I have a go-to solution for breaking bad habits. It doesn’t apply to every habit, but it’s very effective at handling two of my biggest ones; eating junk-food and playing video games too long.
If you are trying to scale back something, whether it’s a particular food or a particular habit, I find it useful to construct little hurdles that will make it tougher for you to access them.
When I started my weight loss journey two summers ago, I knew that I had to change the way I ate and change the way I worked out. Changing the workout plan was easy because I wasn’t really working out before. Doing anything was an improvement over doing nothing. The real challenge came with changing my diet. I was in college and I was eating cafeteria food everyday. I didn’t have the willpower to reach for a salad most days. I went to an HBCU, and when they brought out the fried chicken that was what I lined up for. I made sure that I had a buttery waffle doused in table syrup to go with it.
The blessing came when I moved off-campus and had to start cooking for myself. Suddenly, fried chicken, pizza, ice cream, burgers and fries, the stuff that was keeping my weight sky-high weren’t accessible to me unless I drove to the store myself and bought them with my own money. I found that it was way easier to manage what I ate that way.
I think the biggest self-imposed rule that helped me out was “no junk food in the house.” The wasn’t an all out ban on junk food, just a commitment to not buy it in bulk. I set it up so that if I really wanted a cookie or a candy bar, I had to walk to the nearest 7-11 to go get it. And I purposefully made sure it wasn’t cost-effective so I would be discouraged from doing it. It’s cheaper to buy junk in bulk, but tougher to reach your goals that way.
It worked. I lost 50 pounds in less than a year. Since then I’ve gained back about half of it. But even now I’m almost 30 pounds lighter than I was. I gained most of this weight back super recently, during my first semester of law-school. I attribute it to stress-eating, not working out as much, and the fact that there’s almost always free food at meetings in law-school. Seven-Eleven’s soft pretzels and chocolate chip cookies have done their fair share of damage as well.
For sustained success, you have to know how your mind works. I know that if something bad to eat is available or offered to me, I’m likely going to eat it. I’m not at the point where I’m turning down free food or ordering healthy stuff at restaurants. I want to get to that point, but discipline-wise I’m not there. I need to keep junk food, fried food and sweets out of my line of vision. If it’s out of my sight, it’s out of my mind.
That’s also how my mind works with video games. When I come home for vacation I treat my Xbox like its a 9 to 5 job. I don’t even buy new games for it. I play the same old ones over and over. Its such a huge time suck. But, the mental arrangement that I have with myself is that the Xbox stays at home. I don’t have access to one at school.
This philosophy works great with the Xbox, pretty well with my laptop (I still get distracted sometimes but I manage), but awful with my phone. My phone usage is currently the biggest thing that I really want to scale back, but since it’s always with me I haven’t figured out how. I’ve tried the self-control apps. I’ve tried logging myself out of social media and deleting the apps. Honestly, I feel a sense of relief when my phone runs out of battery. I feel like my phone usage is holding back my productivity and directing my time towards stuff that isn’t really helping me.
So, if you want to scale-back anything in 2018 my advice would be to test yourself. Make yourself jump through hoops to access whatever you’re trying to cut out and see if you still want it that bad. It’s easy to grab a soda if it’s in your fridge. It’s a lot tougher to go outside in the cold, start up your car, drive to the store, scrape up some change and go buy one. All physical results start in your mind. You have to get in touch with your mind and determine a strategy that will be effective for you. One suggestion to get you started would be to create tiny hurdles between you and the things you want to cut back on.