• Pranav woke up droopy eyed and looked at the wall clock. It was almost 8:00 am. Surprised, he looked at his bed-side alarm clock. Surprised to see that the alarm was in snooze state. He could not recollect it ringing at 6am, when he had planned to wake up for a run at 6:30. Murmuring to himself, he stood up, having failed third day on trot to wake up early.
  • Ritu looked at the spread of food laid out for Shalini’s Bday in the upmarket hotel in town. Having promised herself, that she would stick to her new diet, the temptation on the occasion was too hard to resist and she picked up the samosa and some spicy green chutney to go with it.
  • Aryan was listening to the guiding voice on the meditation app. Having gone through the 10 of the 30 minute meditation plan, he was not able to ignore the message tone and got distracted.

Sounds familiar? The typical challenge which most people face in building a new habit, is not the new habit. But to get rid of the ‘old habit’ – a process that I call as the ‘unhabit’. 

Just to clarify, I am not discussing the far more complex and serious habits of alcohol, drugs or smoking as those problems need a lot more serious planning  and execution.

Here’s a sequence of events that would be typical for someone to start running (sorry guys, I am too big a fan of running and cannot help getting it in every conversation!!):

  1. Pranav needs to start running. Unfortunately, he has been too lazy and has not been doing any fitness activities so far.
  2. Before running, he needs to start doing brisk walks (a step which is missed by many).
  3. To start on day 1, Pranav has to accommodate the time for the walk in the morning, so he needs to wake up at 6 instead of usual time of 7:30.
  4. To wake up 90 mins earlier than his normal time, he needs to change the time he goes to sleep the previous night.
  5. To sleep at 11pm, instead of his standard time of 12:30am, he needs to change his dinner time.
  6. Instead of the habitual dinner at 9:30 PM, he needs to have his dinner by at least 8pm, if not earlier.Pranav’s family is not accustomed to this change, but they try and adjust the same.
  7. To have the early dinner, Pranav needs to reach home from office by 7:00 pm, which is almost an hour early.
  8. For Pranav to leave early for home, his team needs to submit their daily report for review by 5pm instead of the normal 6:30 pm.

So you get the drift? The challenge why Pranav is not able to start running is because his team is not able to submit their daily work report on time!!

Well, the unhabit is a lot more about blaming your work colleagues for your problem. Its about how we do not even ‘focus’ on what it takes to stop doing something that is ‘not good’ for you. That’s even more important than ‘start doing’ something that is ‘good’ for you.

When people want to start dieting, they want to directly replace samosas and choley bhaturey with Keto or low carb diet. They do not realise that there is an ‘in between’ transitory phase, where reducing fatty food (not stopping completely from day 1), changing the timing of meals, reducing the quantity overall, etc. are easier and more important steps, that can anyway help attain 20-30% result. If these are not done, then the whole initiative to move to a healthy diet might flop miserably.

I am not a big fan of watching TV or even web series. When we want to break from the habit of watching too many of these, we try to the drastic step of not watching completely, which does not work all the time. Gradually moving from binge watching to watching one episode at a time, (changing the setting in Netflix to ensure the next episode does NOT play automatically, is fairly easy, if not known already). I myself have realised, that however gripping the series might be, the effort to press the stop button might be quite huge, but once the TV has the blank screen, the tenacity to switch it on again is not so high.

Its interesting how I find it much harder to stop the habit of eating biscuits with my afternoon tea (yeah, dipping them in the tea and eating, etc!!), than to impromptu run a half marathon for 2 hours. That, I guess is power of habit (running) that once you inculcate in yourself, its actually pleasure for you, when it might be pain for others.  But, it also highlights the challenge with unhabit, where I find it difficult to stop having biscuits. I have tried to replace normal biscuits with digestive, then tried khakras, etc. but nothing to beat the experience of the Ginger Nuts biscuit I like.

The other point that needs to be considered here, and it relates to one of my previous articles, is ‘Why’. The reason for unhabit of biscuits is not as wow, sexy, desirable or shareable, as compared to running. And that’s true with any unhabit. One will surely love to proclaim how some diet followed for x no. of days has helped someone, lot more, than for one to no. of  days one has been able to avoid eating samosas. Hope you get it. Its just not the same type of ‘kick’.

In a nutshell, do not de-prioritize or ignore the unhabit, when you are trying to build a new habit. Understand what it entails and how the same needs to be addressed. The chances of you succeeding at the new habit shoot up significantly, once you have unhabit-ted from the other habit.