The Real Reason Habits Are So Hard to Break

The Real Reason Habits Are So Hard to Break

One of my favorite ways to start my seminars is with a phrase completion exercise: “Life would be better if only…” As everyone writes their answers on note cards, their responses are quite predictable. Almost all answers center around the same eight issues:

If only I lost weight

If only I had more money

If only I had more time

If only Johnny would get his life together (always written by Johnny’s mother!)

If only I would get more organized

If only I had better health

If only my kids lived closer (you guessed it, Johnny’s grandmother!)

If only I had a relationship or my relationship improved

Then I love to ask, “If I could get you to the core issue of this problem and gave you the solution to it, would you be happy?” I am always assured they will be.

So let’s dissect the first challenge from the list, weight, since statistics indicate that over half of the readers of this article are on a weight loss program or looking for one as they read this. Beyond techniques for “leaving some food on the plate,” and “never going shopping hungry,” there are always hidden motivations beneath any recurring problem.

In 8 to Great, we teach that we are in charge of our lives. And with that comes the realization that there is always a payoff for hanging onto any problem. To get to what the payoff is, we use another completion exercise:  “The good thing about having this problem is…”

When I ask someone who is uncomfortable about their weight to complete the phrase, “The good thing about hanging onto this weight is…” The answer at first is “Nothing,” but when forced to answer the question 10 times, the realy answer almost aways shows up. If it doesn’t, I ask, “Then what’s the bad thing about being thin?” Those answers always surprise us.

I recall the young mother who blurted, “I’d be promiscuous!” We uncovered a core fear that she would endanger the mental and emotional health of her children if she lost weight and began dating. Together we rewrote that belief, affirming that she could, as a healthy and mature individual, set boundaries and honor them, and her weight came off fairly quickly.

Another woman said, “If I were thin, it would destroy my relationship with my sister. Food issues are the only thing we have in common.” Unpacking that one took awhile, but it worked.

With one gentleman in his 60’s, his answer was, “At least I won’t have to grow old.” His father had died at 64 of a heart attack and it “looked like kind of a quick and easy way to go.” He said he “didn’t know anyone who was old and happy…” Once he got in touch with his core issue (fear of old age) he was able to stay on his weight loss program and reach his goal.

With a middle-aged manager who had been trying to quit smoking for years, her answer to “The good thing about smoking…” turned out to be “Breaks,” which at her company, were only taken by smokers.

Years ago, when I was curious why I was crying so hard about my daughter’s kitten being run over, I simply wrote, “The good thing about crying so hard about Charlie is…”

Her kitten’s name was Buster. My kitten, Charlie, was run over when I was seven and I was told not to cry for fear it would “upset the younger kids.” I was finally able to grieve my childhood pet in peace.

Once you discover the core issue behind your hard-to-break habit, there’s still work to do, but your subconscious agenda will no longer be sabotaging you. And let’s face it, when it comes to bad habits, we need all the help we can get.

MK Mueller is an Author, Keynoter, and TEDx Presenter

To learn more about her speaking, her Life Coach Certification course or her K-12 Curriculum, go to or email to

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