You’re Halfway to Kicking Your Bad Habit

Decision to Try

What’s the one thing you really want to stop doing?

Okay, let’s be honest– there’s definitely more than one. But there’s that one habit that really gets to you. It gets under your skin because you know you shouldn’t do it (or other people tell you that you shouldn’t do it), yet here you are again, kicking yourself because you just can’t stop.

Maybe it isn’t that bad. Or maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t hurting anyone. But maybe it’s time to let it go anyway.

For me, it’s diet soda.

But it could be smoking, alcohol, fast food, overspending, overeating, or binging on Candy Crush or Netflix. Maybe it’s biting your nails or checking Facebook way too often.

Whatever it is, you know your life would be better without it. So now what?

You’re Already On Step 3!

Congratulations! You may feel like you’re just getting started, but being ready to change means you’re already halfway there.

CycleThe Stages of Change model by DiClemente and Prochaska defines various levels of readiness to change and is typically described as a cycle.

  • Precontemplation Stage
    • You’re not even thinking about change and may deny that the behavior in question is a problem. Or, you may think that your situation is hopeless so there’s no point in trying.
  • Contemplation Stage
    • You think that change might be a good idea and start to weigh the pros and cons. You want to learn more but aren’t ready to commit.
  • Preparation Stage
    • You’re all in. But you’re not quite sure where to start. You research, explore ideas, and try out a few techniques.
  • Action Stage
    • You put your plan in place and probably go public with your decision. You learn from mistakes and celebrate your successes.
  • Maintenance and Relapse Prevention Stage
    • You’re in this for the long haul. Your change becomes your new normal, though you may have occasional relapses. Keep going!
  • Termination Stage
    • You’re no longer tempted by your old habit. This stage is often omitted from the cycle because reaching this stage is rare, and thinking you’re free and testing yourself with temptation can be dangerous.

It’s called a cycle because people do move through it– hopefully forward, but sometimes backward too. So don’t beat yourself up if you have to repeat it a few times. Life happens. Just keep going.

Why? Why? WHY???

No, it isn’t just your toddler’s inquisitive phase. It’s also the reason for your success.

Find your Why and you’ll have found your motivation. Why do you want to change? Why bother? Why does your habit torment you? Why does your family pester you about this issue so much? Why?

My grandpa quit smoking because my mom told him she wouldn’t bring my sister and me to his house otherwise. He didn’t care about the health benefits, but he found a Why that was powerful enough to bring about a lifelong change. Yay Mom! And yay Grandpa!!!

I’m giving up diet soda for a growing list of reasons as the research becomes more prevalent and convincing regarding its risks:

  • Tooth Stain and Decay
  • $$$
  • Acne
  • Osteoporosis
  • Headaches
  • Weight Gain
  • Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
  • Preterm Delivery
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Use of resources for packaging and shipping

The mainstream medical community is not convinced that diet soda is harmful, and many of the studies show correlation, not causation. Maybe diet soda drinkers do something else that actually causes the harm and the soda itself is blameless.

And preterm delivery isn’t a problem since I don’t plan to become pregnant. So why should I worry?

These arguments have kept me cycling through the precontemplation and contemplation stages for years, with a few brief forays into the action stage that lasted only a few months.

So let’s play What if.

What if diet soda is completely safe? What do I stand to lose from switching to water?

  • Enjoyment of a tasty beverage.

And what if diet soda is NOT safe. What could I possibly lose by continuing to drink it?

  • See long and expanding list above.

When I look at it that way it seems so simple.

That’s my why. What’s yours?

Planning is Everything

In addition to Why to quit, I need to know When, Where, and How.


I’m writing this in May, but I’ve set my quit date as June 10, the publication date of this post.

Why not start right away? I’ve always thought that New Year’s resolutions were silly because waiting until New Year’s prolongs the harm and delays the benefit. So no, I won’t wait seven and a half months to get started. But I will take a few weeks to get prepared.

First, I’ll get rid of the soda I already have in the pantry. Did I mention I just stocked up on a great sale?

I could give it away, but if it could be harmful then I shouldn’t pass that harm off to someone else.

I should dump it down the drain, but that seems wasteful. (I know, I know. I’m rationalizing.) So, I’ll enjoy every sip until it’s gone, and I’ll also taper my intake to decrease the caffeine withdrawal symptoms as my quit date approaches.


Is it good enough to be soda-free at home and drink it only when I’m at work or out with friends? It would still be better than not cutting down at all.

Sure, except I tried that already and it didn’t work.

My days off were plagued by headaches and cravings and the days I worked left me with trouble sleeping because of the caffeine. For me, it’s gotta be all or nothing.


After setting a quit date, deciding to taper rather than go cold-turkey*, and getting rid of my stash, I’ll still need to break my routine and deal with the cravings. Here are some proven strategies:

  • Write it Down.
    • Write down what you’re doing and when you’ll start. Write down your reasons and write yourself a pep talk you can refer to as needed.
  • Think Positively.
    • This change is YOUR CHOICE. No one is making you do it. It’s your gift to yourself, so choose to be Tigger, not Eeyore.
  • Recruit a cheerleader or ten.
    • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing and ask for their support. Enlist your physician and/or your therapist and consider joining a support group.
    • If some of your friends or family are not supportive, avoid them for a while until you become more confident and successful with your change. They might also be struggling with their own bad habits, and supporting you might require them to face their own demons. Maybe they’re not ready, so give them time.
    • If ALL of your friends and family are not supportive, ask them why. Find a trusted adviser to help you reevaluate the change you’re planning.
  • Strategically plant reminders.
    • Leave yourself notes in key places such as your wallet if your habit requires making a purchase. I’ll have one note in my wallet and another on the badge I show the cafeteria cashier at work. Your refrigerator, car cup holder, bathroom mirror, and nightstand are more great places to leave yourself encouraging messages.
  • Distract yourself.
    • If a craving hits particularly hard, have a list of alternate activities handy. Take a walk, call a friend, read a book chapter, or choose another item from your list. By the time you finish, the craving will (hopefully) have passed.
  • Manage withdrawal.
    • Headaches, body aches, fatigue, and mood changes are real when your body withdraws from a substance. I don’t like coffee or tea, so my alternate sources of caffeine are limited. I’ll use this caffeinated Crystal Light to finish my taper and if I need caffeine to stay up through a late shift.  Many people also find nicotine patches or gum very helpful when they quit smoking.
    • Avoid substituting one hard-to-break habit with another. This Crystal Light also has artificial sweeteners, which is part of the reason I’m quitting diet soda. However, I’ve had this mix around the house for years and while it’s tasty, I never crave it. Plus, it’s easy to dilute more and more to continue the caffeine taper. I might buy other flavors I don’t like so it’s even less appealing.
  • Know your triggers.
    • Avoid them when possible and prepare for when you can’t. Do your moments of weakness come when you’re tired? Stressed out? Bored? With friends? Call on your support system and list of distractions.

Treat Yo Self

You’re working hard and doing great! What will cheer you up and motivate you to continue?

Celebrate. Pat yourself on the back. Write your successes on your reminder notes. And Treat Yo Self.

Spend an afternoon enjoying the fresh air in a local park. Take a bubble bath. Make your favorite food for dinner.

Or, if you’re saving $10 per week since you quit soda or cigarettes, consider using that money to buy yourself a prize periodically. Go for coffee with a friend, see a new movie, get a pedicure, donate to your favorite charity, or choose something else that’s consistent with your life goals and values. If possible, choose experiences over stuff.

One family member bought herself some major bling for each anniversary after she quit smoking. Whenever someone asked her about it, she beamed as she touched the jewelry on her ears, neck, and wrist as she counted up the years.

Maybe jewelry doesn’t excite you but a day trip does. Go for it! This really is all about you.

Treat Yourself Kindly

If you forget and fall back into your old habit once, or if you fall completely off the wagon, treat yourself as you’d treat a friend– with kindness.

But don’t be an enabler. Most people try several times before kicking a bad habit for good. No one’s perfect. Take a deep breath and start again.

Learn from your mistakes. What triggered your relapse?

  • If it was forgetfulness, find another way to remind yourself.
  • If it was peer pressure, stay away from those friends.
  • If it was stress or fatigue, reinforce your support system and find a buddy you can call to talk you through your next tough situation.

Remember that all the days/weeks/months/years you were successful aren’t lost if you relapse– they’re proof that you can do it again. So get started today!


*Stopping alcohol cold-turkey can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Stopping certain medications can cause seizures and withdrawal as well. Please discuss any proposed changes with your therapist or other health care professionals.

What habit do you want to quit? Share your successes and suggestions in the comments below. 

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Comments 4

  1. Wow – this really got me thinking. To word it as something to quit, and not something I want to add – I guess I want to quit solely focusing on cardio when I work out. I hate lifting weights…. but I know how important it is too! I’m not sure if this was what you were thinking – but I don’t have many things I want to “give up” (which I guess I am grateful for). I gave up Diet Soda last year and once I didn’t have it for awhile, I never crave it at all and would gladly choose water over it any day!

    1. Post

      Yes! Any change is hard, so good for you! Working out at all is better than not working out ever, but it’s good to mix it up.
      I’m impressed with your Diet Soda success. Today is day 6 and I’m staying strong…but I just got back from 6 days of backcountry backpacking where all we had was dehydrated food and (filtered) creek water. Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  2. Hello,

    I am a reader of PoF’s blog and former Diet Coke (DC) addict, and I strongly support your desire to kick the habit. I did the same, and here is how it went down,

    I started drinking DC in med school, to replace my Coca Cola habit (I almost said “Coke habit”, but as a med student in Miami in the late 80’s, that would have quite a bit different connotation!) and as part of a weight loss program. Both worked–that is, I lost the weight, forever, and became a regular drinker of DC. Early on, it would be a soda for dinner, but by the time I hit residency, it was often a soda in the morning, one at lunch, and one after exercise.

    When I finished my training, I joined a hospital staff that supplied the doctor’s lounge with an limited supply of DC. Soon, I was up to sometimes 6 cans per day. Whenever I had a stressful procedure or interaction, my habit was to go to the lounge and cool off with a DC. Several times, I tried to cut back, but to no avail. I thought that I needed my morning DC to survive–I loved the mouthfeel and taste of that first gulp in the morning. I craved it. Every time I tried, I was unsuccessful.

    The headaches! Even dropping from four servings of DC per day to one or two gave me these itense headaches, which I am convinced have nothing to do with the caffeine. I know this because I do drink coffee now, daily in the morning and not infrequently later in the day, but occasionally miss a day or two and never get a headache.

    Five years ago this week, my family was on vacation at Vail Resorts in Colorado, and I was horrified to learn that Vail was a 100% Pepsi resort. I despised Diet Pepsi, like most DC drinkers do. There was not a Coca Cola product anywhere on the extensive premises. The horror! I made it through the first day or two and soon realized that I could survive the trip without my treasured beverage. And when I returned home, I challenged myself to avoid DC as long as I can and have not had once since. Hurray!

    I did replace the DC with the morning ritual of coffee (which has countless health benefits), and when I desire the mouthfeel of carbonated soda, I drink a sparkling water. No chemicals, no calories. These seem to be increasing in popularity as I see more and more grocery store shelf space devoted to them. I do drink a whole lot more tap water, filtered when I am at home.

    My advice is not to be a gradualist. Dump the DC and don’t look back. Best of luck.


    1. Post

      Robert, thanks for the encouragement.
      It was the free soda in the lounge that became a consolation prize for having to go to work that got me hooked too. And I agree, Diet Pepsi is definitely NOT the same 🙂
      I’m at 3.5 weeks off the DC and 2 weeks off all caffeine (ditching the crystal light was easy). The headache lasted a full two weeks but now I’m feeling great. It seems like a brain fog has lifted and I didn’t even realize it was there.

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