Breaking a Habit

Keeping changes small for bigger success.

Online Community By Scott Johnson

September 2010 — November is American Diabetes Month. This November I am focusing on keeping changes small.

I often make the mistake of trying to make HUGE changes in my life, and I try to make those changes in a hurry. It's all or nothing, black or white, right or wrong. I usually fail miserably. And as soon as I can't live up to the expectation I set for myself, I give up completely.

I've been working with a wonderful life coach, Ginger Vieira, for the past four months or so. One of the things she's helping me recognize is my tendency to set unrealistic goals. It's completely normal, and almost everybody does it, and it is also a hard habit to break. Habit? How can it be a habit? Aren't habits usually behaviors repeated over and over again? It is weird to think that I've set these unrealistic goals, and failed to meet them, often enough for that behavior to become a habit. But looking back, I think she's right.

Maybe this bad habit comes from watching too much television? Seeing these stories, crafted by marketing magicians, leading me to believe that if I just dedicate myself I can lose 100 pounds in six months can seem realistic at the time. Or maybe it comes from a deep dark pit of guilt and shame after I've made a bad decision. I get mad at myself and am sure I'm going to turn my whole world around in a single day to fix it. Wherever it comes from, it is unrealistic and unhealthy to reinforce this bad habit.

I know that I should take these big goals and break them into smaller ones, then break those into smaller goals, and keep going like that until I have achievable, bite-size pieces. Ginger is also helping me realize that I need to keep breaking these goals down until they are very clear, action-oriented tasks.

American Diabetes Month

For example, we talked about my tendency to reach for a snack when I get sleepy or bored. That snacking is pulling me away from my goal to lose weight. I'm also eating when I'm not hungry and don't need to eat. We decided to try doing pushups instead. So whenever I am feeling sleepy or bored, when I would typically get up and snack, I will do ten pushups.

Notice that we didn't say I couldn't have a snack? Because that sometimes sends me down the rebellion road – "Oh yeah? I'll show YOU who can't have a snack!" But if I do snack, I'll at least have done ten pushups beforehand, which is more exercise (and calorie burn) than I have been doing for so long. It is helping me re-wire my brain to accept that I can change my habits, and it's helping me shift the momentum towards the positive.

I also feel pretty good after doing a few pushups. If I take a minute to just reflect on how I'm feeling, I can feel my muscles swelling up a little bit, I can feel the blood rushing into them, feeding them fresh and healthy nutrients, and making them a wee-bit stronger.

It is a little thing to do ten pushups. Before working with Ginger I would have written it off as too little. I would have dismissed the idea as meaningless. But it is proving to be a powerful little step. I feel a little stronger, and I see that I need to break my goals down even more than I had thought. I'm also gaining more ground by consistently taking many smaller steps than I had ever gained taking large and unsustainable steps.

What's that saying? Slow and steady wins the race? I'm willing to try a different approach – these little sprints I'm used to doing haven't worked very well for me so far.

Visit Scott's blog. 

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 11, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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