Is it you? Or is it just a habit?

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

June 7, 2023

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant (1961)

A lot has been written about habits and how we can change our habits, whether we want to create new positive and healthy habits or get rid of old, unfavourable habits.

However, the very first step is to realise that something you are doing is in fact a habit, especially when it comes to habits that are not helpful.

Many of us often describe habits as being a characteristic of ourselves. However, when you identify yourself as “just” being a certain way, you cannot see a possibility for change.

For example:

  • “I am just a fuzzy eater; I just can’t eat vegetables.”
  • “I’m a night owl. I just can’t go to bed before midnight.”
  • “I have never been a sporty person. I just don’t like gyms and exercise.”

These are some things I often hear when I start working with my clients. However, once we explore in more detail, many of my clients discover that these are in fact habits and that this gives them the opportunity to change.

One part of my programmes is education, where I would, for example, explain the benefits of eating more vegetables, a good sleep routine and the importance of movement, especially as we get older!

However, the second part is the coaching element, where I challenge statements as the above. When it comes to vegetables, we can often identify some new vegetables a client might never have tried. Or we find different ways to prepare or eat (or drink) the vegetables.

Suddenly, the “fuzzy eater” challenges his/her “identity” and recognises that it’s just been a habit all along.

Once you realise that something you’ve been doing for a long time is just a habit and not “you” or “your nature” – then you get the opportunity for change!

Obviously, you need to want change in the first place.

This is why I always ask my clients to identify their “WHY”. Simply wanting to lose weight is not a strong reason for change. But fitting into this beautiful dress, being admired at a wedding or having more energy to do the things you love – these are strong reasons why you might want to change some unhelpful eating and lifestyle habits.

So, how do you actually become aware of your habits?

Habits are things that we do without even thinking about.

This is why it’s great to have positive habits – because they come naturally and require no effort. Most people brush their teeth twice daily and don’t think about it. It requires generally no effort at all. However, cooking from scratch for example can be seen as a major effort if you are not used to it. But once you create some new habits, such as better planning, writing meal plans and shopping lists, having the items in the fridge, watching cooking demos etc cooking from scratch can become easier. And once, you follow all the necessary steps in can easily turn into a habit that you do without much thinking about.

A good starting point is write down a list of your habits. Which positive habits do you already have in place? And write a list of negative habits that you keep doing even though they don’t serve you. Then write a list of positive habits that you’d love to put in place.

And then go deeper, are there certain aspects in your life that you might identify yourself with – that could actually be a “habit”?

For example, I identify myself as a “serious” person who works a lot –  therefore I don’t spend much time just having fun or relaxing.

If I look closer though and be totally honest, I simply don’t allow myself to do things just for fun, but this is because I’m in the habit of having to finish everything on my to-do-list before I allow myself “me”-time.

Can you replace the “identifying characters” with a habit?

For example:

  • “I’m a fuzzy eater” ==> “I have a habit of being very fuzzy when it comes to eating vegetables.”
  • “He is a very angry person” ==>  “He is someone who has a habit of getting angry easily.”
  • “I am just not a gym bunny” ==> “I currently don’t have a habit of going to the gym or exercising regularly.”
  • “I am just a night owl” ==>  “I have a habit of going to bed way too late most nights.”
  • “I am a serious person” ==> “I habitually prioritise work to relaxation”

Now that you realise that something is in fact a habit, and not “you” – you give yourself permission for change.

For example, if you have a habit of having something sweet after dinner or finishing a whole packet of crisps while watching TV, you might decide that these habits don’t serve you if you want to lose weight and stay healthy.

First of all, you need to know your WHY – why do you want to lose weight and stay healthy in the first place?

Is it to be able to move freely and climb mountains, is it because you want to play golf well into your 80’s, or do you want to run around with your grandchildren?

Then you observe your habits. At the start, you might only notice what you are doing, once you’ve already done it, i.e. had the dessert or the packet of crisps.

Soon, though, you notice your desire to have it, but might still go for it on most days anyway. This is because your old habit is still going strong. Or because your WHY isn’t strong enough.

At this stage, watch your thoughts around it, your discussions in your brain as to whether you want to eat it or not? Watch your emotions, how would it feel not to eat it, how does it feel when you actually do eat it?

You might make good decisions on some days and on other days, you might give in.

Now, comes the crucial point: What happens most of the times is that we give out to ourselves when we don’t do what we had planned to do.

And this is exactly what keeps us stuck from creating a new habit.

Our brains have very strong pathways for habits, we cannot delete those pathways, we can only overwrite them with a new pathway. Image a trail going through a green area. This trail is walked over and over again by lots of people. At some stage, people decide to walk a new path. It takes months and months until this new path is created and the old one has grown over again completely. This is what’s going on in your brain.

If you give out to yourself, every time you don’t do your desired new habit, you just keep yourself stuck – and on the old path.

However, when you reward yourself for following the new habit, your brain and your mind feels happy about it and grows in confidence and is well able to create that new desired pathway for a new habit.

To summarise:

  1. Step: Watch what you are identifying yourself as and see whether this is in fact simply a habit.
  2. Watch your thoughts: Every time you catch yourself doing this habit or thinking about it, say stop and replace it with a positive affirmation of the new habit you want to put in place.
  3. Accept and detach yourself from the outcome. If you’ve fallen back into the old habit so be it. You’ve just gone routinely the old easy pathway. However, when you followed the new habit, praise yourself for it. Acknowledge it, this will strengthen the new pathway.
  4. Once you are more and more often walking in the path of your new habit, it will eventually become easier and soon you’ll follow it without even thinking about it anymore.

I would love to hear your thoughts and your success stories where you’ve changed your old habits and started creating new ones.

You can either email me or book an appointment for a free Health & Energy Review session at

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