How to Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Habits

A better life signpostI hate rest stops. Every time I have to walk into one because it’s my only option for a food and a bathroom break for the next hundred miles, I suck it up and begin the search- an apple, maybe a salad (but hold the creamy dressing), and a mini bag of pretzels. As I head back out to hit the open road, I pass the Cinnabon. Almost every time, regardless of which rest stop I’m frequenting, there is a morbidly obese person waiting to order Cinnabon.

In one Cinnabon Classic there are 880 calories, 36 grams of fat, 17 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 830 milligrams of sodium, 127 grams of carbohydrates, and 59 grams of sugar. In other words one small Cinnabon is a major health BOMB! With those kinds of numbers, I can’t even consider the Cinnabon an indulgence, it is so far beyond indulgent that I can barely classify it as food. And yet, every time, there’s that overweight customer just waiting for it.

Watching this scene play out time and time again frustrates and astounds me like watching a person with lung cancer smoke a cigarette. At what point do you stop? When I see people engage in behavior that compounds their already problematic and serious health conditions, I seriously have to question the lack of personal responsibility.

I’ve found that people like to point fingers and make excuses more than they care to take some kind of effective action. It’s much easier to look at me and assume I’m naturally skinny than it is to go with me on my four to six mile runs every other day and cook your own, healthy meals. It’s much easier to blame the government for their ridiculous subsidies of corn that have led to the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in just about all processed foods than skip the Cinnabon and the entire center of the grocery store.

It’s easier to place blame than accept responsibility.

But such perceived “ease” is only short-term. Grabbing fast food or whatever’s convenient, skipping workouts, etc. is only easier in the moment. Carrying around an extra fifty or hundred pounds of weight all day, every day is certainly not simpler in the long term- on joints or health or finances.

Perhaps that’s the real problem. Perhaps it’s getting stuck in the short-term mindset that cripples the capacity for long-term, healthy change.

But how do you go about retraining yourself to think beyond what’s simplest or most convenient in the present to choose what’s better and ultimately easier in the long run? How do you learn to walk past the Cinnabon and scout out the tiny fraction of reasonably healthy food options at the rest stop?

In my experience I’ve found two strategies to be hugely helpful in this admittedly difficult retraining and thought reframing process.

The first is surrounding yourself with positive examples. When you spend time in the company of people whose daily habits support the ideals and values you seek to master, it’s much easier to follow along and adopt their lifestyle. For example, if their idea of fun is a group bike ride or putting together a healthy potluck, it’s easy to incorporate those activities into your life just by going with the flow. Conversely, when you surround yourself with people who continue to engage in short-term “ease” thinking and subsequent unhealthy lifestyle choices, it’s much more difficult to chart your own course. If everyone sits around marathoning a TV show and ordering take-out, it’s going to be much more challenging to get up on your own and go for a run or prep a healthy meal.

The second strategy is to practice long-term goals. When you set goals that are 12 to 18 months away and work to achieve them through daily action steps and habits, you develop your long-term mindset and hopefully become more able to achieve other long-term goals- like weight loss. For me, running the marathon was a major long-term goal. Once I had a date for it, it became tangible, and it really forced me to commit to the training each week. A long term goal can by physical or financial or anything really- maybe start with something you already excel at so that you can use the momentum from mastering that long-term goal to help you stay motivated towards the long-term goals you struggle with.

By making that shift from short-term to long-term mindset, redefining what “ease” really is, and accepting personal responsibility- the cycle of unhealthy habits is much more likely to be broken.


How to Break the Cycle of Unhealthy Habits — 13 Comments

  1. I saw a great motivational video just yesterday that was a collage of people doing awesome things, and the audio were motivational quotes. One of them was (something to the effect of) – if you are not where you want to be, it’s not the fault of anyone else. It’s not the fault of the system. It’s because you are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve your goal.

    The enemy inside is the greatest enemy of all!

  2. Great tips! Taking responsibility is a big part. You can continue pointing fingers and blame other but that’ll never do anything for you. You can only move forward by taking responsibility.

    • Agreed. It’s not always easy, but once you do it, it’s much easier to understand that you’re in control of making the change.

  3. I worked in the funeral industry for many years, so nothing surprises me anymore. I’ve worked so many funerals where the deceased died from lung cancer, yet their entire family goes outside to smoke all day long. That’s just the way people are, unfortunately. Some people don’t want to change their bad habits, no matter how costly they may end up being.

  4. Hey Stefanie. While I do agree with all that you have written, for some, it may not be that easy.

    “I seriously have to question the lack of personal responsibility” – There may be other factors at work that cater to a lack of personal responsibility, such as an emotional, chemical and/or mental imbalance that negates doing the “right thing”. Just sayin’ as all 🙂

    Take care and all the best.


  5. Thanks for this article. It reminds me of why it’s best to focus on one’s own weaknesses rather than on those of others. Empathy. Pass it on.

  6. Bad habits are hard to break! I agree, surrounding ourselves with positive influences and setting goals helps a lot. Alas I have yet to break my bad habit of not exercising regularly. At least I went for an hour long walk yesterday. That’s better than nothing.

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