Habits can be both surprisingly tough and yet, very fragile. There are habits that, once cemented, would take great difficulty to break, and others that require our concentration long after the "magic" 21 day mark. (By the way, 21 days is actually not the magic number. It varies greatly by person, by habit, and how that person forms habits. It's not a bad marker, it just doesn't tell the whole story.)
Safeguards help us to aniticipate and minimize temptation. It can keep a lapse from turning into a full relapse.
How do we put safeguards into place? Implement "if-then" statements. Put the energy into planning up front - IF they want to go out for coffee, I'll get a small. IF they want to go to a movie, I'll bow out because I need sleep. IF I get a milkshake tonight, then I'll skip dessert tomorrow. Putting energy in up front means that we don't need to think on our feet later.
Research shows that when people are forming habits, the earlier repetitions help most to establish it. Start your habit strong, and protect your habit the most right in the beginning, and it will pay off later.
You can also use planned exceptions. The key word here is planned. Exceptions are best made for something memorable. Skipping the gym to watch tv may not make you feel great later, but skipping the gym to go to a once-in-a-lifetime concert is another story. Think about how you'll feel about the exception later. Will you say "it was worth it!" or not? If it isn't worth it, you may want to reconsider.
Now, I'm going to run through loopholes. The strategy of loophole spotting can be useful, because for most of us, we will come back to some of the same loopholes over and over. Knowing what we're doing can help us either close the loopholes, or at least make a mindful decision.
Moral licensing - Permission to be "bad", because we've been good. "I went to the gym last night, so I can totally have an egg mcmuffin for breakfast" (Note: You can just have the egg mcmuffin without justifying it. It's okay.)
Tomorrow - Now doesn't matter, because we're going to do it tomorrow. "I'll eat well tomorrow."
False choice - Thinking that two activities are in opposition to one another when they aren't necessarily. "I'm too busy to make dinner. Better eat out."
Lack of Control - Feeling like we can't control things when we can. "I can't possibly resist buying this book."
Arranging to fail - A chain of seemingly harmless decisions that allow us to engineer circumstances that we can't resist. "Oops, I forgot to eat breakfast this morning, and I'm right by this bakery." or "I watched too much tv and now I can't do the dishes."
This doesn't count - Self explanatory. "I can eat whatever I want because I'm on vacation."
Questionable Assumption - Weird mental blocks that may or may not be true. "I can't exercise now, I've already showered today."
Concern for others - Acting out of consideration for others or to fit in socially, whether or not it's warranted. "I have to eat this cake, because aunt Edna would be upset if I didn't."
Fake self-actualization - Disguised as an embrace of life or acceptance of self. "YOLO!"
One coin - The idea that "just one" doesn't matter, whether it's one good deed or one bad. Not realizing that things do, in fact, add up over time. "Why bother working out tonight?"
Whew. There are a lot of loopholes that we can invoke! What do you find that you fall prey to most often?
Next week, we'll look at the strategies of distraction and reward. See you then!