Bad habit: 5 tips for kicking a bad habit.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 tips for kicking a bad habit.

Well, September is half over, and I’ve managed NOT to eat any of my beloved Tasti D-Lite. And it hasn’t even been that hard to give it up. How did I go from 2-3 stops a day, to zero? Here are the strategies I used to kick my bad habit.

1. Running start. I gave up Tasti D-Lite after we returned from a short vacation, so I’d already gone four days without it by the time I was faced with temptation. This gave me a gratifying head start.

2. Busy time. I’ve heard that it’s easier to kick a habit when your schedule changes, because you don’t have a fixed pattern yet. I gave up Tasti D-Lite right when school was starting up again, when my schedule would be unusually hectic. I feared that this might work against me, because one of the attractions of Tasti D-Lite is that I can grab it on the fly, and it’s conveniently available at several stops in my usual path through the neighborhood, but rushing around also kept me from dreaming up justifications for indulging. And I don’t have any times yet when I usually stop to give myself a treat – so I don’t have pangs when I don’t get it.

3. Not one bite. No exceptions. I gave it up entirely. Many people advocate moderation for treats, and this strategy works for some folks, but not for me. If I ate Tasti D-Lite three times a week, I would spend a huge amount of time and mental energy fretting about “Now? Later? Today, tomorrow? Does this cone ‘count’?” I find that a lot of people are pretty judgmental about this: they insist that I should be able to enjoy things in moderation — and they predict that giving things up altogether will mean I will be less likely to stick to my resolution. True, the cold-turkey strategy isn’t for everyone, and it may sound draconian, but in fact I have much better success, and much less difficulty, when I give up things altogether. Know what works for YOU.

4. Head off temptation. One reason that I ate a lot of Tasti D-Lite was that I was genuinely hungry, and it was a convenient snack. I’m trying to make sure that I don’t let myself get hungry, so I don’t get tempted to take the quick solution. Fact is, for me it’s a lot easier, and more fun, to grab a Tasti D-Lite cone than to eat a civilized bowl of soup. I’m making sure I get enough real food to keep from being tempted to eat fake food.

5. Consider marshmallows. I heard that if you’re wondering whether you over-indulge in something (shopping, alcohol, Tasti D-Lite), you should substitute “marshmallows,” and ask yourself what you would think of that habit. In my case, I said, “Twice a day, sometimes three times a day, I stop to eat marshmallows.” “I feel a little embarrassed by the number of marshmallows I eat.” “I wouldn’t let my children eat this many marshmallows in one day.” Ick! Too much! This reminds me that I stopped this habit for a valid reason. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree with Samuel Johnson, who said that, “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.” I’m not being idly severe with myself; I’m not giving up TDL (as I affectionately call it) because I think it’s “wrong” to eat it. I don’t think it’s wrong to eat it. I was just eating too much of it, and it was crowding out more nutritious food.

Gosh, it feels good to kick a habit. I feel freer, less guilty, more virtuous. My resolution only covers the month of September, but I doubt that I’ll go back to my previous habits when the month is over. Maybe I’ll keep Tasti D-Lite for a special, occasional treat.

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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  • Anne

    I have exactly the same thing. I can eliminate something completely, but I am not good in doing something in moderation. I can’t stop thinking about what I’m doing in moderation, just like you said. If, on the other hand, I completely stop doing something, it’s not an issue anymore.
    For example, running. If I leave the house, determined to run my whole round without walking, I’ll just do it. I don’t have to think about when I’ll walk (Well, I’m pretty tired now. Maybe now? Or when I reach that tree? I’ll just walk for 1 minute. Or maybe two would be better? And will I walk again, or will I just run for the rest? Maybe I’ll… And on and on. It is so much more tiring than just running the whole thing…
    I’d say, let people just be judgmental about it, if it works, it works. :-)

  • http://www.projecthavana.com Havana

    Whoah, freaky. Right before I came across today’s post, I was thinking about how to kick my Starbucks habit. LOL It’s gotten so bad that every time I passed by a Starbucks (which was often!), I turned aroudn to grab something. And there was a time I was sick of Starbucks because I worked there!
    One thing that helped a little bit was to strip the franchise down through a marketing perspective and dissect the tactics they use to lure you in … it gets you thinking about how overpriced it is and how they get away with it through millions of dollars’ worth of hype.

  • http://joannedemaio.blogspot.com/ Joanne

    I like the marshmallow thing. Cute, I can just visualize that. And it’s true, the amount of mental energy just managing a habit is exhausting. It’s all or nothing!

  • http://lweeks.blogspot.com/ Linda

    Hmmmmm, good plan. I, too, have the frozen treat habit. I always justify it cuz it’s yogurt therefore healthy, right?? Wrong, I’m not eating healthy food. I’ll also have a bowl of cereal instead of a vegi wrap for lunch. Thanks for the ideas.

  • http://www.theinadvertentgardener.com Genie

    I like the marshmallow trick, too — helpful! And I’m with you — moderation is generally not the right answer for me. I wish I could be one of those “No, I couldn’t possibly” people, but I’m a little too much of a yes-woman to do anything but cold turkey when it’s time to take a break from a particular vice…
    Congratulations on the 9Rules acceptance — welcome to a great community!

  • http://shannonnora.blogspot.com/ Shannon

    Great post. So timely for me because I just picked up “The Vice Busting Diet” from the library, which talks about the same “no moderation” concept that seems difficult for some to grasp. I’m the same way – it’s all or nothing for me. I’ve just decided to give up all non-homebaked cookies, brownies, pastries, etc. I’ve done it before for lent and now I’m excited to make it a permanent life change.

  • http://www.perilouslyprecocious.com Ash

    Congrats on your accomplishment!

  • Jessica

    I feel so sad that this has turned into a diet blog.

  • Sarah

    I’d love to hear suggestions on how to apply these concepts to a habit that is a little less easy to avoid.
    Nail-biting, for example. You can’t avoid having your hands with you all the time, they don’t go away if you are out of town for a weekend, and schedule doesn’t really impact nail-biting habits.
    Thoughts anyone?

  • http://victoriapexelex.blogspot.com ViCtoria~

    I hope this can work with chocolate bars as well, because I’m completely addicted!

  • Chris

    FYI – straight from their website:
    Tasti D-Lite is a dairy-based frozen dessert. Not frozen yogurt, because it doesn’t contain yogurt. Not ice cream, because it contains less fat.
    I suggest you go to their website to read the ingredients – that may want you to stop eating it altogether!

  • http://www.snickerdoodles.typepad.com kerry

    Oh Tasty Delight looks delish! Glad we don’t have one here…we don’t even have a Dairy Queen within 3 hours! My only option for soft serve ice cream is McDonalds, which isn’t very tempting luckily. Durng a visit to PEI this summer they had a great dairy bar called Tasty Freeze and I had a kiddie cone almost every day! I will try some of those times for some of my other food weaknesses. I do enjoy your blog. My blog mantra is “Follow your Bliss”…so we are on a similar journey. Looking forward to your book, when it’s ready I will do a giveaway if you like.
    http://www.snickerdoodles.typepad.com

  • http://vintagemommy.com Vintage Mommy

    I’m conflicted about giving up treats altogether. I want to be a person who can eat anything in moderation, but there are some foods that are trigger foods for me so I avoid them entirely.
    At this point I’d like to work on my internet habit . . .as a blogger I can’t give it up completely, so what do to?

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    Good point about nail-biting. I’m a huge hair-twister, and have stopped even trying to stop. I agree, it’s a big advantage to have something that you can cut off entirely.

  • adora

    #3 works for me as well. I heard a quote the other day, “Perfect abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”

  • http://www.magic-medicine-workshop.blogspot.com riva

    A little gratitude for having such a harmless little habit would probably boost your happiness too!

  • http://www.moroccanmaryam.typepad.com maryam in marrakech

    Oh my goodness, more of this….I came to this blog to learn about happiness. And it has become a blog about how a skinny woman can become skinnier and control everything she eats. I am unsubscribing.

  • http://blog.herestogirlfriends.com/ Carolyn S.

    What I love about this blog is that it covers so many topics from the serious to the sublime and from the momentous to the miniscule. Sometimes it’s about the beauty right outside your window and sometimes it’s about kicking a yogurt habit. Anyway, we’re all skinny and beautiful on the Internet. At least I am, I don’t know about you.

  • http://zenhabits.net Leo

    This is an excellent post about habits, Gretchen .. thanks for sharing your experiences.
    @maryam: Often, our habits have a lot to do with our happiness, so I think this is an extremely relevant post. And who are we to judge Gretchen? If she doesn’t want to eat a certain dessert, what’s wrong with that? Let’s just be grateful she’s shared this info with us … and remember that leaving positive comments leaves everyone a little happier. :)

  • http://785blog.blogspot.com BJ Fischer

    Gretchen–Saw your tweet and had to read these comments. I think people are MORE complaining about diet talk then that you gave up frozen dairy/yogurt….
    As for people who think this doesn’t have anything to do with happiness, I don’t see it that way. I’m all for treats. If I have a really good calorie day, instead of a beer or wine, I have a frozen yogurt cone. Nothing seriously hurt.
    A treat makes you feel good. But, if you eat something that makes you feel bad–guilty, weak, out of control–then its not a treat is it?
    And giving it up is another way to live happier. Addition by subtraction if you will.

  • http://parentovershoulder.com Nancy

    Saw your tweet… I love your blog!

  • http://ourodyssey.blogspot.com Louise

    I know how even mildly negative comments can sometimes sting. Please don’t take it personally. You reach many satisfied readers every day. The folks who unsubscribe because of a single post that they disagree with are simply “Being [insert name here].”
    I think my path to happiness lies outside of [insert name here]’s brain! Doesn’t sound like a happy place in there! :-)
    Good for you for not only recognizing a habit that isn’t ideal for you, but being open to sharing it with strangers on the internet. Your blog inspires me!

  • http://sjcrj.blogspot.com Jenna

    I recently gave up Diet Coke – I hated it five years ago when I first tried it & then became addicted. I decided that I didn’t want or need the artificial sweeteners. I set a date in the future, enjoyed a few last swigs, & then quit drinking it. I tried to justify & say that I will only have it on Fridays – & did yesterday. I agree with abstinence being much easier than moderation.
    I love your blog. I always find something to think about. You seem well-read & I like your perspective on things.

  • http://tim.noyce.eu Tim

    The oldest trick I know for nail-biting is putting a strong scent, like lemon juice or vinegar, on you nails so that when they head for your mouth you are alerted and can make a concious decision.
    Making the concious decision easier is of course a MUCH larger topic… ;-)
    TastyDLite does not remotely appeal to me, but I reconise the urge to reward myself during a busy day. I occasionally buy myself an ice-cream in this spirit.
    Do also be kind to yourself, perhaps in other ways: in those D-Lite moments you were obviously trying to do something nice for yourself….
    As we Brits say “a little of what you fancy does you good”