FREE First Steps Guide

A 5 Step Plan to Break an Unhealthy Habit without relying on Willpower Alone

habit change subconscious Jul 11, 2022
woman unhealthy eating and drinking habits

So, what’s really behind the battle to change an unhealthy habit?


"When you expect that somethings you're about to do is going to be down right unpleasant or painful, your subconscious jumps in to rescue you... battling with your subconscious and using willpower alone doesn't work when you want to change a habit  - you need to get your subconscious onboard. "


When I first tried to stop drinking I found myself yo-yoing all the time. I knew I had an issue - every day I'd drive home from work, thinking “Ok, I’m not drinking tonight”. Then I'd be cooking tea, or finishing up getting the kids into bed, and that annoying voice in my head would start yapping on at me about how awful I was going to feel without a drink, how I needed alcohol to relax, how I’d struggle to go to sleep, and that I deserved a reward for getting through the day.... So I’d listen to my subconscious, aka the  'wine witch', and I’d pour a drink and imagine that the "glug, glug, glug" was going to make things better... 

And the next day? I’d wake up asking myself, "Why? Why did I do that again?", notice how foggy I was, and I’d promise myself that tonight, I'd make a real change...

I just couldn't bring myself to commit. And if you're recognising this behaviour in yourself, whether that's about drinking, scrolling or any other unhealthy habit, you're not alone.


It's an instinct thing...

When you expect that something you're about to do is going to be down right unpleasant or painful, your subconscious jumps in to rescue you.

For example, at home I'd find myself looking at the state of the kitchen or the bathroom (teenage boys - need I say more...), and all of a sudden -  taking the dog out in the rain seems so appealing! That's my subconscious stepping in to find something less uncomfortable and more enjoyable for me!

And the more you avoid doing the thing you know you should be doing, the greater the guilt, so the greater the stress that ends up sending you into an ever reinforcing circle of avoidance!

Your subconscious taking over is fine if you're in actual danger. It’s an instinct thing – and it come's from caveman times.

Your brain has evolved to look out for danger, and then move you away from threats.  And whilst our threats today aren’t quite the same as running away from a big man-eating lion, fitness, paperwork, awkward conversations, chores and, of course, changing our eating and drinking habits - these all spark off an uncomfortable feeling of change.

Your subconscious likes to stay in familiar patterns, regardless of whether the long term effects are harmful - because it only reacts to the short-term. So battling with your subconscious and willpower alone doesn't work when you want to change a habit  - you need to get your subconscious onboard. 


Bringing your subconscious on board

At the base level when we want to change a habit, you might find that fear is what's actually holding you back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, of being different (particularly around quitting drinking), or even fear of success.

These are all big and real fears to us. For example, the need to belong, to be seen as successful or socially accepted, is incredibly strong - especially when we think about work or social/drinking cultures.

However - did you know that you’re born with only 2 instinctive fears? The fear of falling, and the fear of loud noises. All of your other fears are acquired and learnt with what you experience over your lifetime.

So knowing that you’ve learnt your various fears that are holding you back, you now also know that you can unlearn them.

And becoming aware of even this one fact about your ability to change how you feel about being uncomfortable, is important in giving you the confidence to move forward. 


A 5 Step Plan for breaking a Problem Habit

So how do you apply the above to break problem habits?

You start with the tiniest of actions which don't scare your subconscious.  Plus you need to understand - really understand - the benefits and positive emotional difference the change will have on your life and loved ones. Once your subconscious understands the importance, it will be much more willing to help as it understands the positive benefits behind any change.

To make that start you're going to use a plan.

Here’s a 5 step basic plan of action to help you create a new healthy habit:

1. The Positive Gains

Start by getting clear on what you really want to gain. Long term in the future. What positive benefit do you want to get from this? Health? Self-esteem? Relationships? Write it down. Physically, with pen and paper, not on your phone or laptop. Make sure you don’t put negatives down – the brain doesn’t understand them. So if you write ‘I don’t want to drink’, all it hears is ‘drink’!

2. Don't Kid Yourself...

Remind yourself of the reason you’re doing this and what will keep happening if you carry on as you are. Where will you be in 5 years time? Hmm…. Don’t skip this step. We kid ourselves that we’ll be ok whatever because it really is scary to be truthful to ourselves here….. Now go back to what you really want and imagine how you’ll be in 5 years time when you make the positive change. Much better isn’t it?

3. The Right-sized Steps

Choose a first step that’s the right size for you. Too big and you’ll freak out and it’ll overwhelm you. Too small and you’ll dismiss it. With drinking, is one or two nights without alcohol every week a realistic start? A week off? Longer? You choose.

4. Commit to the First Tiny Action

List out an Action Plan to get you to that first step. Tiny-steps are good to get you to where you want to be. Tiny first actions to get you there could include telling your best mate, shopping for alternative drinks, getting some distractions ready at your normal drinking time, planning to go somewhere, getting a reward system in place. Now write it down and commit to a time for each of your tiny-steps.

5. Feel the Difference

Look at what you’ve written and check in with yourself how amazing and proud you’re going to feel once you’ve achieved your first step. Take this feeling to a few weeks ahead or as far as feels comfortable to you. Wow! Ok, when is your first tiny-action?

Planning ahead with the right size actions for you will take away the fear from your subconscious. So that instead of feeling stuck, you can make those positive changes to your life that will give you more freedom, more confidence and a happier healthier lifestyle. 


Getting the Support that makes it happen

If you're reading this feeling a bit 'Meh' - not knowing how to get going, that's normal. Thinking about changing habits like drinking, eating the wrong stuff or constant scrolling are, let's face it, often socially accepted and even encouraged by the media and advertising agencies! So I get that you can feel a bit lost and unsure.

What makes the difference to success is getting support and accountability. Completely confidential, non-judgemental and focused on the future.

Let's have a chat about how we can get you on a better track so you can make the changes quicker. A free virtual cuppa with me cost nothing except for boiling the kettle! Drop me an email or book a slot here: 20 min Virtual Cuppa

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