We were in the studio a few years back when our producer pulled Mac to the side.

“We gotta talk about Mark, your guitar player.”

Mac didn’t know what to expect next. Had I said something to offend? Did I have an attitude problem? Was there an issue with my playing? No, it was none of those.

“That boy drinks too much Diet Coke.”

While this conversation was all in good fun, it is pretty indicative of how things have been for the last twenty years, and in a sense my whole life.

I’ve always liked sodas. My Granddaddy owned a country store, and I have fond memories of running into the store with my cousins and getting Cokes in glass bottles out of the drink cooler. I like to think we looked like some redneck version of a Norman Rockwell painting as we sat out in front of the store eating peanuts and drinking Coke.

It wasn’t really a problem, though. When I was a kid, there was a natural cutoff. If we ran out of soda, I usually had to wait for my parents to go to the grocery store and get more.

Starting in college, things changed. If I ran out of Coke, I could get more whenever I wanted. My roommate and I started a pyramid of Coke cans that turned into a tower that turned into an entire wall of soda. Until one of us (I forget who) tried to tiptoe in early one morning and accidentally destroyed the tower with a loud crash.

When I was in college, credit card companies regularly set up shop on campus to try to get students to sign up. They would offer shopping gift certificates, or video games, or just plain cash.

You know what enticed me to sign up for a credit card? A two liter bottle of Pepsi.

This has been my entire adult life in a nutshell. The only thing that changed was that I switched from regular soda to diet soda about ten years ago.

Until last spring. I don’t know if it was turning 40 or what. But I was sick of it. I was sick of the joking and the justifying. I was sick of (literally) losing sleep because of it. But mainly I was sick of having something in my life that I couldn’t control.

So I started in May. I allowed myself to have 7 diet drinks a day. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I was drinking far more than that. I calculated 7 as the minimum I could drink without sacrificing anything.

Every week, I would lower the number by one. 6, then 5, then 4, 3, 2, 1. I changed so gradually that it didn’t feel like change at all. Every week, I simply got used to the “new normal”. Strangely enough, by the time I got down to about 2, I had made enough changes that I could have quit cold turkey. But I didn’t let myself. I stuck with the program.

After several weeks, I had tapered to the point that I could make it through a whole day without drinking soda. That’s when I set up some rules. I really think these rules can apply to most any habit you’re trying to change,

Never say never. I never said I would never drink another diet soda. I’ve tried that before and it’s really, really hard.

Isolate the need, and fulfill it in other ways. I figured out three major reasons  I drank diet sodas.

  1. The caffeine – I’ve started drinking coffee in the morning to wake me up. If I get tired in the afternoons I’ll take a short nap if possible. A brisk walk also works wonders.
  2. The taste – I’ve learned to like tea, and usually drink it at meals. Instead of relying on artificial sweeteners, I usually drink unsweetened tea and add just a splash of sweet for flavor.
  3. The carbonation – I’ve become a big fan of sparkling water. It’s kind of an acquired taste, but I like it. You can also get it in all kinds of flavors. Coconut is my favorite.

Predict your problem times, and come up with a plan. For me, I knew I would want a diet drink at the movies. Also, for some reason, I cannot picture eating pizza without soda. And then there are “those days”. Days where I’ve been traveling and I’m rundown and tired. I’ve allowed myself to get a Coke Zero during  all of the above times. I end up drinking about four or five of these a week, but hey, it’s literally about 75 less than what I was drinking before! And the best part is that this is totally sustainable.

I genuinely believe this general idea can be applied to anything in your life you want to change. I’ve started applying it to other areas and have been surprised at the results. More on that next time…

What about you? Have you had any success in changing bad habits? Do you have any tips you can offer? Do you have anything you’d like to change? Use the comments to share!