Identifying Your “Canary in the Coal Mine”

May 23rd, 2021

Everyone has those days where they find themselves reaching for chips instead of carrots, sitting on the couch instead of going for a walk, or scrolling social media instead of going to bed. It’s easy to get frustrated when this happens and to feel like all of your progress has been lost. But that is far from true.

A mantra that I like to repeat to myself is “what I do most of the time matters more than what I do some of the time”. This reminds me that just because I made one decision (or even a whole day full of decisions) that didn’t help move me towards my goals, it doesn’t undo all of the hard work that I have already put in. More importantly though, it reminds me to check in and find out why I’m gravitating away from my healthy habits.

There are a few easy steps to take when you find yourself drifting back into old vices:

  • Identify the “canary in the coal mine”– what habit do you revert back to first? Maybe it’s having that extra glass of wine before bed or needing a 3pm sweet treat to get through the day
  • Identify why you are reverting back to this habit– Is there a certain emotion you’re trying to numb by doing the unwanted habit? Could be extra stress at work, conflict at home, or sadness over an event with a friend
  • Acknowledge this feeling- take time to feel the feeling you’re trying to avoid. This is much easier said than done, but no matter how many cookies, glasses of wine, or TV shows you watch, whatever is bothering you will still be bothering you after you finish those and you won’t feel any better about it by ignoring it.
  • Figure out the root cause of the emotion- this might take some journaling, talking with a loved one, or maybe quiet alone time to think things through
  • Devise a plan- some problems aren’t easily fixed, and that’s okay. But having a plan of what to do when you find this behavior popping up is huge. It doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect every time and sometimes the couch will still win. Ideas could be “when I find myself avoiding sleep to scroll Instagram, I will put my phone away and journal about how I’m feeling” or “If I find myself wanting to skip the gym after work, I will take a minute to think about my day and if there’s a reason I’m feeling extra tired”

If you can identify the unwanted behavior when it pops up, chances are you’ll be able to step in and stop it before you get in too deep.


By: Cassie Zehenny