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When bad habits come back

By Tracy J Reck, Exercise & Nutrition Coach in Worcester

Habits are sticky. They stick around. This is a great thing, because a habit’s job is to help you complete a task, solve a problem or otherwise get something done without you having to start from scratch every time.

Sometimes, though, it’s NOT a great thing. Because some habits we create (and yes, you do create your own habits, you just don’t realise you’re doing it) actually have a very funky way about about solving that problem, completing that task or otherwise getting it done.

You know the ones I mean. The ‘glass of wine to wind down’ habit. The ‘packet of biscuits to cheer me up’ habit. The ‘working myself to death to feel secure’ habit. When those habits stick around too long, they overstay their welcome.

Here’s the good news. You can tackle ANY habit and make it better. You made the bad ones so it stands to reason you can make some good ones, right! Here’s what you do - chuck a new behaviour in the loop that achieves the same end and repeat, repeat, repeat till it sticks.

Like this. Create: a ‘bath to wind down’ habit. A ‘chat with good friends to cheer me up’ habit. A ‘talking about my worries to feel secure’ habit.It’ll take some trial and error to get the right replacement behaviour, but there are MANY roads to get to a destination.

That said, here’s the bad news. You can’t actually remove a habit, completely. It’ll never totally go away. Now, it’s important to get this, because it is a HUGE reason that people get frustrated with the change process - you work really hard on changing something only to have your "bad old ways" resurface at some point.

Think about it like this. Every habit is your brain’s preferred shortcut to fixing whatever pain or discomfort you experienced that it was designed to fix. Every time that pain or discomfort comes up, that habit wants to get involved in fixing it.

That logical part of your brain will be aware of the amount of work you’ve put in, trying to change this habit. Your emotional brain doesn’t care. It just wants the pain to go away. The greater the pain, the more powerfully that old habit will rear up. None of your rational knowledge about why this behaviour DOESN’T solve this particular problem will help you, if the pain is enough - the old habit is always sat there, waiting to be called on to do its ‘job’.

So when this happens and your old habits resurface - and it is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ - don’t feel bad. All your hard work has not gone down the toilet. It’s just going to take some real time and lots of practice for you to have such a handle on your habits that YOU get to call the shots in extreme circumstances.

Tracy Reck is a fitness and nutrition writer, coach and speaker. You can read more from her at