Secret Weapon: The Power of Replacement

As a wellness coach, you are working with individuals everyday who share a desire to eliminate something negative from their daily habits. The range of examples run the spectrum, but the concept is the same: there is some habit that your client realizes is having a negative impact on her/his life, but for some reason the person just “can’t” stop. Or maybe it’s you. Just because you’re a wellness coach DOESN’T mean you have everything dialed in (at least I don’t!).

Huh? Wait a minute. Why would something like this be an issue? They (or you, or I) know there’s a problem. The client has tuned into the issue. The defensiveness is absent. They see the value of change and they want to make the change – eliminating the issue for good.

But it doesn’t happen.

For some reason (I’ll let the Psychologists chime in here but it’s a repeated pattern we see everyday) the habit continues, as do the negative consequences.  So what can you – as a wellness coach – do to help the individual move past it?  Remember, they’re fully bought into the shift, but after a few days of temporary change, things revert back to they way they were. Now what?

The key might just be to move from “elimination” to “replacement.” Here’s a personal example that may spark some ideas…

For the first 25+ years of my life, I probably had a total of 3 alcoholic drinks. It simply wasn’t part of my life. However, as I got into my 30’s, I read about the benefits of red wine, had fun attending a wine tasting class with my brother, and even learned the difference between a Cabernet and a Chardonnay :-).  Fortunately alcohol never became a centerpiece in my life, but as I got into my late 40’s, it was absolutely a habit. Instead of a treat, the box wine in our refrigerator made it easy – really easy – to enjoy a glass of wine (sometimes a large glass of wine) with dinner every single night.

As an endurance athlete staring down age 50 in the next year, I knew that while wine does have some healthy benefits, the trade-offs for endurance athletes are notable.  So I’d stop.  For a week. Then I’d have wine just with certain meals (ie, spaghetti, tacos), but eventually it was back to an every night habit. Until six weeks ago. For the past 6 weeks, I’ve had a glass of wine no more than once/week, typically when out to dinner with my bride or other special occasions.  Wait – what? Why the sudden change after years of flip-flopping?!?

Simply stated – the power of replacement.  Each time over the past few years I’ve “committed” to moving wine from the “habit” to the “special treat” category, I fell short primarily because the choice created a hole in my evening. Ok – it wasn’t actually a hole in my evening, but there was something missing at dinner. Turning away from wine at dinner meant… another glass of water. Add to that the fatigue factor after a long day of work (we make many more poor choices when we’re tired/worn out) and after a few days, I’d throw in the towel.

Then 6 weeks ago, I finally got it.  I’m a smoothie guy – and I put a ton of stuff in my smoothies, so they’re pretty big :-). In fact, they’re generally so big that I could pour a glass, set it aside for dinner, and still have plenty to fill my smoothie fix earlier in the day. And that’s when I made the discovery!!  Now when it’s time for dinner, I’m not relegated to another glass of water. Instead I have a delicious smoothie sitting right there waiting for me.  Good tasting, healthy, certainly more anti-oxidants than a glass of red wine – and available with no effort! Now I don’t even care that I’m skipping the glass of wine – the replacement makes it easy! The hole is gone – I’m not just eliminating something and then moving into the role of martyr over my “big sacrifice” (which only makes it more of a focus). There is no hole – option A has been replaced!

Do I plan to avoid wine forever? No. Right now I’m gearing up for a big race and need every advantage I can get. But it’s nice to have discovered the secret to easily eliminating a habitual choice. As you’re working with your wellness coaching clients (or maybe thinking about something in your own life that could use a tweak but has been tough to change), consider the power of replacement. Maybe it’s the secret weapon that will turn the corner to your success.


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