The biggest challenge in quitting a bad habit like eating junk food or starting a good habit like eating healthy food is the battle that goes in your mind.
The old habit is firmly entrenched in your daily route and your brain is wired to expect it and carry it out. This often comes in the form of physical or psychological dependency, especially when the bad habit is a powerful drug like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or some street or prescription drug.
The natural inclination to overcome it is to think about all the damage that can be caused if you continue the bad habit. This strategy only serves to get you thinking more about the depressing aspects of what you’ve been doing to yourself.
Another common strategy is to come up with ways to deal with the cravings once they arrive. With this method, you end up obsessing about how you’ll handle the cravings as you anticipate their arrival.
None of these strategies has worked well for me. In my articles about giving up coffee and losing weight, I wrote about not giving the problem your attention. My new strategy builds on that strategy by adding a new powerful component.
Here’s how I came up with it. When I thought back to when I’ve been the most successful in my life, I noticed a common pattern whenever I delivered a great speech or had a particularly good game playing a sport that I liked. When I was successful, I wasn’t thinking about whether I was doing it right or how I would deal with mistakes. Nor was I deliberating about my next move, but rather my mind was simply focused on the outcome I wanted.
Whenever I allowed my mind to wander, I failed. Why? Because when I allowed my mind to wander, it returned to default patterns of thinking. This included thinking about past mistakes and the possibility of being humiliated if my performance was bad. But when I did not think or deliberate but rather just concentrated on what I “wanted” to happen, almost like magic, I would be successful just like I imagined. I might be uncomfortable or get off track a bit during the activity, but as long as I brought my mind back to concentrating on what I wanted, I’d be successful.
The way I got myself into the habit of exercising on a daily basis was by envisioning the healthy, slim, and muscular body that I wanted. If I thought about the work, the extra pounds I needed to lose, or the possibility of not making it through the exercise routine, I would either talk myself out of it or do a poor job.
There are countless methods out there for giving up bad habits and starting good ones. Many of them involve making lists of all the negative reasons why you need to quit the bad habit and another list of all the benefits of doing so. Or if it’s a good habit, they suggest making lists of all the negative reasons why you need to acquire the good habit and another one of all the benefits of doing so.
I think the process of making these lists is useful in establishing a good mental foundation for you, and your subconscious, to refer back to as you proceed. But when you’re in the process of quitting or starting a habit your mind goes in many different directions if you let it. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with physical cravings. Even when you’re starting a good habit, you’ll still need to install some new mental wiring.
So what’s the solution? Because your mind is rewiring itself for a new set of mental and physical instructions, which can be confusing to you while this is happening, the solution must be simple and have a singular focus.
The answer is not to think or deliberate but rather to concentrate “only” on what you want! For example, you might imagine yourself as “A healthy, slim, muscular, and attractive __ year old.” “An energetic, even-tempered, white teeth, and fresh breath non-smoker.” or “A clear-minded, optimistic, courageous, and financially secure non-drinker (or user).”
I have found that creating a mental picture of what I want along with the “feelings” of having it, is the most powerful. On days when I am having trouble motivating myself to go to my home gym and workout, I just picture the body that I want and the feelings of having it and I am instantly motivated.
You will not succeed if you allow your mind to wander to thoughts like “I am too far gone.” “I am not good enough.” “It will take too long.” “I’ll fail just like I did before.” “I can’t deal with the cravings.” or “It’s too much work.” Success comes to those who can quickly learn how to keep their mind focused on what they want. Thinking about the negative aspects only serves to demoralize you. Thinking about the positive aspects gives you the determination and strength to succeed!
I compare this method to meditation. During meditation, you are taught to return to your mantra whenever your mind wanders. You are instructed to do this gently and not forcibly. You are taught to simply return to your mantra each time your thoughts drift away. You are told that you will get better the more you meditate. And the better you get at staying focused on your mantra, the greater the benefits from each meditation session. Your mantra for this purpose is the image of getting what you want and the feelings of having it.
I propose that you use a meditation-like method to keep your mind on what you want when you are quitting a bad habit or starting a good one. As the days pass you’ll get better at staying focused on what you want, the rewiring of your brain will progress, the cravings will subside, and a sense of confidence and mastery will gain in strength.
Maybe this simple solution will work for you.