How to Really Change Your Bad Habits

Have you ever said the to yourself?

“I know I shouldn’t do ______. …only to do that exact thing?

“I know I promised myself no sweets before bed, buuut…”

What looks like lots of little setbacks becomes long-term derailment.

Why do we do that?

We become triggered by something that’s led us to an uncomfortable state. (a stressful day at work, or anxiety about a decision, etc.) So, we respond to that trigger in a way that we know will put us in a different state that’s more comfortable. (Notice, I didn’t say a “better” state).

We tend to stick to responses we know will lead us out of a state that’s uncomfortable to sit in and into one that’s not, even if that response harmful to us long term. Good news. This is is not our Modus Operandi. It’s just how we are used to responding, and we can change a response without upheaving our whole lives. To do that, let’s understand what’s happening in the steps of our response pattern.

Response Pattern:
Trigger – Response – Alleviation – Repeat

*This is the first step.
A trigger can be a stressful day at work, feeling alone at home, the uncertainty of layoffs at your job, money problems, a sick loved one or pet. Often enough it can just be thoughts or feelings that seem to “pop into our head” and can lead to further feelings of low self-esteem or frustration at ourselves, our body, or our family and relationships. Some situations or circumstances we find ourselves in are also triggers.

I’m alone at home on a Friday night when I’d rather be with friends or family. = I feel alone or ” I feel loneliness.” annnd cue anxiety.

The trigger is whatever takes us out of our feeling of equilibrium and puts us into the state of un-ease that becomes so uncomfortable; we must respond to it to get back to our sense of feeling alright again.

*This is a long step.
This is what we do to create a different state to cancel the unfavorable one out. Some common ways people refer to their response as “quieting, numbing, or suppressing the feelings and thoughts we have with the trigger.”

Example of
” I feel loneliness.”

Since we don’t want to feel a sense of loneliness, we opt to create a different feeling to replace it.
-To feel busy, we start working on projects we brought home from work.
-To feel engaged we work with our hands on a vehicle or practice an instrument.
-To feel numb or distracted, we may use recreational drugs or drink.
-To feel in control, we clean an already-clean apartment.
-To feel victorious we demolish our 30-year-old brother in Mario Kart while he’s at his office and totally on the clock.
-To feel satisfied we eat chocolate or a burger and fries.

Our response is not really about the action we are doing. It’s about the feeling we are obtaining through that action and injecting it like a syringe with medicine onto the spot where our triggered sense of feeling lives.

A questionable pattern is not a safe haven. It’s more like that rope bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Is it reliable? Who knows!
Are there crocodiles under it? Excitement and adventure!
How long is it going to take to cross? That long? It looks like I’ll be punching some crocs today!
*Is it still too soon to make Steve Irwin jokes?

Look, bridges serve a purpose, and so does this one. We made it so we could cross from our current state of earthy well-being, over an emotional river of rapids, to another stable state of psychological well-being. It doesn’t mean we’re afraid or immature. We also do it so we can get on with our day. Tending to every anxious feeling or insecurity isn’t realistic when we have deadlines to make at work, or children will not stay in bed, dammit. We’re adults and have things to do. So, we make a patchwork bridge of eating food, smoking, or social media browsing, to “get over it” for now.

Do we initially need them? Yes.
Are they helpful in the short term? Yes.
Are they permanent and can we rely on them? No.
Are you still reading this “Odessy” of a blog post because you somehow relate to it, or have a concern about some of your patterns? Even just a teensy-weensy bit? Keep reading.

Not all responses are bad, which is convenient because we will always have a response of some type to our triggers. Our work is in expanding our types of responses and trying new ones that will serve us better than the old ones that do not.

This is a short step.
Now that we have achieved this temporary feeling to replace our original feelings we experienced with our trigger, we experience enough relief to put the icky feelings aside for the time being and continue about our day. But that above-referenced river remains, and there is a better way to cross it than the Indiana Jones bridge. I don’t want to be riddled with little Indy-bridges, mainly because of the next step.

*This is a repetitive step.
We are stuck with feelings until we expire so, we will have to keep crossing that damn rope bridge as long as it’s there.

We have a lot of triggers. We encounter them nearly every day. You will probably have one while reading this, provided you survive to the end of this blog post.. cause it’s a damn-long one.

So each time we encounter the trigger, we:
-Keep the same rope-bridge-pattern until we take our dirt nap.
-Go all Bob the Builder on that river’s ass, and construct something better to cross on next time.

Remember, we are risk-averse. We usually don’t want to invest in building a new response.
-What if our new way of handling a trigger backfires and we feel worse?
-What if it means we look or feel like a beginner again?
-What if the new bridge fails and I fall to the crocs underneath which are actually a bunch of the shoes instead of real crocs. Which, is even worse.
-What If it works?
So like a ball-in-groove socket, we tend to stay in the comfort zone of our current response pattern of handling stress, whether it serves us or not.

Our response options aren’t limited to those that do not serve us, we can expand our options, just as we expand our physical capacity through CrossFit.


I’m not a trained professional in human psychology. I can’t comment on where specific triggers and responses come from (although many agree that they stem from childhood experience). However, I can give you a simple framework to determine if a response is serving you, and adjust it if it isn’t.

Here is a step-by-stage guide to changing your response. The stage you in determines the step you need to take to change.

Stage 1: Awareness
We want to change something in the short or long-term but we’re either:

We’re unaware of our triggers or unaware we are even responding to triggers.

“I want to change my body or health, but I keep falling off the wagon.”

-The action step here is to identify unhealthy behaviors and responses and connect them to your triggers.
-What behavior do you have that’s self-sabotaging?
-When do you do it?
-What feelings do you have before you do it?
-What thoughts or events happened right before those feelings?

Now, complete the following statement and review if it is true for you.

I am triggered by_____which leads me to a feel___________. I respond to this state by doing the following_______________.

-Stage one is where we can spend much of our time if we don’t identify where we can make an adequate response change. This is where we reach for “diets, detox methods, online programs, new years deals for gyms, fads, and other magic pills and snake oils” if we linger without changing our responses.

Stage 2: Try something different.
We acknowledge that we are acting based on a pattern of operation that’s been developed over time and out of convenience, rather than with the purpose to serve our higher selves. We take responsibility for changing that pattern, by trying new methods of responding

*This stage can be exciting due to perception change. Our mindset shifts from one of powerlessness into one of acknowledgment of power we already have. It can be exhilarating at first, but it will take time to make it robust. It helps to recruit someone you trust to hold you accountable for exercising this step. A mentor with experience and tools to help you is best. Next comes close friends. Then a partner (partners can also be or unknowingly feed into your triggers, so they are not usually the best option).

Your action step in this stage is to:
1) Take your statement from stage 1 and write out as many different responses as you can for that trigger.

With emotional eating, new responses can be like:
– Taking dogs on a walk, or playing with them to create a different state of joy at that moment.
– Going to CrossFit Class
– Going for a jog
– Calling a friend, family member or mentor to talk on the phone.
– Doing 5 minutes of meditation. An app like Headspace makes this do-able for anyone, anywhere.
– Creating something through art, writing, handiwork, or anything you take joy in that does not segway into the old pattern you’re overcoming.
– Calling your mentor to discuss your trigger and receive support and guidance to create a new pattern.

2) Take the top 5 responses you are most likely to try, and list out each way that response benefits you (or is harmful to you) in the short and long-term.

3) The next time you become triggered. Try out one of the five new responses and take note of how it went. I prefer to write out a paragraph about the difference I can see in the new response as opposed to the old one. How did I use to feel after the old response? What about now? Where was my old response going to lead me if I did not change it? Where can this one lead me if I do it instead?

So far, our work looks like this.

A) I am triggered by{ _______}which leads me to a feel{___________}. I respond to this state by doing the following{_______________}.

B) New responses

C) Right now, I’m triggered by {________}. My old pattern was to {__________}. Instead, I’m going to {__________}.

D) Take notes on your new response.

Stage 3: Repeat with conscious effort.
We catch ourselves wanting to respond to the trigger with an old pattern. We regain touch with our higher self and try a new method of responding to the trigger. With each new method of response, we expand the methods in our toolbelt to handle our selves. But.

I have to be the guy that sours your milk for a second.
Healthy responses and habits never become automatic. They’re a conscious choice that you make each time. A lot of literature is out there touting 21-day transformative programs and guides to building new habits until you break the old ones, but breaking the old unhealthy habits is only a step you do early on. The less intense but long term effort is in holding to what is better for you.

So, it won’t be automatic, but it will become easier and eventually enjoyable the more you do it.

“I used to {_______} in this situation. But now, I know that {__________} will address this AND serve me at the same time.

Keep in mind; I’m not a psychiatrist or therapist. But I have coached many people through these steps over the years in my gym with success, as long as you follow through on each step and get guidance and accountability when needed.

So to re-cap:
Stage 1: Awareness
Stage 2: Try Something Different
Stage 3: Repeat with Conscious Effort

If you know there is something you want to change. Don’t close this browser and think you’re going to because that’s likely your response to the idea of actually changing. You got a hit off of reading and absorbing information that may lead you to a better state, but that’s probably where it ends.

Change is in action. If you have just even one habit, or behavior you want to change, print this post off and go through the steps. It may take you 15 minutes to do this for a single behavior, and if in that time you experience just a hint of excitement in this change, then your brain is telling you that you’re on to something good and you should keep going.

Each step you get through regarding a behavior is a win that creates momentum for you finally get out of step one, and off of the Indiana Jones rope bridge.

You can even reach out, and I’ll help you. [email protected]


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