Ditch harm­ful habits

Whether you’re try­ing to give up booze, junk food or bit­ing your nails, it’s not as sim­ple as just stop­ping, says health writer He­len Fos­ter – you need the right tac­tic

Men's Fitness - - Fuel -

It’s es­ti­mated that 40% of the things we do each day are ha­bit­ual rather than con­scious choices. Our brains de­velop the abil­ity to per­form repet­i­tive tasks with­out think­ing and when this is a pos­i­tive thing like brush­ing your teeth or go­ing for a run, it isn’t a prob­lem – but if it’s eat­ing sug­ary snacks, smok­ing, bit­ing our nails or drink­ing too of­ten, it be­comes more of an is­sue. When you de­cide you want to stop or cut back, you need to break the habits. Here are four ap­proaches that work.


In a sit­u­a­tion in which you might nor­mally fall into your rou­tine, come up with a plan of ac­tion us­ing “If Then” phrases.

IF my col­leagues in­vite me to the pub at lunchtime, THEN I will say I’m meet­ing a friend al­ready. IF I get home stressed out and want to binge on cakes, THEN I will run a bath in­stead. You’re more likely to suc­ceed if your THEN state­ment is both re­al­is­tic and pos­i­tive. Don’t fo­cus on what you can’t do; think about what you can do, par­tic­u­larly if it will give you plea­sure.


The next time you’re tempted to make a choice that could pre­vent you achiev­ing your goal, imag­ine a re­mote con­trol and men­tally press the but­tons as fol­lows. Pause – imag­ine time has stood still. Fast For­ward an hour or a day and see, smell and feel the re­sults of the choice you’re con­sid­er­ing. Rewind to the present, and then Fast For­ward again us­ing a dif­fer­ent choice – is it a bet­ter out­come? Rewind to the present and de­ter­mine the ac­tion to take. Then press Play and get on with your life.


If you start to as­so­ciate a habit with some­thing un­pleas­ant, your brain no longer feels re­ward and you’ll be less likely to want to do it. You might even start to ac­tively dis­like what­ever you’re try­ing to avoid. Place a rub­ber band around your wrist and when­ever you de­velop the urge to eat a dough­nut, go to the burger van, smoke or pick your nose, ping the band telling your­self to stop. You’ll soon start to as­so­ciate the bad habit with an un­wel­come sen­sa­tion, which can help stop crav­ings.


When at­tempt­ing to break a habit, just stop­ping doesn’t work. A habit is a well-worn path in your brain and to coun­ter­act it you need a new path. If you’re aim­ing to stop drink­ing but you’re still go­ing to go to the pub or par­ties, your new path­way means find­ing a new drink to or­der. Make a list of drinks you might en­joy – and take your list out with you. Avoid­ing the pub? Then your list is ac­tiv­i­ties you can do in­stead. Make the big­gest list you can so that when you’re tempted, you have other op­tions in place.

Quit Al­co­hol (For A Month) by He­len Fos­ter is out now, RRP £7.99 (Ver­mil­ion)

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