Changing Habits: How to Let Go of Sacred Cows

To change a habit — whether you’re starting a new habit or quitting an old one — you have to let go of something really important to you. This is why most people struggle with habit change — it’s not easy to let go of your sacred cows.

Let’s take a few examples:

  • To start exercising and moving more, you have to let go of some of the comfort of sitting and watching/reading things on your devices.
  • To start waking up earlier, you have to let go of the thing you like to do that keeps you up late at night (maybe watching TV).
  • To give up alcohol, you have to give up a relaxing evening ritual, or a fun social thing you do with friends.
  • To start meditating in the morning, you have to let go of the comfort of rushing into doing all of your busywork for the day.
  • To lose weight, you have to let go of the ability to eat whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it.

You get the idea. There isn’t change without the loss of something special. That’s why we resist the change — maybe we want the change, but the loss of that sacred cow is really difficult.

Let’s talk about how to let go of something important, in order to create change.

First, ask yourself: do I really want to make this change? Is it a change that just sounds nice, or is it really important to you? Why do you care about it?

Second, ask: what do I have to give up, and am I willing to let go? It’s not easy to give this stuff up. Is the change so important to you that you are willing to let go of what’s been important in the past? For example, when I quit smoking, I realized that the health of my family was more important than the temporary enjoyment, the social aspect of smoking (at the time), or the stress relief that I got from it. I could find other stress relief, other things to enjoy, other ways to socialize.

Third, retrain your brain to remember why this matters, when the urge to do the old thing comes up. For example, if you normally socialize with friends by drinking alcohol … when it comes time to socialize by drinking, you might think an old thought like, “I deserve to have fun with friends on weekends!” You need to come up with a replacement belief, like “Drinking with friends makes me act in unhealthy ways” or “I don’t want to be dependent on alcohol to enjoy my life, I can socialize with a fizzy non-alcoholic drink too.”

The old beliefs will come up in certain situations. You’ll think, “I deserve a break” or “I deserve a treat” or “Life is too short to suffer” or “Just this one time won’t hurt.” Those are fine, but they don’t lead to the change you really care about. So prepare yourself with a new belief — what matters more to you in those situations?

I’ll give you a few examples from my life:

  • Meditation is a peaceful break that I deserve.
  • Good quality sleep is more important to me than enjoying a few sips of coffee.
  • I don’t need to have animals die or suffer to have nutritious, delicious food.
  • I care about my body too much to sit here too long.
  • I don’t need more food at this party, because overeating makes me feel terrible.
  • I don’t like to fritter my life away on my phone.

What change do you want to make that’s more important than your sacred cows?

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