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How to Avoid Self-Sabotage with Habits

By November 15, 2021May 30th, 2023No Comments

All-or-none thinking has its place in changing or maintaining certain habits. In some cases, it’s easier to abstain from something completely than to approach a habit with moderation. In fact, studies show that we often are bad at guessing how moderate we are actually being. When it comes to moderation, it’s essential to have clear limits and boundaries. Whether we are trying to be all-or-none or trying to moderate a behavior within certain limits, slip-ups happen. Here, you’ll learn why slip-ups happen and how to create a simple contingency plan for when they do.

“Slip-ups” with behavior change happen for several reasons. 

  1. Setting a goal that is too big or not sustainable for the long term.
    • Solution: set smaller action steps or easier to attain goals to keep building momentum and trend in the right direction.
  2. Sometimes our environment is set up to make it hard to be successful (if you want to drink less but your spouse buys a bottle of your favorite wine… there’s Halloween candy laying around when you want to cut back on sugar, etc.)
    • Solution: Create an environment that makes it easier to succeed (like put alcohol in inconvenient places to get to, don’t put beer in the fridge so you have to wait for it to get cold if you want one, don’t have candy in the house or put it somewhere out of sight and hard to get to). In addition, keep healthier options handy. Make access less convenient for habits you’re trying to break and make access more convenient and visible for habits you’re trying to adopt (e.g fruit bowl on the counter, wear a running watch to remind you that you are going for a run or start the day wearing your sports bra, so you’re already part-way dressed to exercise).
  3. Setting a goal that we think we are should do but don’t really want to do, so we never actually tap into our intrinsic motivation and meaning.
    • Solution: Set a different goal, or if this new habit is critical, find ways to make it personally meaningful and where you can feel or see the benefits.

Alright, so you know a few reasons why some of our habits don’t stick, but what happens if you set boundaries and you still didn’t follow through with what you said you’d do?   

One thing to try is to create if/then statements to help get you back on track. I first learned about if/then statements back in engineering school when we were doing computer programming. Identifying barriers and having a Plan B can be effective.

Here are some examples.

If I skip my workout this morning, then I will go for a walk after dinner tonight. (or) If I skip my workout this morning, then I will make sure I invite a friend to join me for tomorrow’s workout so I don’t miss it again.

If I open a bag of chips, then I will put one serving on a plate with a piece of fruit and put the bag in a hard-to-reach place.

If I want a cookie, then I will have (insert health option) first and decide after if I still want the cookie.

If I don’t want to go for a run, then I’ll go for a hike instead.

Another tip that I wrote about recently in a newsletter was “never miss twice.”

Simply having a plan can prevent us from giving up altogether. It can be the difference in maintaining momentum (no matter how imperfect it is) or psyching yourself out and degrading your confidence in your ability to follow-through with your goals. 

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