A Sweet Path to Habit Change

by Barbara Martin

in Try This

I have been working on a new habit. As a coach, of course I am familiar with theories about how to change habits, or how to stop doing one thing and start doing something else. Unfortunately, in defiance of all logic, my mind generally refuses to play “those games” so progress can be difficult at best.  Like many creative people, I am very good at coming up with all kinds of reasons why the change can’t/won’t/will never happen! This time, though, I have been making some headway using an unexpected prop: a squeeze bottle of honey. 

 “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar!”

I must have remembered that saying on some level, because I am using honey to make the desired switch.  Here’s the deal: Like many people, I drink coffee in the morning. And, like many people,  too much caffeine  keeps me awake at night. I know this perfectly well, but quite often I will drink endless cups of coffee in the morning and into early afternoon in a mindless sort of way.

 To stop the habit, I decided to drink two cups of coffee and then switch to one cup of green tea with honey. After that, water! I have never been good at keeping track of things like the number of cups of coffee, or the number of minutes on a task, or the number of cookies … you get the picture. So I knew I needed some kind of reminder that would run virtually on autopilot.

The new routine is this: I drink the first cup of cofee and go back for a second.  Before I pour it, I set out this cheerful little honey bear as a reminder that I have now taken my final cup of coffee.  When I hop up to get another cup, there is the reminder bear. Aha! Time to switch to the green tea. As a reward, I put a little orange blossom honey in it to sweeten things up. Since I only get one cup of tea, I know that’s it for the day as soon as I finish it.

This might seem convoluted, and maybe it is, but it has been working well for me. I smile every time I see the little bear, I like the sweetness of the honey so it doesn’t seem like a punishment to switch to the tea, and I do feel better with less caffeine in my system.  That’s a win all the way around.

One of the reasons I structured it with a sweet reward is so there is no downside to making the change from coffee to tea. And my commitment to making the change is such that I am easily able to stop at one cup of tea — much easier than to “cut myself off cold turkey” from the endless cups of coffee habit — a habit I have literally had for decades. And feeling better is an ongoing positive reinforcement.

There is also the power of ritual here, as well as the happy little bear as a visual reminder, talisman and literal touchstone for what I am trying to achieve. 

Overall, I find this a pleasant habit to follow each morning and I suspect that is why it has been working well for me.

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…in the most delightful way!”  -Mary Poppins

Is there a new habit you would like to instill or a habit you would like to replace with a different one? Can you think of a way to reduce the struggle by adding your own version of sweetness to make the change?

And just because I am stubborn this way, I am continuing the photography challenge a little longer. It seems to be a good habit!  The always cooperative bear sat for a formal portrait.

bear shape honey container

Always cheerful, the honey bear squeeze bottle

honey bear photographed in artificial light
Exact same bear, same day, different lighting!

I messed up the cropping on the first one. I am leaving it as is. This is my nod to not being a perfectionist. If you battle any perfectionist tendencies yourself, you will understand. Too, I don’t think the bear will mind too much. :)

If you found this post interesting or helpful, I’d love to hear from you. Comments are below or, as always, feel free to tweet it up.


Michelle Russell April 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Battle any perfectionist tendencies? ME? ;o)

And I love this idea. It’s not too convoluted if it works for you! And sometimes simple doesn’t work well, either. In an effort to get myself to drink more water, I got myself a Brita pitcher to keep in my bedroom. Only to find out that I don’t much like room-temperature water. But hey, I tried.

The habit I’d like to break is drink-related, too–I’m addicted (no, REALLY addicted) to Diet Coke. And of course it’s free at my workplace. I agree that going “cold turkey” is too painful, and in my experience I always rebel (yeah, against myself–heh) and go back to it. Usually with some excuse about how “I deserve it, dammit!”

So just these last several days, coincidentally, I’ve limited myself to only drinking it at the office–no Diet Coke in the house. For now my sweet replacement is caffeinated iced tea, and as soon as that starts feeling habitual I’ll switch to a decaffeinated one. After that, who knows? Maybe even (*gasp!*) hot tea! With stevia instead of sugar!

Barbara Martin April 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Wow, Michelle! That is fascinating also a switch to a tea — I wonder too how much tolerance we have for the caffeine and how much is just …. mindless habit? I do know people who have gotten caffeine withdrawal headaches, but so far I am ok. (I drink weak coffee, I know!) Good luck with your experimenting!!!!

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