Don’t Break A Good Habit: Use These Two Strategies To Stay On Track

Two Traps That Derail Habits

Part of effectively changing and remaking our habits is to recognize traps that allow us to revert back to our old ways.  It’s so easy to fall back on to the familiar, that we must use all the weapons at our disposal to help us win the habit battle. 

Because the pull of our bad habits is so strong, we must first recognize the temptations we face.  Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before”, states we should remove the cues associated with the bad habit.  For example, if we are tempted to snack during the day, remove the visual cues like the candy jar that you pass whenever you walk by the kitchen.  Replace the candy jar with a basket of oranges or bananas instead.  If Amazon’s latest offering tempts you, turn off your e-mail notifications.  Out of sight, out of mind!

Of course, it’s impossible to eliminate all cues.  Not to fret!  Rubin suggests formulating an “if-then plan.”  This is simple.  We plan in advance for contingencies by formulating a plan if (undesired action) happens, then we do this (desired action).  For example, if you know you’ll be on the road all day, it's likely you'll be trying to grab lunch on the run and susceptible to driving through at Taco Bell, so here's a plan:  “IF I know I'll be out on the road all day and I'll need to grab a quick lunch, THEN I will be sure to pack a healthy snack so I’ll have something to eat if I can’t find a healthy, quick alternative on the road.”  That way, you can have your snack to hold you over and then find somewhere more suitable to grab your lunch.  Or, you could say, “IF I’m on the road and need to grab a quick lunch and if McDonald's is the only place nearby, THEN, I will order a grilled chicken salad.”

My challenge is afternoon snacking.  I could say, “IF I find myself heading toward the kitchen to grab a snack, THEN, I will go outside to look for my dog instead, because she’d love the attention.”

Or, “IF I'm approached to serve as the Team Mom for the basketball team, THEN, I will politely decline and offer to be the assistant to the Team Mom."  Thinking about these situations ahead of time makes it easier to stay on track as opposed to giving in to pressure in the moment or having to come up something to say on the fly (or giving in to the pressure).

Or, “IF my chatty co-worker wanders over to my desk, THEN, I will politely say that I need to follow up with this customer, manager, another co-worker now and proceed to busy myself with that task.”

I love the IF-THEN plans!

Another good way to protect your good habits is to utilize the strategy of what Rubin calls the “planned exception”.  The planned exception works like the “if-then” planning, but you make an intentional decision to make an exception to your good habit.  An example of this could be, “I plan healthy meals and snacks, but when my family goes out to celebrate my son’s birthday, I can eat my favorite pasta dish.”  This is an intentional exception to the normal eating plan and assumes that I’ll return to healthy eating after this dinner.  Rubin states this strategy is effective because planning in advance puts you in control.  This is in contrast to saying, just as you sit down at the celebration dinner, that you are going to break your habit on a whim.  Making a decision on the fly to break a good habit leaves you feeling out of control.

However, Rubin states that the planned exceptions are most effective when they’re limited in scope and they’re for something memorable.  For example, she states you could make a planned exception for Christmas Day and not for the entire holiday season.  You want the exception to be worth it.

To sum up, the “if-then plan” and the “planned exceptions” are two great strategies to be aware of when retooling and monitoring your habits.  Add them to your habit toolbox to protect your newly formed good habits!

I hope you found this helpful!  Please share it with anyone who might find it useful, or re-pin it to your Pinterest Boards!  If you'd like to learn two additional strategies that'll help keep you on track with your new habits, read about it here.

Jennifer Wilson