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Three Steps to Break a Habit

The holiday season is a time of year when we are tempted to go off the rails and indulge in some of our habits a little too much and wallow around in regret afterward. I am not making a judgement on how much is too much. You are the only person that gets to do that. But it helps to go into the month with a plan in mind. Advance planning will defeat your lizard brain in its tracks! Remember, the part of your brain that is all about seeking pleasure sees a plate of cookies or a full bar and just says “Yum. I’m all in for that dopamine hit I am going to get when the first cookie crosses my lips.” And before you know it, you are on the 5th whatever and although the amount of pleasure is declining you are still going.

We try to white knuckle and use willpower to make it past the struggle but that only works for so long. We only have a limited amount of willpower in reserve and we blow through that pretty quick. The way we can defeat the reactive part of our brain is by 1) making a plan ahead of time and 2) writing it down. Its not sexy. Is not glamorous. But it does work. If I have gotten in the pandemic habit of having wine every night and I want to cut back, my plan would be that I was going to drink glass a night. Or no alcohol on weeknights, but Friday and Saturday I can have 2 drinks. However I choose to do it.

My guilty pandemic habit is smoking. I quit for almost 30 years and then a few years ago went to my college reunion and decided that a few smokes would make the whole experience damn near perfect. Nothing like going back to college and wanting to act like a teenager again. For the past couple of years I was a very intermittent smoker. For a long time I would only bum them, not buy them. In this way I tried to tried to trick my brain into thinking that I wasn’t really a smoker. Then in 2020 I started to buy them. And because smoking is a socially unacceptable habit, I did it on the sly.

Back in March, I decided that it if smoking was a pretty dumb habit to begin with, there was an extra layer of stupid about doing it during a respiratory pandemic so I stopped again. But as the months wore on I started thinking that I need a little treat. A little pleasure because everything else was so hard. And here I am again, buying cigarettes at the gas station. So I need to make a plan.

It's up to me what that plan looks like. Does it look like quitting cold turkey again? Does it look like smoking only on the weekend? Does it look like one cigarette with a cocktail by the fire? It definitely is an outdoor-only activity. So January ought to be excellent quitting weather.

What ever I decide to do, I need to make a plan, write it down, stick to it. And if I screw up and have a day that doesn’t follow the plan I have to make sure to do step 3) forgive myself and start over the next day. I am allowed to be imperfect on the way to success. It doesn't mean anything about me as a person. It doesn’t mean that anything has gone wrong. I’ll be failing my way to success, one cigarette at a time.

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