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3 Steps to Untangling Unwanted Habits

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

40-50% of your day is you performing a habit.


From waking up in the morning, having a shower, getting ready, heading into work, getting our morning coffee, firing up the computer, right through to dinner and, bedtime are all a sequence of habits. And when we're working through these formed habits, we're operating on autopilot.


There are a few important points to note here. One is that we are on autopilot, so once a habit is formed we are typically operating without conscious thought and have difficulty disrupting this path. Secondly, habits can be good or 'bad', and because they make up about half our day, it's important to think about these actions and if possible, pinpoint the habits that aren't helping up thrive.


Thankfully, there are lots of strategies we can use to create new habits and untangle unwanted habits. Below are 3 activities you can use today to tackle an unwanted habit. But firstly, why are we using the word 'untangling' and not 'removing' unwanted habits? This is a phrase used by Dr BJ Fog, a behaviour scientist, author as well as the founder and director of the Stanford Behaviour Design Lab. Dr Fog's analogy is that a habit is formed by lots of factors and when comparing this to a piece of string that's all tangled up, we're dealing with one ball of a tangled habit. We have to untangle the habit one part at a time, starting with the easiest layer first.


SO, let's start with an easier habit that you want to untangle to get some momentum going!


To untangle a habit, we can unpick the framework of behaviour which is when trigger, ability and motivation happen at the same time. By unpicking each one of these three factors we can interrupt the pattern of a habit and start the untangling process.


Below are practical examples of this framework so you can start untangling your unwanted habits right now!



Strategy #1. Remove the trigger

Seems easy right?

What we're looking at in this first are the elements in your life that stimulate you to perform an unwanted habit.

It could be:

- Someone else influencing you to get off track with your routine. This could be someone that always wants to go out late and stops you from waking up to do your morning workout, or that loves going out for dessert when you're trying to have a clean eating week

- Your phone. That once in sight you can't help but open Instagram or Facebook and start the scrolling process

- Easy to reach chocolate supply in the cupboard

- Buffet style dinner that causes you to overeat

- Emails at 5pm just as you're about to leave the office that you feel the urgency to respond to


Possible solution: Is there a way to remove these factors from your day to day life?

- Spend more time with people who are a positive influence on your lifestyle

- Putting your phone in your bag (out of site, out of mind)

- Eating before a celebration so you're not starving when you get there and find options that don't suit your preferred way of eating

- Limiting the treats per week that are bought and stored in the cupboard and fridge

- Going out to a la carte restaurants to portion meals eaten when out to not over indulge

- Shutting down Outlook/Gmail at 4:30pm



The idea here is to hide the trigger to stop the flow of performing the habit


Strategy #2: Remove the ability

What would make it harder to perform this unwanted habit?


"It's easier to say no once at the grocery store than 20 times at home."


Possible solutions:

- Deleting unwanted apps in your phone

- Removing the snooze functionality on your phone

- Choosing meals early in the day when you're fresh rather than just before lunch time (you're more likely to make a healthier choice holding stronger willpower in the morning)

- Not buying junk food to have in the cupboard at home

- Pre-make healthy meals

- Book in time with friends and family ahead of time so that when the weekend comes you don't have the excuse that 'you're busy' and don't spend time with family or loved ones


Strategy # 3. Demotivate yourself (to do the unwanted habit that is!)

What's the next best thing ?


Rather than removing the habit all together is there an alternative that you're happy with? This is a swapping strategy.


Possible solutions:

- Yoghurt with apples and cinnamon instead of ice-cream

- 20 minute walk around the block instead of hitting the gym

- One considered message, a meme tag, to parents, family, partner, friends instead than a 1 hour phone call we're thinking about the time conscious people out there that are wanting to hold relationships but feel time restricted)

- Quick meal instead of takeout

- Frozen vegetables instead of no vegetables

- Going to bed 10 minutes earlier instead of 1 hour earlier


Some habits are hard to stop. We're designed to reduce having to use willpower and always opt for the easier solution- it's in our DNA. Have you heard trainers at the gym correcting clients' technique and talking about focussing on the specific body part you're trying to work on? E.g. tense those abs, squeeze your butt! This is your body trying to take the easy way out. Habits are the easy way out because we don't have to think, we use less energy and we are already in a habit loop motion, ready to receive the reward at the end. In saying this is, are many ways we can untangle existing habits, we just have to take the conscious steps and utilise the strategies that work best for us.


Want more?


Here's a book we highly recommend reading: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

A podcast we're obsessed with (and each episode is only 20 mins in length!): Jim Kwik podcast


Or come say hi and chat to us - we're Lifestyle and Health Coaches!

What does that mean?

We help you implement healthy habits into your life by your design - what do you want to achieve and what's a sustainable way to get there? We stand by you and support you through this process by working through strategies like you the one's you've just read about.

Email us at hello@the3pmbox.com.au and we'll personally get back to you. You can also check out our health coaching page here: https://www.the3pmbox.com/healthcoaching