Whoops! in the night

night binge eating moon

Eating under cover of darkness. Those weird hours in the night when all the rulebooks are roosting quietly

Yesterday night I woke up, and slipped up

My first mistake was that I had too much coffee. One cup too many. I woke up in the middle of the night. I was excited about the book I’m reading, and about the thought of bread and jam. I sat in the kitchen and indulged in chick lit and carrot jam slathered on bread.

It’s been a while since I overate in the middle of the night like that, to try to sedate myself. It took me by surprise. It made me realise: if you haven’t thought through what you’ll do in advance, you’re open to ambush from the Urge.

What will I do next time? An if… then plan

Today I made a contingency. Next time I wake up, sleepless, and am excited, I can get up and read my book. But not in the kitchen. I can get a hot drink – I’ll buy in some camomile. But once it’s made, the kitchen door stays closed. If I’m hungry – actually, really hungry – I can have a banana. In the living room. This is my if… then plan for nighttimes.

Thinking through things in this way is a trick backed up by good research. Jeremy Dean’s excellent book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits, describes this in his chapter on how habits are made. You might do this without even realise it – but psychologists call it an implementation intention and it’s proven by numerous studies to increase effectiveness when a new habit is being formed.

Replace automatic behaviours with something better

There’s something else worth noting. My plan is to sit on the sofa in the living room when I’m wakeful, rather than in the kitchen. The living room is lovely. The sofas are comfortable. The light soft. This plan is an example of using replacement to override an unwanted habit. You can read more about this technique in Scott Young’s downloadable ebook, How to Change a Habit. Most advice tells you it’s hard to rid a bad habit, because supressing it makes it shout out at you, so it’s better to replace it with something more positive.

Change the location

And there’s one more feature of my plan. I’ve changed the environment. Since many habits are cued by environment (there are thought to be five cues altogether, but more on those cues in a later post), as Leo Babauta observes, it really helps to change the place you do things. Especially if the thing you want to smooth out always takes place in the same place. Keep your eyes open. Do you always bite your nails in the cinema? Watch your film at home. Do you always drink coffee walking up the same street? Take a different route to work, and so on.

You try it!

So take that thing that is bothering you. That single behaviour.

  • Make a plan for what you’ll do next time it crops up
  • Replace it with something you’d prefer
  • Change the location you do it in

Let me know if you have tried these methods. I’ll let you know next time I’m up at 2.3oam…