how to change a habit replace don't remove

Habit change hack: Replace, don’t remove

Whenever I want to change my behavior, I try to remember this rule:

Replacing something is psychologically easier than just removing it.

Example: I eat an ungodly amount of nuts. If you give me almonds, cashews, or pecans I’ll snack on them all day unconsciously. Nuts are generally healthy, but are domino foods – easy to oversnack on and gain excess fat.

I tried giving it up completely, but this made me feel deprived. Soon after I’d be back to eating a pound of nuts a week.

In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the cue, reward, and routine that make up a habit. In my nutty example

  • My cue is afternoon restlessness.
  • My reward was the crunch of almonds and cashews.

    I replaced this “reward” with carrots… and it stuck!

Rarely does giving up anything cold turkey work.

The psychological distance between “I’m doing something I like” and “I’m not longer doing it” is far too long a chasm to cross. Instead, build a bridge with a replacement behavior.

Here are examples of how replace, don’t remove might apply to other habits:

  • Replace sugary soda with an equally fizzy, but zero-calorie sparkling water
  • Avoid an unnecessary purchase and put it towards a savings goal (like a vacation fund) instead
  • Instead of relying on expensive dinners to socialize, invite your friends over for a potluck

Have you found success by using the “replace-not-remove” approach? Let me know

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