You know that little voice that always appears in your head right before you make a particularly ‘treat yo self’-esque decision? That voice that whispers ‘Just one more chocolate digestive will be fine!’ or, ‘one more glass of wine DEFINITELY won’t cause a hangover, nope no way, go for it’ and so on. Well, I decided that my ‘treat yo self’ voice was getting a little too bossy as it was becoming all too easy to reward myself with treats and snacks after days at work. This was doing nothing for my skin, waistline or bank-account.
22 days. That’s what I heard, through vague word-of-mouth and the occasional click-bait article, it takes to break a habit. Or to quell a craving. Sometimes it could be 28 days, others stated 15. Some studies suggest that it takes 22 days to MAKE a habit, not break one, whilst others say that everyone is completely different as this data is based on no scientific evidence.
Still, I figured I would set a time limit and axe three of my favourite things in order to test my willpower. One month, September, with no cheese, chocolate or bread. The three main staples of any self-respecting person’s diet, right? Right?! I hoped to achieve inspirational results, be one of those people that kept their cravings and bad habits on an enviously tight leash.
Of course, as predicted by said click-bait articles, the first few days were the hardest. I couldn’t employ the go-to tactic of simply not stocking the things I was avoiding in the flat. My boyfriend, who apparently has the metabolism of sonic the hedgehog, is prone to these three treats (and many more) that would constantly be stocked in the kitchen. The temptation to make some cheese pasta, join him for a slice of chocolate cake or grilled cheese was very much in my face at all times. Somehow I managed to remain strict and not give in. Because the temptations were constantly there, I think it enabled me to exercise much more self-control than if the temptations were only there during a weekly shopping trip.
It’s now approaching the end of September and I’ve come across some surprising results. A few days ago I was idly standing behind the till at work and absentmindedly scratched an itch on my face. ‘Ouch! What was that? I- since when did I have long nails?’ I realised that for the past three weeks, exercising my self-control to this extent meant I subconsciously broke a pre-existing bad habit. My worst habit, in fact. Nail biting.
I’ve tried several times in the past to stop, and had no intention of trying again when banning my three guilty pleasures. I’ve also noticed an increase in my motivation- I no longer give up 4k into my 5k target runs and have been surprisingly on top of my reading for this semester. (It’s only week 2, but still.)
Have I discovered that nail biting comes hand in hand with a generous diet of cheese, chocolate and bread? Probably not. I have discovered that by being stricter with myself in certain areas in life it has made it easier for me to finally break those bad habits I find myself constantly slipping in to. So instead of trying to stop every little thing that bothers you at once and caving almost instantly (which has been my experience, anyway) the key to improving your general motivation, self-control and willpower is to start small. Increase gradually and perhaps the results may be as surprising as mine!
Next month perhaps I’ll cut out wine and, with a little luck, hopefully my bad habit of leaving a pile of dishes by the sink will kick the bucket. Maybe.
[Chiara Bullen – @bullieob]