Overcoming The Repeating Cycle of Negative Habits

We have all, at some point, take the decision to make important changes in our lives.  It may be a physical change, a lifestyle change, taking on a physical challenge or a new business venture; but how many people really understand what is truly required, not only see the new change through but make it truly successful, rewarding and meaningful?

Ambition, passion, drive and determination are all key traits needed in order to succeed in any change.  However, first you must determine why you want to change.  Secondly, you must have the desire, determination and motivation to see through the good and the bad times and thirdly you must have passion in what you are trying to achieve.  You will never succeed unless you possess these vital characteristics.

Now if it were as simple as this to put into practice, then everyone would be lean, healthy and successful, living the lives that they envisaged.  Unfortunately, however, for every dream, goal and wish which is successful, there are hundreds of incidents, scenarios and people just waiting to trip you up and bring your ambition for change crashing to a halt.

Habit: A Settled or Regular Tendency or Practice; Especially One Which is Hard to Give Up.


Or should we say negative habits, are the single most destructive form of detractor when looking to make any change.  They are, as the definition suggests, a series of tendencies which are hard to give up.  Ask anyone who is or has been overweight, engaged in regular binge drinking, smoking, taking drugs or in fact any self-destructive practice, over a long period of time.  They will all testify to the corrosive nature of their habit and the difficulty involved in breaking them.

Cycling of Bad Habits

So, why are habits so hard to break?   Why do we often seem to find our way back to where we started?  Well, in fact there are many hurdles to contend with.  Some are intrinsic; the ongoing battle with your own subconscious not to go back to poor habits once you have started your journey to change.  Some are extrinsic; family, friends, social groups and mass media can be just as destructive to your journey.

Intrinsic Factors

Our brain is the most powerful and complex system or computer on our planet.  It controls our thoughts, everything we do, say, feel, think and dream.  It dictates sleep patterns, hormonal output, nervous system recruitment, temperature control and, you guessed it…habits.

The subconscious brain has the ability to store recognise and repeat the things you practice on a daily basis from eating to sleeping, work practices, mood and everything in between.  Our subconscious thoughts are stronger than our conscious thoughts; they are the operating system to our computer.  The problem being is that when our subconscious thoughts are down beat, pessimistic and negative to change and they become repetitive, you start a cycle of self-destructive habits.  In effect, negativity in all its forms, denies our very own positive conscious desire for change.  The negative cycle goes on.

Negative intrinsic factors are often driven by a change in the brain’s chemistry; sugar, alcohol, nicotine, poor daily nutrition and sporadic eating patterns, are all responsible.

Take sugar for example.  Sugar, or any sugar substitute, has been confirmed in many studies as being just as addictive and poisonous to our bodies as cocaine and heroine.  It stimulates the pleasure centre in our brain (Nucleus Accumbens for the science orientated!) to release dopamine, giving you the feeling of pleasure.  The more often you eat sugar, the weaker the signal becomes, so you consume even more in order to get the same pleasure response.  Excessive stimulation of this pleasure centre means you crave even more to get the same pleasurable hit.  This circular dependency makes it an even harder habit to break, eventually leading to addiction and can cause depression.

Sugar is added to virtually everything in our packaged, tinned and processed foods, whether you want to face up to it or not.  Look at the labels of most bread, cereals, baked beans, tomato soup, fat-free ranges and some weight loss shakes, you may be surprised by their content.  It’s no surprise then that the vast majority of our population is unconsciously addicted to sugar.   If your goal is weight loss and you’re including these foods in your diet, you will most certainly fail in your goal.  Feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and inadequacy creep in and negative self-belief returns.

Extrinsic Factors

Family, friends, work colleagues, TV, radio and supermarkets are just some of the outside influences which have a real impact on your motivation for change.

Supermarkets know us better than we know ourselves.  Next time you go grocery shopping be aware of the offers and treats strategically placed throughout the store.  At the end of each isle we are often bombarded with sugary delights at knocked down prices.  At the checkout and the surrounding areas there is confectionary on sale while you wait to be served.  This is no coincidence; it’s all beautifully designed to pull you in.  In fact quite recently I was standing in a supermarket isle and everywhere I looked there was a sugar offensive.  Right in front of me was an enticing array of “snacking” biscuits.  If your resolve is a little shaky you can easily be lead to cheat on your diet.  Feelings of failure and worthlessness start to overflow and the negative cycle reappears.

Discouraging comments from close friends and family can make you angry, sad and frustrated. These feelings all have a negative impact subconsciously and can derail your efforts to change. Think about it?  Do you know anyone who is constantly pessimistic?  Do they or have they ever achieved anything in life that is meaningful, or are they the type of person who says constantly ” I wish I could”, “it’s impossible”, “if only”, “that’s silly” and starts a sentence with “but”?  Ask yourself, do these people support and drive you in your ambition?

On the whole, our society doesn’t promote positive intrinsic or extrinsic behaviour.  We are pre-programmed from childhood to focus on the things we are not good at and tend to miss and ignore the many things we are good at and have achieved.  Fast forward then to adulthood.

Think about the boss who is outwardly confident but inwardly scared as hell they may get found out they are rubbish at their job!  These people “dumb down” your ability, creativity and undermine your confidence with caustic comments designed to put you on the back foot.

So, we start to doubt ourselves again, thoughts of “I should have done better” and “I’m not good enough” creep in and the cycle of self-negativity returns.

All these negative intrinsic and extrinsic factors are reinforced by our own negative conscious thoughts which affect the subconscious and we are all very good at repeating these daily.  The good news is that you can change all these self-defeating behaviours and build positive habits.

 “We see things not as they are but as we are!”

Let’s Break this Self-Negative Cycle and Create Positive, Forward-Thinking, Rewarding Habits

Change Your Inner Chat to” I Can, I Will”

Re-booting the subconscious starts with a conscious decision to change it.  We can change the subconscious cycle of self-negative beliefs and chat back through positive remodeling of our conscious thoughts.  Flipping the switch to up-beat, optimistic, positive thoughts and feelings on a day-to-day basis can start a cycle of self-affirmation and forward action.  In effect, positivity in all its forms influences our subconscious mind and actions.

Put out the Trash

Your habits can be initiated by objects around the house or working environment.  Keeping sugary foods and drinks at home or constantly passing the chocolate vending machine on the way to the printer can eventually break your resolve, make you give in and the cycle of negative habits will start again.   Get rid of anything which may cause you to waiver from your goal.  Out of sight, out of mind works very well!

Throw the Negative People out with the Trash

Let’s take the Friday feel-good work colleague, pastry pusher, the family member who says “do you think that’s a good idea?” or the mate who says “Oh that sounds a bit over the top!” These comments and people are all negative detractors; but they don’t mean to be.  Become conscious of these people and their habits and you can turn any negative subconscious emotions and thoughts into positive ones.

Switch off Jeremy Kyle, Eastenders and Make a Motivational Play List

Watching depressing, mind-numbing TV and listening to down-beat ballads all the time is a bit like Chinese water torture.  After a while it will quite literally bore a hole in your positivity.  We know that positive emotions can make you feel up-beat and motivated; music is very emotive.  Creating an awe-inspiring play list on your IPod (other Mp3 players are available) and then blaring it out when we feel down can raise your confidence and optimism levels right through the roof.

Playing it on the way to the gym and during your workout can inspire you to work harder, releasing more happy endorphins, increasing your feelings of wellness and real achievement.

Read, Follow and Listen

A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.  A lot of knowledge can be very powerful!  The more books you read and the more you follow professionals in their field on their social network pages on the subject of your ambition, the more you start to learn, understand and put into practice the skills which will help you achieve your goals.  If you travel a lot, downloading high quality audio books are a great way to learn on the move.

Surround Yourself with Positive People

Positive people breed positive actions.  Fact!  All my friends exhibit one clear trait – ambition. Positive people persist when things look glum, see opportunity to learn from failure, hold themselves with confidence but not arrogance and smile a lot.  Surround yourself with these kinds of people and you will achieve greatness.

Plan Your Day, Weekly Nutrition, Workout and Record It

Forward planning for social events, meetings, training, keeping a food, workout or progress diary, works very well in the motivation stakes.  It shows you where you’ve come from, if you have hit a plateau or stalled in your quest for change; identifies what you need to work on and highlights the progress you have made.  All of this information is crucial to continued change and success.

Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep deprivation has serious consequences on how we perform.  Memory, planning, timing and speech are all affected, making mental tasks tougher, plays havoc with our mood, emotions and thus how we view ourselves positively on a daily basis.  Getting enough sleep can also regulate our appetite hormones – leptin and ghrelin.  Leptin signals our brain when we are full and ghrelin stimulates appetite.  When you are sleep-deprived, Leptin levels are suppressed which means the signal that says you are full is weak and ghrelin levels rise, stimulating appetite, making you crave more food and breaking your resolve.

The National Sleep Foundation suggests we get between 7 and 9 hours a night.  Interventions to improve sleep patterns are:  ensure your bedroom and bed clothes are clean and smell fresh, make sure your curtains and blinds block out light, so it’s as dark as a bat cave, switch off all electrical equipment.  If you use a mobile phone as an alarm clock, set it and place it away from your bed.  The electro-magnetic field from most devices can heighten you, making it difficult for you to drop off.  Take magnesium as this “anti-stress” mineral has a calming effect on the nervous system and helps your muscles relax.

With Positive Support And Action, Breaking Any Habit Can Be Easy.  It All Comes Back To Those Four Character Traits You Need To Succeed.


Co-written by Matt Warner and Simon de Burgh

Simon de Burgh is the 2 X winner of “Gym Based Personal Trainer of The Year 2011 & 2012″ at The National Fitness Awards and a Physique Elite DTP Specialist.  Simon has been in the sports and fitness industry for over 16 years and trains clients to transform their bodies and coaches long distance athletes, creator of LDST (Long Distance Strength Training System), writes and co-writes with other Personal Trainers.

Matt Warner is a Personal Trainer – DTP Transformation Specialist – Sports massage therapist and founder of @CRE8WHATYOUWANT. Specialising in areas of strength training, mental preparation and sports massage allows Matt to bring together each piece of the performance puzzle.  He works mainly with athletes from junior level up to world championship level in many disciplines, as well as clients looking for body re-composition and ensures that they gain all of the attributes needed to reach their physical and psychological potential. 


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