Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking Bad Habits (Part 4): The Secret Weapon

So, what's that ONE THING that makes all the difference?  What's the silver bullet?  What's that secret weapon that finally helps us overcome those bad habits that plague us for years?  First, I'll give you a few hints.  It's not a magic pill.  It's not a book.  It's not a particular program.  Some books and programs can really give you an edge, but they usually only work if you employ this secret weapon first.

During the second half of my first year of college, I quit working out and began living on junk food to relieve the stress and boredom that can come with college life.  I gained a significant amount of weight and began to feel miserable.  After about a year and a half, and 60 pounds later, I finally realized that I had a problem that I needed to deal with.  I bought a bunch of books, did a ton of research and learned everything I could about weight loss, exercise and healthy eating.  EVERY SINGLE WEEK FOR A FULL YEAR, I made a detailed plan of healthy eating and exercise and set a weight loss goal.  Every week, I decided that I was going to start the following Monday.  Monday would roll around, I would start my program, mess up on Tuesday or Wednesday, and throw away the plan and draw up a new one. 

"Surely, the problem was in my plan," I figured.

One weekend, out of desperation, I said a simple prayer,  "God, you have to help me.  I can't do this on my own.  I've tried everything and I'm out of options."

The following Monday, I began my program like usual but something happened this time.  Somehow, for some reason, I rolled through the mistakes of Tuesday and Wednesday and just kept going.  In fact, I rolled through the mistakes of every day for the next 15 weeks, and lost about 60 pounds.  Why was this time different?

As I look back and see the few times that I've had success in overcoming any negative habit or situation in my life, it's always begun with SURRENDER.  In every situation, I've fought the habit over and over again by myself with little success. Finally, when I was completely exhausted and feeling hopeless, I surrendered the situation to God. Once I sincerely surrendered, I had the power to overcome.

I've come to realize that the problem we face in trying to overcome bad habits is a LACK OF POWER.  If you have followed Part 1: Why do we Fail? and Part 2: Where's the POWER in My Willpower of the Breaking Bad Habits series of posts, you've seen that it's not easy.  Once those habits are in place, we've got a battle on our hands.  Unfortunately, in my experience, we lack the POWER to overcome them.  Therefore, my new definition for Willpower is: The Willingness to Accept God's Power.  I believe that the secret weapon in overcoming bad habits is SURRENDER.

What About You?

Have you ever fought a bad habit on your own with little success?  Do you have any other Tips for overcoming bad habits?  If so, please share them in the Comments of this post. 

**If you have enjoyed this post, or this blog in general, please feel free to SHARE IT using the small icons at the bottom of this post including FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and GOOGLE +.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Breaking Bad Habits (Part III) : 5 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits

Is Breaking Bad Habits even Possible?

  If you have followed along on Part I  and Part II of the Breaking Bad Habits post series, you probably aren't real encouraged so far.

Let's do a quick review:

- Once a bad habit is written in your brain, it is stored there forever.  You will never completely eliminate that bad habit from your thinking.

- The biggest triggers for relapsing back into bad habits are too much stress and boredom.  Unfortunately, we all feel over-stressed and bored sometimes.

- Your willpower is not going to help you too much in breaking bad habits.  The more you try not to act out on a bad habit, the more likely you will.  Trying not to do it keeps the habit at the forefront of your brain, which makes acting out on it more likely when stress and boredom come.

5 Tips that might help you break bad habits

1.  Make the Decision

     It sounds too simple, but if you aren't absolutely sure that you want to make this change in your life, then you won't do it.  You must have a compelling reason.  It may be your health, it may be for your kids.  Only you can decide what is going to give you the fuel to keep going when the road gets tough.  The secret is to use that willpower we discussed earlier to focus on what your life will look like once you make this change.  Therefore, instead of focusing on trying not to fall into your bad habit, focus on how your life will be improved once you overcome the habit.

2.  Throw perfection out the window

   This is the one that has tripped me up over and over again every time I want to eliminate a bad habit.  For some reason, after I decide to make a change in my life, I envision the process of change to be perfect.  I picture myself making the transition from a bad habit to a good one and don't plan for the inevitable slip-up.  Then, when I do mess up, I beat myself up for it, which makes me feel miserable, which leads me a large relapse in my negative behavior.

   Even if you have a compelling reason to make the change in your life, if you expect to be perfect and never mess up, you are setting yourself up for failure.  PLAN ON MESSING UP from time to time while getting rid of bad habits.  Messing up is part of the learning process.  When you mess up, don't beat yourself up for it.  Now you know that it is going to happen and is part of the process.  Dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and get back on your journey.

3.  One day at a time

   When eliminating bad habits, it is very important to focus on the big picture.  You must have a vision for what you are shooting for and keep the compelling reason for your change in the forefront of your mind.

   Breaking the bad habit isn't going to occur, however, by continuously focusing on the future goal.  Any positive change occurs as the result of making the right decisions over and over again, day after day.  The change happens one day at a time.

  In my experience, it works well to peak at the future goal and know what you are shooting for, but quickly come back to the present moment and decide what you are going to do this day to move you a little closer to that positive change.

  THE PRESENT MOMENT is where the rubber meets the road and where progress is made.

4.  Manage your Stress

   I know this is a tough one.  We live in a stress-filled society.  It's all we know.  If we are not stressed out, most of us find something to stress about because that is our normal state.  There are things that we can do, however to manage the stress in our lives.  I hope to discuss this topic further in a later post.

5.  Replace bad habits with good ones.

   When we stop acting out on a bad habit, it leaves a void in our lives.  There is no way around it.  If you spend 2 hours a day doing your bad habit, you now have 2 hours that you will need to fill up with something else.

   In my experience, a bad habit cannot be broken without replacing it with a good one.  If you want to maintain freedom from a bad habit for a long period of time, you will need to begin another habit to do instead.

Without replacing the bad habit with a good one, BOREDOM will creep into that time slot, and it will lead you right back to your bad habit.

What about You?

Does perfection creep in when you are trying to eliminate bad habits and lead you to failure?  Can you add any other tips that you have found for breaking bad habits?

Parts of this post was based on a seminar sponsored by the Institute of Brain Potential called How the Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower is Not Enough: More information can be found at:

***Please Note:  If you enjoy my posts and would like to share them on Facebook or Twitter, all you have to do is click on the tiny social media icon at the bottom of each post.  They are so small that I thought many people might not know that they are there.***

Monday, July 2, 2012

Breaking Bad Habits (Part 2): Where's the POWER in My Willpower?

How strong is your willpower?

Let's start this post with a little test of your willpower.  For the next 30 seconds, no matter what you do, don't think about an ELEPHANT.  Okay start...

Why are you thinking about an elephant when I told you not to?  It is only 30 seconds.  Couldn't you go just 30 seconds?  Since you did opposite of what I told you to do, does that mean that you have a weak willpower?  Not really.  It was not a fair test of true willpower.

When I told you not to think about an elephant, the first thing you did was picture an elephant in your conscious working brain.  No matter how hard you try not to think about the elephant, you keep thinking about it.  Actually,  the harder you try, the worse it gets.

So, what was willpower designed for?

Willpower works well at helping us persevere if we are trying to accomplish a task.  As long as the thing we want to accomplish is in our conscious working memory, willpower helps us focus on the rewards and sees us through the hard work.  So, willpower works great to help us proactively achieve our goals.

What about eliminating bad habits?

The problem is, if we are trying to eliminate a bad habit, the last thing we need is that particular habit at the forefront of our brain. 

When we are trying to use our willpower to get rid of bad habits,  that bad habit is on our mind constantly.  If it isn't at the forefront of our mind, willpower doesn't work.  Placing the habit in your working memory incorporates it into your up-coming decisions. That is fine if all you are doing all day is avoiding the bad habit, but that's not reality. Throughout the day, we are constantly coming upon new decisions to make.  Consciously trying not to do something will usually increase the behavior rather than decrease it.

The second problem is that the brain functions involving willpower are just too slow.

Our working memory is extremely busy and easily overwhelmed.  This slow, multi-step brain function is usually no match for the quick, efficient function of  acting out on a habit stored in our basal ganglia.  The end result is that we act out on the bad habit before we remember not to.


If you have tried and tried to eliminate a bad habit using your willpower and have failed repeatedly, don't be too hard on yourself.  Willpower was never designed for that function.  If we approach the bad habit from a different angle, we have a much better chance of success.  The key is to work with your physiology not against it?

What about You?

Have you been really frustrated with yourself because you can't overcome bad habits using willpower?  Have you wondered if you had any willpower at all?

**If you read my blog last week, you were probably expecting some tips this week for eliminating bad habits.  Sorry about that.  I received such a large response from my first post on habits, I thought I would expand on the subject a bit further.  I promise that  I will provide you with some tips in Part 3 and possiby 4 of Breaking Bad Habits.**

This post was based on a seminar sponsored by the Institute of Brain Potential called How the Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower is Not Enough: More information can be found at