tackling bad habits | the bookish athlete

On a recent run, I was listening to the Staying In podcast with Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. Emily, an ex-therapist, said something (related to tackling bad habits) that made me stop in the middle of the trail:

“Insight doesn’t equal behavior change.”

It made me stop because in that moment of insight, I realized that insight really doesn’t equal behavior change. As I started running again, I thought of a few more:

  • Knowledge doesn’t equal action.
  • Reading about something isn’t the same as doing it.
  • Thinking isn’t the same thing as acting.
  • Insight doesn’t equal action.

Just knowing something doesn’t magically cause you to act a certain way, change a behavior, or create a new habit. It made me think of all the habits I’ve tried to change. There are a lot of habits that I know are good for me. But just because I have that knowledge, it doesn’t always lead to healthy behavior.

For example, I know that eating healthy is good for me. And I know that exercising regularly is good for me. I also know that drinking plenty of water is good for me.

It’s that last one that gets me. Drinking enough water? Yip, that’s the one. It’s so simple. All I have to do is drink more water. Water – something that’s within my reach pretty much every single moment of every single day. I know how ridiculous it is. And I’ve tried to get better at it.

In fact, here are all the different ways I’ve tried to get myself to drink more water….

1. Tell myself to drink more water.
Even my husband has said, “Just drink more water.” And sometimes I do. But the bossy “just do it!” attitude doesn’t work for me.

2. Download a water-tracking app.
I’ve downloaded apps where I log water intake. I usually last about three days and then delete the app by day 4.

3. Reward myself for drinking water.
Also didn’t work. Either the reward wasn’t that motivating or I felt weird about rewarding myself for something so simple and accessible.

4. Buy a new water bottle.
I love my water bottle(s). I sometimes drink out of it, but I mostly don’t.

5. Set reminders on my phone.
I end up ignoring the reminders.

6. Make a list of why water is important.
Again, I know all the benefits of staying hydrated. Knowledge/insight doesn’t lead to action.

7. Do a hydration challenge.
I’ve made spreadsheets and calendars for 14, 21, and 30 days where I drink a certain amount of water and check off the days. And then those challenges end, and…the desert returns.

8. When I do decide to drink, chug a full bottle.
I think we all know how this one ends…brb…

9. Write a blog post about my struggles about doing something I know is good for me.
…in progress.

Water is readily available, all the time. I even have a full bottle sitting right here as I write this blog post, but notice that I said FULL water bottle. So what’s the problem? Well, that’s the thing about habits. Even when the ultimate outcome is better than the existing behavior, they’re hard to change.

Does any of this sound familiar? Maybe you don’t have the same problem I have with staying hydrated. So, what if you substituted drinking water with working out and try some of the same things that I have?

1. Tell yourself to work out more.
2. Download a workout app.
3. Reward yourself for the times you do work out.
4. Buy new workout clothes.
5. Set alarms/reminders on your phone to work out.
6. Make a list of why working out is important.
7. Do a workout challenge.
8. When you do decide to work out, go a little too hard. (and end up sore for a week)
9. Write about it…?

Drinking water, working out, eating healthy, meditating, starting a gratitude journal, etc. We know these things are good. So how do we finally make a change and do the thing we’ve been trying to do for months or years?

I have two ideas…

1. Rather than making a list of why drinking water/working out, etc. is important, make a list of why it’s important to you. In my case, drinking water is important to me because:

  • It puts me in a better mood. I can tell when I’m dehydrated because I get sad and angry all at the same time.
  • It makes me skin less red, and I lose less hair. Water keeps my face from flushing and my hair from breaking.
  • It makes it easier to move/run/swim/etc. I can feel dehydration in my knees and my shoulders.
  • I stop staring at an open pantry or refrigerator. Water makes me snack less.

2. Stop seeing drinking water/working out, etc. as something you do “sometimes.” (Sometimes being when it’s convenient, or you’re motivated, or you feel like it, or it’s the start of a new year, or you’re headed to a high school reunion, etc.)

I realized that I had drinking water in a “sometimes” category. Something that doesn’t necessarily have to happen every day. In my mind, I could always make up for it the next day. Or the next.

So I came up with some things that I already do every day.

1. Brush teeth.
2. Feed Orion.
3. Take Orion outside.

Drinking water isn’t a “sometimes” kind of thing. It’s an every day kind of thing. So I added “Drink water” to my list. I think I actually felt something shift in my brain when I saw this:

1. Brush teeth.
2. Feed Orion.
3. Take Orion outside.
4. Drink water.

Changing habits and behaviors isn’t easy. But thinking about change isn’t the same thing as making the change. That actual change part requires effort. You can make that effort worthwhile by reminding yourself why it’s important and that it’s something that you do every day.

Is there a habit you’re in the process of changing? I might have some books and resources that could help. Send me a message and tell me about the toughest part.