Breaking Habits is Hard to Do

Whether eating, exercising, or something else, it’s hard to change the routines we’re used to.  But humans are adaptable.  We can adjust to practically anything, and this is great news when it comes to changing habits.  As I learn more about global climate change, it’s clear that a LOT of us need to change our habits.  I’m working on making changes myself- turning off water while soaping up dishes, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and mall, refilling my water bottle, bringing reusable containers to restaurants, etc.

But having good intentions doesn’t make it easy.  I remember suggesting to my mom that she reuse produce bags instead of recycle them.  She agreed that it was a good idea, but explained that it was a habit she didn’t want to change.  “It’s just one more thing to have to remember and change about my routine,” she said.  But Mom, I thought, the environment!!!  But I get it – the thought of changing a habit can be overwhelming.

HappinessAdvantage_NEW-2That’s why I was excited to read about activation energy in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achors.

To start a new habit, you need to lower the activation energy.  Shawn wanted to start working out in the morning. What did he do?  He lowered the energy it took to get up and ready in the morning by sleeping in his gym clothes.

By the same token, you can raise the activation energy to break a habit.  Shawn wanted to stop watching TV after work, so he put his remote in a drawer several rooms away from the TV.  As a replacement, he put a book by the couch.

Amazingly, this works on the brain.  Once you’re in your gym clothes, your brain actually thinks it’ll be easier to go for a run than change into different clothes!  It’s not logical, but it’s true.


I’m trying to do this more: I collect my produce bags and bulk containers in one spot so I don’t have to find them when I’m ready to shop.  I pack a refillable bottle and food so I don’t have to buy bottled water or unhealthy snacks if I get hungry.  I turn off my computer so I can’t “get on for one second” – and end up spending hours on Pinterest or Facebook.

What habits do you find hardest to break?  How have you lowered or raised activation energy to change a habit?

Eva works at MOM’s Central Office.

About Eva

Chief Marketing Consultant for North America's North America’s most recognized women entrepreneurs and leaders in the women helping women economy.
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7 Responses to Breaking Habits is Hard to Do

  1. Cathy says:

    What a great idea! Tonight I’m going to sleep in my hiking shorts and t-shirt so that all I have to do in the morning is to slip on tennis shoes to start walking again. Spent three weeks in Ireland this summer walking at least 5 hours a day. Walked off about 10 lbs and one pant size, but now it’s creeping back and I just can’t get my act together to find time to walk again. This mind trick should help me break my lazy habit of NOT WALKING.

    • Eva says:

      Hi Cathy! Sometimes what it takes is a total change of context (like being in Ireland) to try out a new lifestyle and realize how good it feels. But when you get back home, it’s so easy to slip back into old habits. I actually moved within a mile of work to ensure that I walk/bike (I also no longer have a car). How did the sleeping-in-your-shorts go?

  2. Halsted says:

    These are really great ideas. I should get all my bulk bags and reusable containers in one place and have my sneakers and workout pants handy. I also like the idea of turning the computer off to avoid temptation and save energy.

  3. Al says:

    Great article!

    …turn off my computer when(?) so I can’t “get on for one second” and end up spending hours…

  4. Happy New Year! Some people find it really hard to break their habits but with proper motivation,it will be easier. It pays to know the benefits that can be achieved out of some sacrifices.

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