On habit change

WARNING: Today’s post is VERY long.  Get comfortable or skip down to TL;DR.   😉

Today’s blog post is brought to you by a desire to change.

Change, that inevitable yet seemingly untameable verb.  We bandy it about quite a bit, and aspire to get some sort of solid grip on it but often come off as well as trying to climb a greasy pole!

Not any more.  I shall tame the greasy pole of change, even if only in a small and very specific way.

Where is all this talk of change leading?  Well, it leads us back quite a few years and also only last week.  Trust me, the mud will settle and the water will be crystal.  Just stick with me.

Last week Mr Oh Waily was heading off for two weeks of work overseas and on our way to the airport he made the suggestion that we have something of a competition while he was away.  He had known that I was keen to address the weight-creepage that had settled in over the past few years – just a couple of kilos each year until you wake up and you wonder where the heck your feet have gone.
Now don’t get me wrong, you wouldn’t mistake me for Bibendum† – yet!   But this year I hit another halfway point on the way to the next 10 kilos in weight.  I suspect that might have matched the heaviest I had been previously and that was quite enough, thanks!

So, the friendly contest – see who could manage the most shrinkage of numbersˆ before his return.

I agreed to it and here we are, just over the half-way point of Mr Oh Waily’s trip.  I’ve learned quite a lot of things in the past week or so, things that had eluded me previously in my attempts to shift the additional poundage, and it’s these things that will take us back a few years.

Our first stop is Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body which I read a number of years ago. The science behind his slow carb diet made absolute sense to me and I even tried it out for about a week with a resulting weight loss of nearly 2kg.  I was sold.  Problem was… the food choices were radically different from my default choices at that time. Breakfast became eggs, whereas before it was cereal or toast.  Lunch became a salad with the protein of your choice, rather than a quickly slapped together sandwich.  It became unsustainable despite the amazingly convincing results.

More recently I became interested in clean eating in the form of primal or paleo, but the same issue plagued me here.  The choices – a meat or protein dominant meal – were not my easy, grain-based defaults.  I would eat well for a few meals and a few days, only to retreat to my defaults when tired or under stress.

Fast forward to the past six months and you will find me listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast, Happier, in a way that borders on addiction.  Every Wednesday night I lay down in bed and start up the latest episode.  You may now be asking yourself what, exactly, does a Happiness podcast have to do with winning a friendly weight-loss challenge with my other half? Well…

It actually holds the key to my possible success, and the increased likelihood that my stubborn habits may be able to be tamed.
The first key point is the fact that I am an obliger.  An obliger is one of the personality types described by Ms Rubin in her Four Tendencies framework.   The podcast makes it clear that we’re all a bit different in how this tendency manifests in us so I’d like to go on record as putting myself down as a sub-type that I’ve named a ‘Competitive Obliger’.  I respond well to keeping on track when I’m involved in a contest (real or perceived).  Thanks to Mr Oh Waily – there’s my external accountability taken care of !

Not content with having set up the accountability factor, I then took notice of podcast 47 and ‘The Strategy of Convenience’. It came after the start of our friendly contest but it has made a big impact on how I look at things with regards to my default meals.  Tim Ferriss points out in The 4-Hour Body that to make it a successful transition, we need to replace one default meal with a new one.  Fair enough. That makes perfect sense.
The key bit of understanding for making this possible only came to me when listening to the strategy of convenience section of the Happier podcast.  It’s not enough to replace one default with another – if your existing default is both *easier* in your mind as well as in reality.  You have to make the new habit more convenient than your current default.

What does this look like in practice? Let me tell you what it looks like right now as I’m working to reset my dietary choices away from a grain-heavy focus and on to a clean/primal/paleo style of eating.

First off, I’m no cook.  So while it’s not beyond me to whip up some of the fabulous ideas that I aspire to on food blogs like Nom Nom Paleo and the like, it’s not my default setting in the kitchen.  The less time I can spend there for the maximum impact, the better.  So what do I do to hit my goal?  I make it stupidly, ridiculously convenient.

Don’t want to cook up a steak or chook because you’re not confident in the kitchen?
Buy deli meat or a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket.  Do the first if you can’t even be bothered to take the chicken apart.  Remember – convenience is what you are aiming for, even if it seems silly !!

Don’t want to take 30 minutes to create a meal that you’ve never made before & may fail?
Place some of that deli meat on a dinner plate and surround it with your favourite veggies.  If that means you peel and cut up a carrot, dice a radish and open a tin of beetroot – then so be it!  If you can be bothered slicing a lettuce a couple of times – add that too.  And if you find lettuce to be ridiculously bland and unappealing – skip it or add a bit of dressing. (Not lashings of sugar-laden dressing though !!)

Rinse and repeat daily.

Do the same for all of your other meals.  Find a ridiculously easy alternative.  Don’t feel guilty or lazy.  Your aim is to change your current default to a new, healthier one.  Once your new, healthier (and lazier) default is in place then you can get all uppity and start to experiment with new foods, become an amazing chef and expand your repertoire.  One step at a time chickadee – one step at a time.

For me, as I’ve thought about this over the past couple of days, it’s clear that self-knowledge (competitive obliger / rubbish cook) is the first step to a habit change.  Back that up with doing the laziest possible positive alternative to your existing habit (healthy convenience food – not takeaway food!), and you are well on your way to altering a life-long habit that you may have struggled with again and again.

For the record we took a starting measure on the 8th of January and this morning I was 1.8 kg lighter than that weight.

Other than making my meal times super-ridiculously easy, I have attempted to drink 1 litre of water each day as I know it’s important for all my biological processes never mind crucial to fat removal.  I would have hit that mark, for certain on 3/9 days and got really close on a couple of others.
I have also pursued consistent, gentle exercise as well.  Normally I would be all gung ho and pounding out a couple of stop-start runs, but that’s just not possible.  My husband is away, I’m a stay-at-home mum with two young kids and no babysitter on tap.  My solution?  Gentle and/or brisk, depending on the youngest child’s energy levels, walks around our neighbourhood.  None of which gets much past 1.5km each time. So far it’s been 6/9 days thanks to the good weather we’ve been having.

And that’s it.

And now the short version for those with limited time or attention spans.


So the above waffle just went on too long?  Here’s the nitty-gritty.

  1. Know your type; Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, Rebel.
    They hold the key to how you are going to change your habits.  If you need to be accountable to an outside person or need to have the essence of competition to stay on track, like me (a competitive obliger) – DO IT THAT WAY.  You will never be 100% able to do it any other way, so don’t fight yourself as that’s the straight road to failure.
  2. Use the Habit of Convenience.
    The easier it is to do something, the more likely you are to do it.  Want to change your diet? Not a full-on chef-type as a job or hobby?  Don’t start with the idea that you must make amazing meals like you see all the food bloggers do.  Know your skill level and dial it back to the very easiest meal you can make… and do that repeatedly until that is your default choice when you enter the kitchen.  Once that default is solid, then you could consider adding in one new and maybe a bit *stretchy* skill-wise meal.  But set up your ridiculously-easy-for-you defaults first.  Again… don’t fight yourself.
  3. Keep learning.
    Read books and Listen to podcasts that give you insights – both in to yourself and in to the process of change.  I’ve added the two books that have helped me out so far with our friendly little contest in a section called Further Reading below.  Do yourself a favour and find a copy of the first one if it’s any kind of habit you want to change – and the second one if you want to find out about one man’s self-experimentation with his body.  They couldn’t be more different, but each has valuable information.

If you made it this far – well done you!  And thanks for sticking it out.  If you want me to stop by at the end of this coming week with an update on how we each did, just let me know in the comments.


† Yes, apparently he does have a name.  Google him.
ˆ Yes, numbers on a scale are not everything, but they are something measurable.

Further reading and/or listening:

Yes they have affiliate links, but you don’t have to buy them – your library would love you to borrow them.  And, as I’ve stated in the blog footer – I only link to things we love or own, and would recommend to others.  In this case I own both of these & recommend them.

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