How to Break a Bad Habit
The photo archive that is Instagram is a brutal reminder that I used to be a better version of myself.
I ate raw food and cut sugar and was only having, like, half a coffee a day. I used to run and last year at this time I was so scrupulous about my two twenty-minute meditations a day that I swear I thought I could levitate.
Today, though? Today I’m sitting at my desk. I’ve been here since 8 a.m. I’m eating a breakfast cookie that is neither tasty nor healthy but is doing the trick and I’m two coffees into my early afternoon. Per yesterday’s post, yeah, sure I waited until 12 p.m. to drink them but after cappuccino #1 went down in under a minute, I graduated to the major leagues — a large cold brew (curiously strong) sweetened with that nasty syrup because I am a gross human.
A previous version of me is watching this happen and shaking her head, I know it. I don’t blame her. And in case you’re wondering: no, I haven’t meditated, and yes I would like to. But will I? Probably not. Bad habits die hard.
But it’s mental health month on Man Repeller and falling back into the familiar cycle of over-caffeination, sugar highs that end in energy burn out and low-grade depression elicited by allowing my anxiety attacks to spiral into my guts would be a) extremely unbecoming b) bad for all of us.
For all of us!
So I’m putting together a plan, a sort of antidote to the bad habits I’ve picked back up.
It will begin immediately. (I spit the last bite of that breakfast cookie out.) Instead of cookies, I will eat fruit for breakfast henceforth. I will make sure to include grapes and pineapple to start: they’re my favorite and the sweetest. When I feel my body going into crisis mode because of the absence of unnatural sugar, I will drink a bottle of water, suck it up (maybe) chew a piece of gum and close my eyes to remind myself that I’ve done this before and therefore I can do it again. It will be a slow wean off — I will deprive myself — and if I feel as though I must eat a cookie? I will stuff a date with walnuts and scarf. Not the silk kind.
Per that coffee, I will push forward consumption by one hour — instead of waiting ’til noon, I’ll allow myself that first one at 11. My thinking here is that if its waiting for me just a little bit earlier, I won’t enter the withdrawal state and binge. If I do? I’ll attempt to supplement that second go with a hot tea. So much of it is about ritual. That’s something I understand intellectually, so I will be implicitly mindful about consuming that second beverage. I’ll think through the order of consequences. I won’t tolerate impulsive activity. Again, I’ve talked myself out of this bad habit before; there’s no reason I can’t do it again.
And as for the meditation? Twenty minutes in the morning and then again in the afternoon is cumbersome. Overwhelming. It feels fucking great but somehow those mind circuits aren’t connecting, so I’ll take baby steps, because I know myself and cold turkeys don’t work for me. I just can’t digest them.
Instead, I’ll meditate for ten minutes right after I complete this writing assignment. I’ll set an alarm on my phone for five hours from now and will commit to my second ten minute meditation. I know myself well enough to know that in no more than three days, I will remember exactly why I need meditation and so, slowly, I’ll increase the time I spend closing my eyes and telling my mind to shut the fuck up. The other thing I’ll have to do is plan better, right? Reorient my priorities and truly understand that without allocating this “Me Time” each day, I will be a nightmare both to myself and those around me. If it means waking up earlier, or being a little late, then so be it.
I read a story in the Review section of the Sunday Times last weekend about the psychology of dieting and why it doesn’t work. The neuroscientist who wrote it presented a lot of information that’s not going to sound new to you: deprivation throws the body into panic mode and thus incurs future binging behavior; restriction is stressful and when stress hormones are released in the body, our judgement is impaired — you revert back to bad habits and addictive behavior and you do it with a vengeance. Something that was mentioned at the end of the article though, which aligns nicely with the pursuit of a broken bad habit, is the notion of “mindful eating.”
I first heard this in a Ted Talk with Sandra Aamodt, and think it makes a lot of sense: if you check in with yourself regularly enough, you’ll start to pay attention to how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. (Some examples: you’re tired because you just had two coffees and the energy spike has worn off; you’re feeling frustrated and anxious because you still need to plow through hours of work and not having stopped to meditate is only exacerbating that experience; you’re curiously hungry, but only for something sweet, because you’re not actually hungry, you are just looking for a distraction from the other stuff.)
Next: appraise the order of consequences. Don’t just respond to the first order consequence and tell yourself thatif you don’t meditate, you might win back ten minutes right now. Instead, think through the second and third orders. If you give up the ten minutes, you’ll be more clear and therefore more efficient, and if you keep it up, you’ll see the anxiety attacks dissipate entirely. You’ll break that bad habit like you’re a bull in a fucking china shop. It’s the only time being one of those is a good thing!
So, let’s do this together, shall we? List the bad habits you want to break, instate an action plan and let’s check in next week to see how we’re doing. Same time, same place.
Featuring a Shourouk ring; collage/illustration by Emily Zirimis.