrow. ~ John Wayne

3. Celebrate small wins – set very small daily goals. Procrastination sets in when any project or activity seems daunting. Make it a game to tackle a very small part of that activity. Whatever bad habit we are trying to eliminate, break down the habit into small steps and determine what can be done daily.

Pride is an acronym – P.R.I.D.E. Personal Responsibility in Individual Daily Effort.

4. The future of you – changing bad habits is largely changing our thoughts. For instance, if we are trying not to eat fast food, what are we thinking about? Fast food. If we are trying to stop smoking, what are we thinking about? Cigarettes. If we are trying to stop drinking what are we thinking about? Beer or wine, etc. Truly change your thinking. Think about clothes fitting great if you are trying to lose weight, think strawberries instead of fries. Think about fresh air breezes, not cigarettes, and Bloody Mary’s with no alcohol and how you’ll love it! Change what you actually see in your mind, and the possibilities are within your grasp. For kids eating spinach, we changed their thinking by watching how Popeye becomes big and strong by eating spinach. Imagery is great and way more effective than using threats.

Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”  ~ Elizabeth Berg

5. Surround yourself in community (the spinach ending). We have wine clubs, golf clubs, gym memberships, bridge clubs, church groups, bike clubs, knitting clubs and many more. We love and need community to surround ourselves with others of similar interests. We need each other and want to be needed. We are tribal. Many centuries ago, we could only take down a lion if there were more than one of us. Ever heard the term, when someone is let go from work – they are “fired.” Why do we use the word fired? The word ‘fired’ comes the Vikings in the 1500’s.  If a Viking tribe believed you misbehaved they would send you into the wilderness, by yourself. And the Viking tribe would burn down your hut, claiming you to be fired. You would tell others you met in the wilderness, you had been ‘fired.’

The power of community.

If you want to get kids to eat spinach, the most effective way is for 1 week, put them at a table with kids who love spinach.  A week later the child will be eating spinach and liking it.

Community – our desire to fit in, to support our values, and improve ourselves against our worst habits can be powerful in shaping our success over bad habits.


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