I’ve been on a health kick recently. And part of my health kick is eating bread on the weekends only – so no bread on weekdays. I really love fresh bread, so I tend to have a bit of it on the weekends. And I have bread with a thick swab of butter on it.

And then … the funny thing that happens is that the weekend is over, but on Monday I still crave butter.

Why do I crave butter on Mondays, and what can I do about it?

I’m asking more generally, how can you create a new habit for yourself such as:

  • Exercising on Monday when you’ve lounged the weekend away, or – better yet – spent it in a daze in front of the TV.
  • Prioritizing better at work after overloading yourself with to-do’s and promises to people.
  • Skipping the additional candy when you just want to reach for it in the bowl at the office.

You’d better create some new mental pathways!

We spoke here about Ann Graybiel’s research that new habits come about when a new neural pathway is strong enough. And we spoke here about the benefit of daily practice toward achieving anything in life.

That’s what happens on Mondays. Your old neural pathways want to kick in. Especially if you used to eat butter on any old day of the week, and now you’re limiting yourself to the weekends.

So what can you do to counteract that strong urge, that mental temptation?

1) As Ann Graybiel says, do not allow yourself trigger situations. Don’t go into a bar if you’re getting sober. Don’t have M&M’s in the house if you have a no-chocolate resolution. Don’t have butter in your home – always go out to have butter.

2) And her second suggestion, make the new habit stronger than the first habit. Create stronger, more firm new neural pathways. Make the old habits into a piece of thread, and the old habits as reinforced as a thick sailor’s rope.

And the funniest thing – daily practice. Each time you say “no” to something you don’t want and say “yes” to something you want, you are increasing the chances of being able to say “yes” to the good habit again later, you are increasing self-regulation.

Happy daily practicing of your best habits!


One Comment

  1. Posted Friday May 4, 2007 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Hmmm… what about: “no exceptions?”

    That is, never having butter again. How are you building a habit if you are constantly breaking it on the weekends? A smoker doesn’t quit by only smoking on the weekends. He quits. William James (or is that James Pawelski?) – SNAP! N = “no exceptions”

    Now, you might say that butter isn’t equivalent to smoking. For most people, and probably you, I agree. So, is this, then, a new habit, or is it a new behavior of simply cutting back on something you like because it’s not that great for you? Probably this, right? If that’s the case, you should expect to feel like this every Monday. And, if that is the case, then every Monday is “no exceptions” day… and as you say in your last paragraph, you’re building your self-regulation every Monday.

    Congrats on the hard self-improvement work!

    Nick

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