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Have you noticed we’ve got two types of habits?

There’s the ones we would prefer not to have, such as smoking, chewing our fingernails or drinking too much coffee. Then there are the ones we love because we enjoy them and know they are beneficial to us.

So why is it the ones we want to lose can stick tighter than Loctite™, while the ones we want to hold onto can slip through our fingers like water?

Life and work seems to be getting busier, more challenging and more complex by the day. This means it’s imperative we get enough rest and down time through exercise, taking time out with friends or just having time to ourself, to maintain our high performing brains. 

The way good and bad habits are set up is the same in both instances except some of the not-so-good habits can have an addictive quality to them, which makes them stickier.

Getting rid of habits we don’t want requires us to form a new habit to supercede the old way of doing things.

But the reason we often lose our ‘good’ habits is because under stress our brain reverts to survival mode, and defaults to those ways of doing that are easiest for the brain to handle.

Which is why our good habits fly out of the window when we are:

a) under the pump, working harder, longer and feeling pressured by the demands of work that are screaming for priority.


b) experiencing a change in our daily routine. This is the sneaky habit changer because it can be as innocuous as a simple change in the time normally allocated to a certain activity.

I’ve been swimming a couple of times a week for the last nine years as part of my staying well strategy, but a recent bout of intense work saw that habit abruptly stop. Nine years of habit gone, seemingly overnight. Yikes!

(It’s OK. I’m happy to report that I’m back in the pool again and loving it once more.)

What matters here is knowing that despite our desired habit going AWOL it can be restored,

  • if we give ourselves permission to,
  • if we manage the stress we are experiencing appropriately,
  • and put in the conscious effort required.

But the one thing that can stop us achieving this, is the guilt we feel. We feel bad, or beat ourselves up for “failing” to be good and sometimes then abandon the habit completely. It’s easy too, to start rationalising why things go awry. The trouble is if we buy into our story book of excuses, it makes it ten times harder to just let go, commit to starting up again….. and again….. and again, for as many times it takes.

A little self-compassion and kindness can really help here.

Mindfulness meditation can teach us self-acceptance, reduce our stress response and build greater awareness of our thought patterns.

But even the practice of mindfulness meditation is not immune and it too can slip away under the busy cloak of our daily lives. But that’s OK because like riding a bike, once you have the skill set it can always be accessed and ridden again.

Self-care through healthy habits ensures we are always operating at our best, especially when under pressure.

  So how do you hold onto your healthy habits?                                                      What safeguards have you put in place to preserve those ways of doing you wish to keep?                                                                                                    How do you restart if your routine has changed?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

One Comment

  • Anne Wyatt says:

    I will be fascinated to see what impact the latest ‘fitness watches and bracelets’ have on changing habits. I am getting mine tomorrow. What a great research opportunity for someone who wanted to look at this issue seriously using scientific methodology. Are the bracelets a fad? Will they change habits? On what variables does improvement in habits depend? Go on someone, get a grant and go for it!

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