Using Your Environment To Break Bad Habits
By: Dr. Beth Templin
In my last post, I talked about using your environment to help you make good choices and form good habits. You can also flip this idea around and set up your environment to keep you from partaking in certain bad habits.
If you’re trying to cut back on snacking, don’t leave tempting treats in easy reach or in plain sight. My personal weakness is M&Ms. Those tasty candies are a rainbow of color that always attract my eyes. They have the perfect crunchy coating with a delicious chocolate center, satisfying my sweet cravings. And I know I have trouble with sticking to just “one serving”.
When they are sitting out in view, such as when we place them out in a small bowl, I grab a handful every time I walk by. How am I supposed to resist? On the other hand, if they are stored downstairs in my pantry, then I don’t often think about them. I can go months without having a craving for M&Ms.
When I see the M&Ms, it is a visual trigger that sets off a craving. I wasn’t necessarily thinking I needed a good chocolate fix when I walked through the kitchen to the laundry room, but when I see those colorful candies, it triggers a pathway in my brain. So, one solution is to remove the trigger or the cue that causes the behavior and as a result remove the craving.
For some of you, that may not be enough to resist your temptation. You can take this a step further by adding additional barriers towards satisfying a craving. For example, if you’re looking to lose weight, don’t buy the food that is most tempting to you and keep it in your house.
If you truly have a craving for something, you will have work much harder to satisfy that craving. You will have to take the additional time and effort to get in your car and drive to go some M&Ms to satisfy the craving. This takes so much more work than just walking to the cupboard and reaching in to grab your favorite sweet treat. It will make you think twice about giving into your craving and it will help that urge pass without indulging in those extra calories.
If you’re wanting to avoid watching too much television, the first thing you could do is store the remote in an inconvenient place, like in a kitchen drawer. This way you have to make the conscious decision to watch TV and go to retrieve the remote. It accomplished two things, removing the cue to turn on the television and adding a barrier to turning the television on.
If you’re trying to stop binge watching TV, set an alarm in another room that you will have to stand up and walk to get to in order to turn off the alarm. For good measure, make sure to turn off the TV before you go to turn off the alarm. This way you will have to make the decision to turn the TV back on when you walk back into the room, instead of just sitting back down to watch more. This strategy will also help you to add more activity into your daily routine.
You could even go as far as to create a rewards system for yourself, pairing an activity you need to do (walking) with an activity you want to do (watching TV). Example: If I walk for 10 minutes, then I can watch another hour of TV. Once you have to complete a task (walk for 10 minutes) to get the reward of watching TV, you’ll see how badly you truly want to sit back down and watch more TV.
A bad habit can also be forgetting to do something you planned to do. For me, it was forgetting to floss my teeth because I never saw my floss. All I had to do to change this habit was move my floss to a different location in my bathroom, where I am sure to see it every morning and every evening. By seeing this cue regularly, I am more likely to actually floss my teeth daily.
In general, you can follow these guidelines for trying to quit bad habits:
First, figure out ways to remove the trigger or the thing that causes you to want to perform the habit or behavior you want to quit. When we remove the triggers from our surrounding, we decrease the likelihood of prompting the bad habits. Most of the time the bad habits are not at the top of our thoughts and can be forgotten. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Make the habit or behavior hard or difficulty to complete. You can do this by making it difficult to perform the activity by adding barriers to achieve the activity. Do this by adding addition time, effort and energy required to initiate or complete the task. This will make the task less desirable to you and therefore make it easier to avoid.
Which one of your bad habits will you try these strategies out on?
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Dr. Beth helps adults 55+ understand the changes of aging and how to live a healthy active lifestyle, so they don’t start to miss out on the good things in life.