Coaxed downstairs

The stairs can be slow and tiring, but they're the only safe way down.  Niagara Falls, May 2009

The stairs can be slow and tiring, but they’ll get you safely down. Niagara Falls, May 2009

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”Mark Twain

I’ve come to respect the immense power of habit to influence our lives for better or worse.  In everything from eating to sleeping to managing money to how we interact with each other at home, at work or on the road, habits can make or break our health, our sanity and our happiness.

To me, the very word “habit” sounds boring and unappealing, but good habits are forceful allies in the craziness of life.  They are sort of like the “autopilot” that keeps us functioning by taking over when our reason is distracted or assaulted.

Bad habits, on the other hand, can sabotage our best intentions and most genuine efforts.  With incredible tenacity, they mock our optimism and self-improvement ideals, leaving us feeling foolish for even trying to overcome them.  Addicts, of course, experience this more keenly than those of us who have less obvious compulsions, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a few detrimental tendencies they’d like to overcome.  For example, I have a bad habit of eating Cheez-It crackers right out of the (extra large) box, which I’m doing right now as I write this, despite knowing that healthier snack options would be better for me.

I think Twain hit on an important secret here.  While we hear the occasional story of a successful “cold turkey” setting aside of a bad habit, most often we have to be patient with ourselves and others when it comes to breaking bad habits, and take it a step at a time.  It’s usually not successful for me to make unrealistic goals such as “I will never eat anymore Cheez-It crackers as long as I live” or “as long as I weigh more than five pounds over my ideal weight” (which in my case appears to be the same thing).  I can start with closing the box right now (okay, okay!) even though it’s not empty yet.  Not quite, anyway.

Then I can move on to other steps, such as NOT BUYING any Cheez-It crackers in the first place.  I was doing pretty good with this, until they came out with Zingz.  Oh, my.  Talk about unplanned complications! If you have the same problem with Cheez-It crackers that I do, take my advice; don’t even THINK about trying Zingz. It’s like coaxing yourself down three flights and then taking an elevator back up six.

I’ve often heard that it’s easier to let go of a bad habit if we replace it with a good one.  In my experience, that’s true.  So in just a minute, I’m going to go to the kitchen and get a mandarin orange and another cup of tea.  Want to join me?

Admittedly, there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about slow, incremental approaches, but they do work, as long as we keep moving in the right direction.  Sometimes we don’t see how far we’ve come until we look back and realize that we’re a respectable distance from where we started.  That gives us a boost to morale that can keep us going, as long as we don’t let ourselves get overwhelmed with the idea of the long distance that still lies ahead.

If your bad habit is too big and heavy and obstreperous to be heaved out the window, try coaxing it down one step at a time.  Sooner or later you’ll get to the ground, and you’ll enjoy a much-deserved break — and maybe even some congratulations and applause.  See you there!

One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 18, 2013 is linked today
March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend. 

Almost one year ago today:

Slowly — but painlessly!

35 Comments

  1. Bobby

    Too late–I’ve already tried Zingz. I think step one might be to stop buying the big box, step two, buy only once a month. I like how some companies have helped by packaging in small serving sizes. I may eat more than one but it won’t be half a box.

    • Bobby, that small package thing didn’t work for me because I never stop at just one, but you are right, I probably do stop at less than half a box. But I also feel deprived :-). I did start using the “small plate, with as many refills as you want” tactic at dinner and I must admit that it seems to make a difference. But with those Zingz, I think the only answer for me is not to bring them into the house. Certain foods make me understand on a whole new level what a true addiction must be like!

  2. I’m a cheez itz fan too! Funny how they are so addicting. I hadn’t heard of zingz but I will steer clear now that I know. Thanks!

    • Salt, fat, natural flavoring, what’s not to like? 🙂 Aw, I feel guilty telling you to steer clear of Zingz, just make sure you eat them in moderation. I think how much you get hooked on them depends on how much you like corn and corn meal (cornbread, tortilla chips, etc.) — I am a total corn addict so when they started adding corn flower to Zingz they got me for life.

  3. I can literally see you pulling your hand out of the Cheezit box and putting crackers in your mouth while you stare at the computer screen and type with your other hand. 🙂
    Love the quote by Mark Twain!
    Hope all is well with you! (I have been absent from WP for a while and am behind on my reading.)

    Many blessings,
    Mechelle

    • Uh-Oh, Mechelle, did I leave that pesky web cam on??? 🙂 Did you notice how premeditated I was, bringing a damp paper towel down to wipe that orange stuff off my hands so my keyboard didn’t get gunky? Thanks for checking back in, it’s nice to see you back on WP! I have so many blogs I need to catch up on but that gives me something to look forward to. Matt’s hospital just got Wi-Fi so I’m hoping I will be able to catch up some while he’s recovering from his open heart surgery coming up this month. We will probably have some long hours there, and the blogosphere can be a very happy place to go at such times. Being someone who doesn’t enjoy TV, it was a real blessing to have Wi-Fi while Jeff was in the hospital all those weeks of 2013. I can only do Sodoku for so many hours! 🙂

  4. I still love reading your writing because of the beauty in which you write. Love this paragraph (for example): Bad habits, on the other hand, can sabotage our best intentions and most genuine efforts. With incredible tenacity, they mock our optimism and self-improvement ideals, leaving us feeling foolish for even trying to overcome them. Addicts, of course, experience this more keenly than those of us who have less obvious compulsions, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a few detrimental tendencies they’d like to overcome.

    I had to laugh at the Cheez-It crackers . . . one of my favs. Ate them by the box when I was pregnant with my first. 🙂 I rarely purchase them anymore for the very reason you pointed out; however, I had a coupon the other day & bought two boxes (for the kids, of course). But I was the one who snatched them up on our way out the door yesterday . . . a quick snack on the way to our next stop.

    • Barb, thanks for your kind comments about my writing. As always when you send me such happy thoughts, I realize I probably would not be online at all without your encouragement. Thank you!

      Those coupons are dangerous, aren’t they? To make matters worse, Safeway recently had the LARGE boxes (ALL flavors!) on sale for $1.50!!! Less than half price!! How could my frugal side refuse? What if I never got that chance again? I won’t admit to how many boxes I bought, but I used the excuse that they might be easier for Jeff to eat while he is on chemo and he needs to gain back some of the weight he has lost. To be honest, he has eaten some of them but I think I’ve eaten way more of them than he has. No surprise there!! I need to put a disclaimer here: I don’t work for anyone at Cheez-It and actually don’t even know who makes them, but maybe I should investigate and buy stock.

  5. Carolyn Miller

    You go girl with your Cheez-It crackers. Love them and I eat them straight from the box. I go for the cutie oranges , small but great. Cup of tea anytime. Take care and have a great week. Love and hugs to all.

    • Carolyn, if anything saves me from the Cheez-Its, it will be tea and cutie oranges! I can eat three or four of those and still consume less calories than I would get from 2-3 “servings” of Cheez-Its (Jeff and I always laugh at what is called a “serving size.”) Hope you are doing well. We are all doing pretty well. Jeff is overall doing better with this chemo than the first course, and certainly way better than the second course. We are hoping for a good outcome. Have a great week! Love to you and Terry.

      • Carolyn Miller

        I am feeling pretty good today, with this warm weather coming in. I just love setting on my back porch.The next eye surgery has been put on hold for at least 2 months, she wants to make sure that every thing is ready. I didn’t like the news, but I want every thing to be ready also.. I don’t want to go through this again. I am finished with appointments until the 12 and 22, that is my lab and 3 months check up. Praying that you all have a great week. Love to all.

        • Hi Carolyn, I know it must be terribly hard for you to wait for that eye surgery but I guess they want to be careful. That’s how we feel about Matt’s heart surgery. I hate to have it hanging over us but I am glad they waited as long as they could. Hope you enjoy this brief time off and have some lovely weather! Sending you some “cyber hugs” and lots of love!

  6. raynard

    julia, every now and then “because I can” and i’ll admit selfish /lazy me, will drink soda out of the large bottle instead of pouring a cup and “dont get me started on grabbing a slice of bread and “throwing it down my throat ” i digress. I got a new phone last week, bigger and clear screen and fast than”the dinasoar I had. Oh, i need more fruit and veggie and “tell my wife I ran out of vitimins. Weather this week suppose to be 60’s “need more water( I do have Snapple and Green Tea in the fridge.. be blessed

    • Hey Raynard, I read where green tea counts as a veggie, so that’s how I get my quota 🙂 – works for me. Fruits I have no problem with since I eat a ton of those little oranges and also some grapefruit, but soon they will be out of season and I’ll have to opt for strawberries and blueberries and other stuff I have to wash obsessively for fear of pesticides. You don’t even want to know how much of a dinosaur my phone is (it’s a flip phone and I get lots of laughs when someone sees me using it). When I read your comment about the bigger screen, I actually pictured a land line phone with a larger caller ID display!

  7. Sheila

    Julia, can you imagine a box of Cheez-its with the warning to “EAT RESPONSIBLY”? Your words were really food for thought. I’ll be thinking of y’all this week. Here’s hoping for some sunbeams! 🙂

    • Sheila, I just got through eating some Cheez-its that were given to me! True confession. But I’ll be cutting back on them soon…Thinking of you too!

  8. HarryS

    So do you think I ought to pray, “God, help me to help you to help me”?

    • Harry, I think that’s a great prayer for all of us, every day!

  9. There are some habits that are well ingrained. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said; “Ridding ourselves of some strong habits is like asking a person with asthma to play five sets of tennis.” I agree with replacing bad habits with good. However, I see it as a crowding out process. The more room taken up in your heart with good will leave little room for the bad. It is sort of a distancing.
    As St. Augustine says: “Its a quieting of the voices that urge you to the bad habit, until time and distance make them just a faint whisper.” This makes it much easier to turn away when any thought of returning occurs. Start a healthy habit: Turn away from the bad-turn toward that which is good.

    • Alan, thanks so much for making this excellent point. As mentioned, I have noticed that when I think more in terms of doing the good things instead of avoiding the bad ones, it tends to get much easier to overcome negative habits. It does help to think of it as a sort of crowding out or distancing. I like the quote from Archbishop Sheen. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Julia…hello! ahh…Cheez-its my favorite snack too. 🙂 I try not to buy them too often…but do indulge occasionally. I enjoy the cutie oranges but when you’re craving Cheez-its…its nothing but Cheez-its.
    I’m behind in reading my blogs, little under the weather these days. 🙂
    Praying with you…during Matt’s open heart surgery. and for you and Jeff.

    • Thank you so much, Merry. We appreciate your prayers, your friendship and your visits here! Hope you are feeling better soon!

  11. LB

    Julia, you’ve moved on to tea and oranges and I’m still happy with Cheez-Its and red wine. What is it about those Cheez-Its? They seem to be the favorite junk snack of all the visitors to this post 🙂
    Slow incremental forward motion is better than back sliding or stagnation. Keep on moving forward!

    • LB, I will remember that slow and incremental are OK, as long as they are not in the wrong direction! As for the Cheez-Its, I obviously should have made those the prizes at my Blog Anniversary Party. I’m glad to know I have lots of company on that!

  12. I’ve tried both cold turkey and the slow and steady as you go with mixed results. Diet Pepsi and chocolate: cold turkey. Let go of french fry runs…slowly getting there. It’s taken me 45 days to lose 5 pounds.

    Thanks for this timely post.

    • WOW, I think 5 pounds in 45 days sounds pretty good! I have been trying to lose the same 10 pounds for at least that many years. The big thing I have to stay totally away from is CHIPS of all kinds (and french fries too), but even so, I’ve never found any magic formulas for getting past that first 5 pounds. When I first started walking 5 miles per day, I lost 10 pounds but gained 5 of it back quickly when I had to cut back to 2-3 miles per day due to foot problems. Sometimes Jeff and I reassure ourselves that just staying in the same place is OK for people our age! Of course, now he actually wants to gain some weight. I try to focus on not getting obsessive about the weight per se, and worry more about the quality of foods I eat, but I love so much that is not particularly healthy for me! And don’t care for veggies. But I feel much better when I am lighter. I don’t get so tired.

      • Thanks for your vote of confidence, however, the scale said I lost 8 pounds, then went back to only 5. I won’t even tell you what I ate today, as none of it (other then my spinach salad at dinner) was good for me.

        Sigh.

        One day at a time. I am forcing myself to log on to MyFitnessPal every single day, and I log everything I eat. It’s been eye-opening. You can track your exercise, measurements, etc. and it’s free.

        • Alys, I fell off the (Cheez-It) wagon myself last night, so I can’t say anything. Luckily I’m on my last “bargain box” of Cheez-Its and have resolved, as soon as I finish this one (which is the Hot and Spicy kind that Jeff can’t eat) that I won’t buy anymore until I lose at least 5 pounds. Maybe not even then, but hey, baby steps, right? I have considered using one of those online fitness programs, but I’m not sure I want to have my eyes opened! Seriously, I’m a “grazer” and just recording everything I eat would be a pain…on the other hand, I might avoid eating as much if I felt obligated to write it all down! I’ll have to think more about this; it might be just the ticket!

          • You can take a look at see what you think: http://www.myfitnesspal.com

            It’s free and easy and yes, eye-opening.

            • Hey, I like the way it looks. I might actually try it. I am reading a book now called Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner, and I just finished Whole by T. Colin Campbell – talk about a one-two punch that has me determined to rehab my eating habits!! I have a long ways to go, but I think a food diary is overdue for me. Now if I could just catch up with all the urgent stuff I’m behind on…

              • It’s amazing when you start keeping track. I like the fact that this not only tracks calories, but nutrition: protein, carbs, sodium, sugar and fat. I find it all very helpful. If you give it a go, you can come find me for moral support. (your food diary and weight are private, I would only see your progress in terms of tracking, exercise and weight loss). I’m RetroBabe59.

                • Thanks Alys, I will let you know when/if I get started. It might help keep me honest 🙂 and give me some incentive!

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