Habit building is easy to explain but harder to do. There are a lot of subtle psychological factors at play.
As a high-performance diet coach and lifestyle designer, I work with dozens of entrepreneurs, executives, and badass human beings who battle their health on a daily basis to achieve a nearly impossible standard of success.
I coach my clients to create lifestyles for themselves where they take willpower and decision-making out of the equation. By being strategic and playing the long-term, you won’t ever have to rely on willpower to get you by. You can effectively replace any habit that does not serve you if you focus on the process of getting there, instead of forcing an outcome.
Whether it’s alcohol, soda, coffee, or any other substance that has addictive or unwelcome qualities, here’s how you reduce overall intake over the long-term on your way toward total control.
Example of a Soda Addict
Let’s pretend your current average of consumption is 5 sodas per day. Most days are 5, some days are 6, some are 4, some are as low as 3. Generally, though, based on your observations, you’d say 5 is a generous but true average. Your baseline.
Week 1: Observation
Observation: You notice you typically drink your first soda sometime after breakfast, and have your second with lunch. Then, for the next few hours you go back about 3 more times—sometimes more—using it primarily for caffeine and stimulation, but also as a way of “getting up” and doing something to displace boredom.
Pattern: After a few days of observation, you can see a pattern emerge: 10am, 12pm, 1pm, 4pm, and 6pm are your trigger times.
Structure: You notice that 10am, 12pm and 6pm are your “definites” – you reliably pair a soda with each meal. The other two sodas come between lunch and dinner.
Baseline: You conclude that 5 sodas per day is your baseline. Most days are 5, some days are 6, some are 4, some are as low as 3.
Generally, though, based on your observations, you’d say 5 is a generous but true average. 5 is the number we’re committing to start with. It’s your Maximum, the upper limit.
Week 2: Hold your Baseline
Preparation: Don’t give yourself access to more than 5 sodas per day. Buy no more than 35 for the week, for example.
Boundaries: Since it was never much of an issue to begin with, you commit to no soda before 10am and none after dinner time.
Practice: You don’t have to stick to designated times. Simply keep a tally going. 5 is your max per day, every day. You can have less, but don’t feel pressured to. Take it very slow. Observe whether you keep to those times.
Week 3: New Baseline: 4 Sodas
Preparation: It’s safe to say that you won’t really miss one of those sodas in between lunch and dinner. This week, you’re going to commit to reducing the number of sodas to 4: sometime after breakfast, with lunch, with dinner, and one in between.
Practice: You don’t have to stick to designated times. Simply keep a tally going. 4 is your max per day, every day. You can have less, but don’t feel pressured to.
Week 5: New Baseline: 3 Sodas
Observation: After a few weeks of observing yourself, you notice that you don’t really care about soda at dinner. Being mindful about it, you realize you just had it out of convention. The other times: 10am, with lunch, and afternoon break, feel more “essential.”
Preparation: This week, you’re going to commit to reducing the number of sodas to 3: around 10am, with lunch, and as an afternoon break.
Week 6: New Baseline: 2 Sodas
Observation: After a few weeks of observing yourself, you recognize that soda with lunch isn’t crucial, as the meal serves as a way to break up your day, stimulate your senses, and give you something to do. You don’t need soda for that.
Preparation: This week, you’re going to commit to reducing the number of sodas to 2: around 10am and as an afternoon break.
Week 7: New Baseline: 1 Soda
Observation: After a few weeks of observing yourself, after having cut down so much soda + having reformed your diet, you realize that the morning soda just isn’t necessary anymore. You don’t need that energy kick the way you used to.
Preparation: This week, you’re going to commit to reducing the number of sodas to 1: as an afternoon break.
Substitution: Let’s pretend that after a few weeks of testing you just COULDN’T go below 2 sodas. This is likely due to the caffeine.
Therefore, this is a great time to substitute something natural and healthy containing caffeine (coffee or tea) for soda. The following week, commit to this substitution for 1 but not both of the sodas. In the above example, try having coffee at 10am and keep your soda at around 4pm.
Week 8: 0 Sodas
Observation: Whereas it once held an important place in your life, you’ve now determined that soda just doesn’t fit with the new version of yourself. It isn’t necessary anymore. Because of your new diet, your tastebuds have changed. You don’t even really like it; it’s too sweet and it just makes you feel crappy. This is when you know you’re ready to cut it for good.
Preparation: Don’t be so strict as to create an impossible standard to follow. It’s unreasonable to believe that you can NEVER have a soda again. Give yourself the freedom to have one on cheat days. During the rest of the week, even though your new baseline is 0, allow yourself the flexibility to have one every so often. Just don’t exceed one.
- Keep the New Baseline! You don’t have to decrease the number each week—meaning, you can hold at your new baseline for a few weeks in a row if it feels too challenging to go lower.
- Just Don’t Go UP! But you can’t INCREASE the number either. If you go down to 3, you can’t go back to 4. 3 is the new baseline and that’s non-negotiable. You can stay at 3 for three weeks if you wish; you just can’t go up.
- 3 Week Limit. Do not exceed 3 weeks at any baseline, or else you’re going to fall out of rhythm with the objective. After 3 weeks, it’s time to go down!
- Test your limit. You might decide that you never want to go down to 0. That’s okay. Now you’ve made a controlled decision.
A common error is to not start or do something because you think it isn’t significant enough or “won’t count.” This is a mistake. In fact, easier habits are easier to form so can be preferable in many situations. The idea is to train your confidence that you CAN do these things. The doing is the key. What may seem trivial at first actually feels pretty damn good, you find. Which increases the likelihood of adding more to your routine. Now you’re making that decision from an informed and empowered place. That’s what success looks like.
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