Posted On:
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: Have a "Replacement Habit" Ready

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An aerial photo of an asphalt road being covered by blowing sand in the desert.

December! We’ve entered my favorite month of the year. And the first day of December in 2020 just so happens to be a Tuesday, so it’s Coach Tip Tuesday to boot!

In addition to this being The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (in my humble opinion), this time of year is also when I hear a lot of talk about wanting to change habits after the holidays or in the new year that is coming. And as most of you know, New Year’s Resolutions have a failure rate of approximately 80%. So, why do we cling to this idea that we can make a resolution and see it successfully through?

The reason we cling to this idea is because it is true and doable at its core.  It’s our method of executing resolutions that is flawed, and that’s what I’m here to talk about this week: how to successfully modify habits or behaviors you have self-identified as wanting to change.

If we self-identify habits we want to eliminate or change, we will be most successful at doing this if we have a "replacement habit" in place.  Think of a habit as a well-worn, established path or road.  Habits are deeply ingrained in us (due to how these pathways are "forged" in the brain's neural pathways), so in order to "pave" over these "roads" in the brain, we need to have the "asphalt" (or replacement habit) ready.

Let’s list some habits that people commonly self-identify as wanting to change:

  • Eating a sugary breakfast
  • Consuming social media feeds during “lulls” in their daily lives
  • Not walking or moving enough
  • Consuming too much caffeine

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of habits that people might want to change, but it gets the general idea across.  When we are unhappy with a habit that we have, it’s natural that we might want to change it.  But simply wanting that change or wishing for that change isn’t enough.  And it’s here that I think most people end up being unsuccessful when it comes to instilling a new habit or modifying an existing behavior : they don’t know the path of how they can be successful.  They just want to be successful.  

So the next time you self identify a habit you want to change, think about what action or behavior you want to be doing or could be doing in its place.  

For instance, if you are trying to reduce the amount of time you spend using social media apps, perhaps have the habit of reading a book or a magazine ready to go, and keep that book or magazine nearby.

If you want to reduce your intake of sweets, you could have replacement habits such as: going for a walk when the craving for a cupcake strikes or having a sip of water (possibly flavored with fresh fruit) instead.

Our brains LOVE repetition.  Thus, habits are deeply ingrained in us and are quite hard to modify or break.  So, don’t beat yourself up if you are unsuccessful the first time you attempt to change a habit you would prefer not to have.  If this is something you really want to modify or change, go beyond the what you want to change, and come up with a plan of the how so you can successfully execute the what.

Do this, and these “temporary” replacement habits may very well become your long-term habits. :)


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

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