Teaching an ‘Old Dog’ New Tricks

Take a moment to remember back to when you were learning to tie your shoes as a child…

Do you remember taking your shoelaces in your tiny little fingers and trying to make “rabbit ear loops” with them? Then trying to put one loop under the other and then tried to pull it through so it stayed? Do you remember all the tries it took you before you could finally declare to the world, “Look, I can tie my shoes all by myself!”?

You might not remember that process because it was so long ago.

But now, take a moment to think of the last time you tied your shoes. Maybe it was this morning before you left the house or maybe it was the last time you got ready for your workout. Do you remember tying your shoelaces? Did you have to think about how to do it?

You probably don’t remember anything specific about tying your shoelaces because you were probably thinking of a thousand other things while you were putting your shoes on. Things like: “Am I on time?” “Is there food in the house for dinner tonight?” “Did I remember to return that phone call?” And “Uh, oh – where are my keys?”

Tying your shoes was once a challenge for you, but by practicing it over and over again, it has become automatic for you. Now it doesn’t take any mental energy for you to do this at all.

How is this possible?

The fact is tying your shoes has become a habit. It is now a routine behavior that you are able to do largely without any conscious effort. Building habits allow you to be more efficient and more productive because they allow you to free up your mind and devote its energy toward something else more important in the moment.

Behavioral researchers have determined that a very large percentage of the actions you perform in your daily life is habitual. The way you brush your teeth, the way you shower and shave yourself, the order you put your clothes on in the morning, the way you drive to work, the way you organize your desk and tackle projects, the time you take your lunch, the types of food you eat, the time of day you exercise and the types of exercises you do, even the way you handle stress in your life – all of these things you do primarily, by habit.

You have developed literally hundreds, if not thousands of habits over the course of your lifetime. Some of these habits are healthy for you and some you know are unhealthy for you.

Breaking vs. Building a Habit

I am sure you have tried to break an old habit before so I know you know how difficult it can be. I believe that the reason why it was so difficult for you to stop doing that unhealthy habit, was because you were probably concentrating on the wrong thing. I don’t think anyone actually “breaks an old habit”. I believe your behaviors only change when you form a new habit in its place.

Imagine you want to break the habit of eating ice cream every night. What do you do? Usually, you start eating something else for dessert like a popsicle or a piece of fruit. Even if you do in fact start skipping the ice cream altogether, what is really happening is you are doing some other action instead – like reading a book, or going for a walk, or making a phone call to a friend. You are really doing some other action in its place, rather than doing the action of eating ice cream.

So instead of concentrating on the habit you want to break (the habit you don’t want), focus on the habit you want to build (the habit you do want).

You have heard the saying: “You can’t teach old dogs, new tricks.” Do you believe that?

I believe it is possible for anyone to make anything a habit if the proper steps are followed and you set up the right environment for success.

First of all, you are not a dog. Secondly, you are only as old as you think you are.

So if you follow the 7-step process and put it into action, you can do anything you set your mind to.


*Exerpted from the Being Well Lifestyles Home Study Course by Dr. Jay Warren.

Drawing on over two decades of experience as a hands-on holistic practitioner, Dr. Jay Warren is a primary healthcare provider and licensed chiropractor in the San Diego area. He has spent tens of thousands of clinical hours helping his patients achieve their optimal health potential through holistic approaches bolstered by years of personal experimentation, education and research. Dr. Jay creates customized plans integrating exercise, nutrition and stress management strategies to overcome a myriad of health challenges. For more information, email drjay@drjaywarren.com or visit www.DrJayWarren.com.

About the Author

Dr. Jay Warren has been a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor for 17 years. He is also the Wellness Care Coordinator at the CAP Wellness Center in San Diego, CA where 90% of his practice is pregnant or postpartum women and babies under one year old. Dr. Jay is a proud member of the ICPA and APPPAH (the Association or Pre and Perinatal Psychology and Health) and the host of the podcast “Healthy Births, Happy Babies” in iTunes. His online program, “Connecting with Baby” guides pregnant women through processes to strengthen maternal bonding for a happier pregnancy, gentler birth and easier post-partum experience. Dr. Jay is also the proud father of his 3 year old son, Niko who keeps him very busy (and happy) outside of the office.