How to Taper Unwanted Behaviors Slowly Over Time to Achieve your Goals

Have you ever wanted to quit something, but just lacked the willpower to stick with it?  I know I have.  But my recent weight loss has reminded me of a process I stumbled on long ago – how to wean myself off of something I’m trying to quit.  Take things one step at a time rather than just pull the plug.  As I look back at my life, I’ve used this method over and over and over to achieve success.  You can, too.

Willpower or won’t power?

Cold turkey is tough.  It takes a huge amount of willpower, and there’s recent research that claims that willpower just won’t cut it when you’re trying to fight something like quitting smoking, or in my case, eating less and losing weight.

Reduce and don’t replace

I found this method when I cut out my sugar intake years ago.  There were two components to this method.  First, start cutting back how much of whatever you’re trying to quit a little at a time.  Second, once you have it removed, don’t substitute to replace it.  I think that’s our biggest mistake – diet soda, for instance.  If you remove the soda completely, you lose the craving.

When I wanted to cut my sugar intake, I reduced it to where I could stand it.  For instance, in my coffee, I slowly started to put less and less sugar in it, forcing myself to deal with the stronger flavor.  I’d do this and stay with the reduced amount for a week or two, then reduce it a little more.  While this process is slow, it allows your body and mind time to adjust.  After a while, I was able to drink coffee without any sugar at all. What I don’t recommend is replacing one thing with another, so in this case, using sweetener doesn’t actually help you.  Your body still tastes sweet, and will still crave the sweet taste. In case you missed all the news, sweeteners are bad for you, possibly worse than sugar.  I’ve been drinking coffee without sugar for years now, and if I get a hold of a cup with sugar in it, it’s far too sweet for me to even finish.  This is critical, you have to do without a substitute or replacement, otherwise, you don’t lose the taste or the craving.

Black coffee?  I can’t believe it

Yesterday I was reminded of this method by my morning cup of coffee, yet again.  One of the things I’ve done to lose weight is to cut back the amount of cream I use in my coffee.  I’ve been using heavy whipping cream because it doesn’t have sugar in it compared to the whole milk I was using.  But it is high in calories, so while I’m reducing calories, I’ve been reducing on a lot of fronts.  I’ve been using less and less cream in my coffee for the last two months.  Yesterday, I had to have some blood work done, which requires fasting. Although, water and black coffee are acceptable.  In the past, I wouldn’t drink coffee the morning of a blood test, loathing the idea of drinking my coffee black.  I like very strong coffee.  But yesterday, it popped into my mind that I’ve reduced my cream so much, that not having the teaspoon of cream probably won’t make much difference in the flavor, and it would be “legal” for my blood test.

To my surprise, I could drink the coffee black without issue.  Do I prefer it this way?  No.  I do not.  But that’s not the point.  It reminded me of this method of decreasing a little at a time until you get to your goal.

Cold turkey is the hardest way

We have this idea derived from our zero-tolerance policies around drugs and alcohol that we must quit cold turkey, and that’s the only way for us to get to our goals.  The problem is, those only work when they are stridently enforced by an outside party.  Like the police or rehab centers.  The key to successfully reducing something in your life is to slowly wean yourself off of it until the craving goes away.  And it will.  Does that mean that you’re perfect and this will be smooth one-way downward slope into abstention?  No, it does not, and to expect that from yourself is to set yourself up for failure.

Your goal is to reduce the amount.  If it’s cigarettes, smoke one less per day. Do that until you are comfortable with the new level, then reduce again.  There’s no set time period between reduction.  This method works because it allows your mind and body time to adjust to the new levels.

Success breeds success

There’s also a snowball effect that happens once you’ve seen some success.  You start to want to succeed more, and you’re willing to be a little more aggressive in your reduction.  Success breeds success, and this shows through brightly when you start moving towards your goals.

The key is to not allow yourself to substitute.  So if you’re reducing sugar, don’t replace sugar with a sweetener.  Your mind and body won’t reduce your craving for sweet if you do.  If you’re trying to lose weight and reducing the amount you eat, don’t try to eat more of low-calorie foods.  You see the point.  The key here is to slowly reduce, not substitute one thing for another, and give yourself time to adjust to the new level.  Once you feel comfortable with the new level, start again.  Repeat until your goal is achieved.

All you’re looking for is forward movement.  One of my favorite quotes from Todd Brison is “If you love what you do, progress beats success.”  While you may not love the idea of removing something from your life because let’s face it, we only do so when ordered by a doctor, usually, you will love the progress.  It gives you a feeling of pride in yourself and success that again, breeds more success.

I’ve used this method to remove sugar from my diet, reduce how much alcohol I drink, lose weight, and a bunch of other unsavory things that I don’t care to publish.  It works.  Share your goals below, and I’ll help support you through your journey.

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Photo by Paweł Bukowski on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “How to Taper Unwanted Behaviors Slowly Over Time to Achieve your Goals

  1. I totally understand the challenge of trying to tame my tastebuds to healthier alternatives. I was successful in making the change from heavily creamered coffee to straight black. I haven’t used creamer in 9 months and don’t miss it a bit.


    1. I can’t say I don’t miss my morning Nespresso Latte. But the cost to my health was just too high. This was, however, the first time I’ve ever “enjoyed” a cup of black coffee. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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