Ep #66: The Secret to Changing Your Habits

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | The Secret to Changing Your Habits
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If you have trouble following through on your habits, you’re in the right place! In today’s episode, I’m sharing a concept to help keep you on track with your habits. Practicing this skill will keep you from veering off your plan, skipping out on your commitments, and allow you to be honest with yourself so you can move toward the lifestyle you really want.

Of all the things I can help you with, showing you how to stick with your new healthy habits is essential. I call this staying in the game. This means that when you encounter a challenge that could potentially derail the changes you’re making, instead of going there, you avoid the well-worn road of your old habits and keep making progress instead.

Tune in this week to discover how to stay in the game and be aware of how your brain is responding as you try to form new healthy habits. I’m showing you why old habits are so difficult to drop and how to stay present in your brain as you build new patterns in your life.

Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • How your brain is your most powerful tool for making changes in your life.
  • Why, even though it’s powerful, your brain still needs a little guidance.
  • How to see whether you’re currently miserably comfortable in your current habits.
  • What staying in the game means and how it helps you form new long-term habits.
  • How to keep your brain engaged in the process of dropping old habits and forming new ones.
  • Why breaking your old habits feels deeply uncomfortable.
  • How to deal with your challenges face on and come out the other side better for the experience.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #66. If you have trouble falling through on your habits, try this out and see where it takes you.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, today I’m sharing a concept that will help to keep you on track with your habits. Practicing this skill will keep you from veering off your plan. It will keep you from skipping out on doing what you said you were going to do. It will keep you honest with yourself. I think, of all the things I can help you do, this is essential.

I’m excited to get into it today, but before I get to that I just want to take a quick second to thank you for all of the feedback messages and support for the podcast that you’ve sent my way recently. In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a number of messages from you about how the podcast has helped you, or that you send it to a friend or a co-worker, or that you put the concepts I’ve shared into practice. I cannot say thank you enough.

So, if you have topics that you would like me to cover in future episodes, please just shoot me an email at Carrie@CarrieHollandMD.com. You have given me so many great ideas already. I love getting your input to make this show a useful resource for you.

Last, I’m asking, if you haven’t yet, please leave a review of the podcast. While I most definitely do not understand all the inner workings of the internet and search engines and the like and all that, I do know that your ratings and written reviews help get the show in front of other listeners. I would love your help spreading this message to other women and men who need to hear it.

The things I write about in this podcast are tools and concepts that have literally changed my life, in addition to my clients’ lives. I will talk about them with anyone who will listen. So, I would love your help getting the word out about the tools within the podcast. Alright, thanks for helping me out.

Today’s concept, that has helped me and has helped so many of the women I coach, is the concept of staying in the game. Staying in the game. Alright, staying in the game is exactly as it sounds. It means that when you encounter a challenge that could potentially derail your habits, or when you find yourself going down a familiar but unhelpful negative thought spiral, instead of going there, you come back.

You don’t go down the usual well-worn road of the negative habits that you’re trying to get rid of. You stay in the game. Here’s where this idea comes from. It wasn’t until I became a life coach and learned about how our minds work that I understood the power you have in your brain.

I’ve said it many times before, I think it bears repeating here, your brain is your most powerful tool for creating change in your life. It is the best tool you’ve got. While your brain is incredibly powerful, it requires supervision. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Your brain needs guidance. It has to be taught; it has to be given direction.

As humans, we have that capacity. We have the capacity to manage and control our brains. We have the ability to think about our thinking; it’s that whole metacognition thing. It’s an incredible gift, and responsibility, of being a human. Because you have the ability to think about your thinking, it means that you have the capacity to control and practice your thoughts, which is really awesome news for you and your brain.

Because, when left to its own primitive devices, your brain will be lazy and keep you safely comfortable in whatever patterns you’ve established for yourself, even if those patterns are not helpful to you. That’s being miserably comfortable.

I know I’ve mentioned that term a few times, and I want to really dial in on it here for just a second. Because, if you are someone who is miserably comfortable in your habits, today’s concept is going to help you. Miserably comfortable is where you get stuck when you have habits that do not serve you, but changing those habits seems too difficult or too challenging to take on, so you don’t.

You stay miserably comfortable when you let the discomfort of change outweigh the discomfort of your status quo. Even if that status quo is hurting you and you end up doing nothing to change your situation. It’s miserable, but it’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s miserably comfortable.

As an example, imagine you’re trying to lose weight, and you want to give up your post-dinner grazing habit. That can be a challenge. Many of you have shared with me that when dinner is over, you’re not really done. You may get the kitchen cleaned up and the food put away but you aren’t really done eating, so you head to the pantry for a piece or two of chocolate.

Then, an hour later, you’re grabbing a handful of pretzels. Then you sit down on the couch and pull out the popcorn while you watch the show. Then you have one spoonful of the Cookies and Cream Ice Cream sitting in the freezer. Before you know it, you’ve eaten the equivalent of a second dinner after all of the grazing.

You may decide that you really want to give that up because it’s just not helping you. You know that you’re not truly, physically hungry. You recognize your after-dinner grazing is a habit and it is boredom eating. You may recognize that your nighttime grazing is keeping you from losing weight, and you want to change it. But despite your deep desire to change that habit, you don’t.

Nighttime comes, dinner ends, and while you may consider for a brief moment walking right by the pantry, instead of stopping for chocolate, you somehow find yourself pulling out the chocolate and the entire cascade repeats itself, night after night.

The result of this repeating process of post-dinner grazing is that you stay miserably comfortable. It doesn’t feel good. You know it’s not moving you forward toward your weight loss goal.

But every time you try to handle it differently, you end up repeating the same habit of chocolate and pretzels and snacks after dinner, even though you’re not hungry, over and over again. It’s what you know. It’s what your brain is used to. It’s comfortable, even if it’s keeping you from losing weight. That’s miserably comfortable.

So, how do you move past this? How do you stop nighttime grazing? How do you stop buffering your emotions with food? How do you stop the negative thought patterns that leave you in a funk? How do you stop the cycle of negative habits that keep you stuck in miserable comfort? You stay in the game. Okay?

Staying in the game, as it sounds, means you don’t walk away when things get difficult, literally or figuratively. It means you don’t give up on yourself, and you don’t give in to your habits. For today’s purposes, when I say stay in the game, I mean, you stay inside your brain. You stay inside your brain. You can think of staying in the game as staying inside yourself.

If that sounds crazy to you, here’s what I mean by this. For any of you who have trouble overeating certain foods, like chocolate or chips or cookies, have you ever sworn up and down that this is it? That you’re done overeating those foods, and starting today you’re no longer going to overdo it on the Oreos at the end of a stressful day. But then the end of the day comes, work really stunk, and you find yourself eating the Oreos anyway. You feel like you’re eating them against your will.

So, I’m going to try to describe this as best I can. It’s almost as if an invisible force is driving you to the cookies, and in the process, it feels as if your thoughts are outside of you. It’s as if your thoughts aren’t in your control anymore. You’re there, you’re present physically, you’re awake and alert, but it feels as if there’s a haze over your brain and your thoughts are no longer within your control.

It’s like there’s some outside force working on your brain and literally compelling you to go get the cookies. But there isn’t. There is no outside force. It may feel like it, but it’s you and your brain. This is when it is absolutely crucial to stay in the game.

So, when you stay in the game you wake up instead of moving through the motions automatically, in the way that your brain wants you to do. You’re not going to do that. You’re not going through the motions. Remember, habits are your brain’s way of conserving energy.

Habits are what keep your brain lazy, because you use hardly any mental energy or thinking to do them. That’s why your brain loves habits so much, there’s very little thinking involved. It literally is going through the motions with very little to no brain power involved.

But now, when you want to go and change your habits, this is where it gets tricky. This is where there’s actually quite a bit of thinking involved. If you want to change your habits, you have to stay in the game and stay inside your brain.

The reason for this, is that changing your habits is very much an active, intentional process. It requires energy. It requires awareness and observation. It means you do not let your thoughts get outside of you. You don’t get to that fuzzy place where it feels like there’s an outside external force driving you to eat more than you intended. You don’t get to that hazy, fuzzy place where you feel like you’re no longer in control, or you feel like you’re not thinking.

Instead, you wake up. You pay very close attention to what you’re doing, and you remain engaged in the process. That’s how you stay in the game, you stay engaged.

So, let me give me an example of this. Let’s say you’ve had a terrible day. Your usual response is to come home and buffer your stressful day with a glass of wine. If this is your habit, your brain will feel and recognize the cue of your stress from the day and then go on autopilot. It will go on automatic and turn on the familiar pathway of wine.

What that means, is that once you’ve acted the pathway through the queue of your stressful day, it will take very little for you to walk through the door, step down your stuff, open the bottle, grab the glass, and start drinking. You may do all of those steps without thinking. It may be as natural for you as driving your car home.

If that’s your habit, and it’s typical for you to buffer a bad day with a glass of something, that’s the well-worn pathway in your brain. There’s minimal thinking involved; your brain knows what to do. It knows the steps to take. It has been down this road many times, and you may not even remember going through the motions of getting the glass of wine before you’ve already downed half of it.

That’s how you know it’s habit. You don’t even have to think about it. You are not in the game at all at that point. You’re literally just going through the motions to make your brain happy after a bad day of work.

Now, imagine you’re done with that habit. You’ve decided that you’re done buffering your stressful day with booze, and you’re committed to breaking that habit. So, what happens when you come home from work after a really awful day? What do you do?

Know that your brain will be activated. Your brain will sense the stress from your day and say, “Hey, you’re home. When you get home after a horrible day, you go and get the wine. That makes you feel better.”

Here’s the thing, if you’re not paying attention, if you’re not actively looking out for this, you may miss it. This is where it gets challenging. In order to come home and skip out on your usual habit of opening a bottle of wine, you have to be aware. You have to stay in the game.

You have to recognize and think to yourself, “Alright, yeah, this has been a really bad day. Normally, I’d come home and have the wine, but I know that’s not what I ultimately want, so I’m not going to do it.”

That’s the start of the process. That’s the start of creating awareness. It starts before you begin the habit. You see that? It starts before the pathway is even ignited. In order to stay in the game, and not end up with a glass of wine in hand, you have to be onto yourself and recognize that you have the potential for going down a pathway you don’t want to go.

I’ll be the first to admit, this will feel icky at first; like, really icky. When you act counter to a habit that is familiar and comfortable to your brain, you can certainly expect some pushback and you can expect it to feel yucky.

It’s kind of like when you have a regular route that you take home from work, then all of a sudden, there’s major construction and you have to take a new way home. The first few times you do drive home, or even the first few weeks to a month that you take that new route, it’s going to feel weird. It’s going to feel uncomfortable.

So, think about this even more. When you’re driving home on that new route, you’re paying closer attention, right? On your usual, familiar route home, you may not notice the stores or the exits or the buildings along the way, because you don’t need to.

You don’t pay attention to the speed limit signs because you know what it is already. You don’t have to worry about what lane you’re in because you know when you need to get over in order to get off at your exit. It’s all automatic.

But now, when you’re on this new route home, it’s all different. You’ll probably find that you have to pay much more attention to everything around you. You have to watch for the signs to see when your turn is coming up. You may notice a cool building or that there’s a Target you didn’t know about along the highway.

You pay attention to the speed limit signs to make sure you’re not speeding. You’re more aware of your lane and get over much sooner, because you don’t quite remember when your exit is coming up.

It’s the same idea when you’re giving up the wine to buffer your bad day at work. If you want to be successful, I need you to stay in the game. I need you to stay inside your brain and let it be awkward as you figure out this new pathway. Just like the drive home, I want you to pay attention to every turn, every stoplight, every pothole. I want you to see it.

I want you to acknowledge it and be ready for it. I want you to walk through that door and very intentionally declare to yourself, “This has been a stressful day. But I’m not going to have a glass of wine to cope with it.” You don’t have to say it out loud. You don’t have to declare it to the whole house, but you can if you want to.

What matters is that you acknowledge it to yourself. Be very strategic and deliberate about what you’re doing. That’s the first step to staying in the game. It’s intentional and it’s purposeful.

Then, you stay there. You stay inside. You go about your business, but you stay inside your brain. You allow all of the resistance from your brain to come up, because it will. Your brain, once it doesn’t get that wine, will go bananas on you and offer all kinds of justifications in order to get you to hurry up and open that wine already.

Things like, “You’ve earned this. Just one glass. You will feel better after you have the wine. You can have it now, it’s fine, then you won’t have any this weekend. I promise. It will calm you down. Just have it already.” Those are just some of the justifications that have come up for my clients.

What is it for you? What does your brain offer to you as a justification? Look for it. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But yeah, go look for it. I want you to look for your justifications. Because when you do that, it means you’re paying attention to the sentences scrolling through your brain.

So, if you remember, in one of the earlier episodes of this podcast, I asked you to envision your brain as a social media scroll. Go with me here. Here’s what I mean by this. Choose your social media app of choice, Facebook, Instagram, whatever you prefer. Imagine your brain as that social media scroll. What’s on your scroll? Loads and loads of sentences, right? Tons of sentences.

And, just like social media, very few sentences on the scroll of your brain are true and arguable fact. There are very few truths to be found within the sentences running through your brain. Instead, those sentences are your thoughts. They are your opinions and your beliefs.

But remember the essential key to know about thoughts, thoughts are not fact. Okay? Just because we think it, it’s not fact. That’s so important to know. When your brain tells you it’s been a hard day and you’ve earned that glass of wine, you have to be awake and be aware and be on to yourself to recognize, “Hey, that’s not true.”

You have to recognize, the sentences your brain is offering you are not truth, they are not hard fact. You have to be alert enough to realize that those sentences are justifications leading you down a path to wine, and the miserable comfort of staying stuck in habits that do not serve you. You have to stay in the game. This is very much an active, conscious, deliberate process.

While the examples I’ve given you so far are related to food and alcohol, you can also apply the same process to your thoughts. Honestly, while this concept has most definitely helped me with my own habits like eating and exercising, staying in the game has made an enormous impact in my own life with some of my more challenging relationships.

Remember that thoughts are habits, too. I’m going to say that again because it is just that important: Thoughts are habits, too. So, if you’ve ever beaten yourself up inside with the same negative self-talk you’ve been giving yourself for decades… Sentences like, “You can’t do this. You can’t get anything right. You are a failure.” If those are sentences that play on repeat in your brain, then you know what I mean. Thoughts are habits, too.

Or if you’ve ever had a challenging relationship, or you found yourself quick to feel a certain way after a phone call, interaction, or conversation with that person, that’s a habit. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling a familiar, though unpleasant, feeling that you’ve had loads of times before, there it is. Thoughts are habit.

Those thoughts, because they are habit, will lead you to feel a certain familiar way as a result. If there is a person in your life who brings up particular feelings for you, no matter what they say or do, then you most likely have a well-worn thought pattern about that person that has habit.

I find this to be especially true for relationships we have with our parents and partners. I can use an example from my own life to illustrate this. I’ve shared plenty of times on the podcast that my parents are not involved in my life.

Well, okay, I should correct myself, my mom is not at all involved in my life anymore. Though my dad is, on a very peripheral basis through the occasional phone call. Is it ideal? No, not at all. But I’m free with it now. I’m open with it now, after years of working through it with the help of both therapy and coaching.

However, that being said, there are still times after a phone call with my dad that I find myself going down a familiar, very well-worn negative pathway that often ends with me feeling angry, resentful, hurt, and sad. So, where do those feelings come from?

Well, if you remember the order of operations, and remember where your feelings come from, thoughts create your feelings. You cannot have a feeling without having a thought first. So, my feelings of anger and resentment and hurt are the product of my thoughts. Those negative feelings are the product of the sentences on the scroll in my brain.

It’s the same sentences I have been telling myself for years. “He doesn’t care. My parents have totally screwed me up. I am so ashamed of my upbringing. I am the outcast in my family.” Those are my sentences. There are many more sentences, but I’ll spare you. But you get the idea.

As you can imagine, thinking and feeling that way did not help me at all. I would allow my thoughts to drag me down. I would cry. I would perseverate and ruminate over what my dad said or what he didn’t say. I would generally be miserable for the rest of the day.

In full transparency, sometimes that still happens. Sometimes I hang up the phone and I feel it. I feel that familiar, unpleasant mixture of heaviness and rage. Sometimes I don’t manage it or handle it in the best way, but since doing this work, I practice staying in the game, both during my phone calls with my dad, but especially after. It’s after, when it really matters.

When I feel that heaviness on my chest and back, where it feels like I’m carrying a load of bricks that I just cannot shake, that’s when I have to remind myself to stay in the game. I don’t let my brain go down the familiar path of ‘woe is me. Why is it this way? Why can’t I just have a normal relationship with my parents?’

It starts to feel heavy, and I can feel it. When I feel that awful feeling in my body, I walk into it. I don’t ignore it. I don’t turn away anymore, instead I own it. Now I practice different thoughts to control it, but there is no way in hell I could do this if I didn’t stay in the game.

I have to be on to myself, notice the thoughts and feelings I’m having, and recognize that I’m going down a road that does not help me. Often, I will just stop myself short, and say outright to myself, “Alright, Carrie, here you go again. But you don’t think that way anymore.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes. Sometimes I just need to be on to myself enough to say, “Hey, you don’t think that way anymore,” and that can be enough for me to shake myself out of it.

I really do mean that, when I say shake myself out of it, because sometimes those thoughts and feelings can be so strong and so automatic and so drilled in that it feels like an outside force is doing this to you. But it’s not. It’s not an outside force, it’s your brain. It’s your brain doing this to you and you can control it.

So, instead of going outside and almost floating away, like I used to do… I literally felt like I would float away into this horrible space of negativity, with all kinds of terrible thoughts that would make me feel so angry. It was almost as if I was in another place, in another room. I was there physically, but not really there because I was so lost down that negative spiral.

Now, instead of doing that, instead of floating away into familiar miserable space, I stop. I stay in the game. I stay inside my brain, and I take full on control. To be clear, I don’t take control and pretend to be all Care Bear and tell myself, “Hey, everything is great. This is great. It’s so awesome that this is the relationship you have with your parents. No problem.” No.

There is a huge difference between staying in the game and actively managing your brain and your thoughts, versus trying to fake yourself out. Okay? This is not ‘fake it till you make it,’ no. Instead, recognize that those thoughts are there. Recognize and acknowledge the thoughts coming up for you. But then also, remember where those thoughts take you and the outcome those thoughts get you.

In my example, what good does it do me to think all of these awful thoughts about my parents? What does that do for me? What result does it produce for me in my life? Well, I can tell you, when I let myself get taken with those thoughts, “This stinks. I hate this. It’s not fair. My dad doesn’t care. My family is so messed up,” what does that get me?

It makes me show up in a worse way for myself, and for my own family, that’s what it gets me. Isn’t that interesting? I can see it now. When I let myself go to that space and think all kinds of negative things about my parents and how they don’t care and how I’m so messed up, the only person hurting in this situation is me. My parents don’t even know it. They’re not there. It’s on me.

When I go to my default thinking I end up crabby, sad, and withdrawn. As a result, I don’t show up as the kind of person I want to be. Not just for myself, but especially for my own family. That thought pattern does absolutely nothing for me, except to keep me miserably comfortable in the dysfunction of my family drama that is decades old. No good, and it’s not productive at all.

So, that is why I choose to practice staying in the game every single time I get on the phone with my dad. Every time. It is more worth it to me to let go of the same story I tell myself over and over again, than it is to hold on to the beliefs that keep me stuck in the miserable comfort of my past.

It’s a conscious choice that I practice making. I will keep doing it. I will keep reminding myself to stay in the game for as long as it takes for the process to be automatic. I’m committed to it because I want different. I don’t like who I become when I go down that spiral of negative thoughts, I don’t like it at all.

So, even though it takes work and energy and brainpower and some resistance… Even though it takes all of those things in order to practice staying in the game, to me, it’s totally worth it. I know what my negative thought pattern about my family gets me, nothing good.

Instead, I’m choosing to practice different thoughts and beliefs, so that I can hang up the phone feeling better. So I can get on with my day without feeling beaten down and powerless. So I can be an example to my kids of how you deal with challenges face on and come out on the other side better for it. That’s just it.

You might be wondering what this is worth. If you’re thinking that practicing staying in the game sounds like a lot of work, you are absolutely right. It is, and you have to decide if it’s worth it to you. I share this all the time and it’s worth repeating, your brain is going to think for you whether you control it or not. So, how about you decide to control it and make great things happen for yourself?

You get to decide what it’s worth to you. Whether that’s processing your thinking while saying no to a glass of wine after a stressful day. Or choosing to avoid post-dinner grazing because you know you’re not hungry. Or practicing not thinking the same negative thoughts about a friend or family member. You get to decide what it’s worth to you.

I’m going to guess that most of you are here listening to this podcast because you want better, whatever better looks like for you; improved career satisfaction, more career/life alignment, a healthier body, stronger relationships, or just feeling better about yourself. Whatever it is, better is possible.

But maybe you’ve seen firsthand that better doesn’t just happen. Your life doesn’t just become better because you want it badly enough, no. Instead, better happens when you make it happen. Better happens when you decide that the status quo is no longer good enough.

But there’s more to it than that. Making the decision to change is one thing, but then you have to do something about it. You have to create a different outcome for yourself. How do you do that? How do you create new and different results for yourself? By staying in the game. By staying in your thoughts.

Because any result in your life starts with your thinking. Always. All right? If you want help practicing this concept, let’s go. This is what I do with clients, and what I will do with you. When you coach with me, we get inside your brain. We look at your sentences, look at your results, and decide where to create new results for yourself. And, you will most definitely practice staying in the game.

Head to my website, www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact, tell me what habits are keeping you stuck, then let’s get to work.

Thank you again for hanging out with me, and I’ll catch you again next week. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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