The No.1 Thing That Prevents You from Changing Your Habits

by | Nov 10, 2015

Photo by Steve Rhodes

When I first went to college the last thing I cared about was learning to cook. Neither of my parents had a degree, and by the time I was in middle school it was clear to me that higher education was my only ticket to salvation.

I remember running errands with my mom one afternoon and seeing her bump into an old classmate she knew from high school. “Oh, hi! Wow, I haven’t seen you in 20 years.”

They exchanged pleasantries and parted ways. It was obvious the two of them had no real desire to keep up with each other and that they were just being polite for etiquette’s sake. We were all glad when it was over.

The school they both attended was only a few blocks down the street and I knew it would be my fate to go there as well. Class of ’97. Go Vanguards.

Oh shit.

It didn’t take much for my brain to leap forward 24 years and imagine myself in her position, shopping at the same Albertson’s with my own children in tow, casually running into one of the mean kids who called me names and harassed me all year long when I was 14.

At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse.

My fear of ending up in the same unhappy environment I grew up in became the driving force in shaping my personality for the next several years. I was fiercely ambitious and completely focused on doing well in school.

Learning to prepare and cook food didn’t register as anywhere near necessary, let alone important enough to take up space in my overly intellectual brain. Clearly I had “better” things to do.

It took a massive overhaul of my world view––one so big I changed careers––for me to take chopping an onion or roasting a chicken seriously.

In retrospect my college life would have been much easier, and I may not have gained so much weight those first two years (25 lbs), had I known how to cook. More important, my transition to becoming a foodist would have been far less difficult had I not been starting from scratch in the kitchen.

As with most new habits, the no.1 limiting factor in creating change was my own mind. More specifically, the limiting beliefs I had about myself and my identity that prevented me from taking a positive action to make my life better.

If I’m completely honest with myself, there was a time I thought I was too good for cooking. Obviously this is ridiculous and far from true, but at the time it prevented me from making cooking a priority or even trying something new.

Even more ridiculous is that I was proud of being so block-headed. Will someone please go back in time and smack me with a spatula?

Limiting beliefs come from within, but they are shaped by the world around us. For instance, had I grown up in a culture that put more value on home cooking, say in France or Italy, I probably would not have belittled it so much in my mind.

Is it surprising that it was during my year studying abroad in Italy when I finally learned how to work a stove? I don’t think so.

Typically there is some benefit of holding onto a limiting belief in the beginning. In my case, distancing myself from my mother and my hometown encouraged me to be an excellent student, ultimately awarding me two prestigious degrees. Not too shabby.

The trouble comes when we start limiting ourselves too broadly, in realms where the beliefs are no longer useful and can even cause harm to ourselves or those around us.

My belief that I needed to focus exclusively on my career meant that I also believed spending time on domestic tasks was a waste of time. I took the positive value of a strong work ethic and projected it too far, letting it keep me from trying things that could drastically improved my life.

In this way limiting beliefs hold us back in ways we don’t even realize.

How does this apply to you? We all have limiting beliefs that prevent us from making positive changes in our lives.

Maybe you believe you can’t take care of your own health because you need to give your children and family all of your attention.

Maybe you believe you can’t exercise because you hate running on the dreadmill.

Maybe you believe you can never lose weight because everyone in your family is “big boned.”

A limiting belief typically manifests as a vague sense of discomfort or defensiveness around a topic. What I’ve learned is that if I have a broad, sweeping reason I can’t do something instead of concrete, specific reasons, then there’s a good chance I’m being held back by a limiting belief.

Recognizing your limiting beliefs can be hard, but you can get better at it with practice. For instance, if you say you can’t cook dinner at night because you’re “just way too busy,” I’d wager that a limiting belief is preventing you from even trying.

One reason for this may be that you haven’t practiced cooking much, so every time you try it is frustrating and takes a substantial amount of time, as is true of anything that you’re learning for the first time.

Another possibility is that you can cook, but are accustomed to choosing complicated recipes that require many different components and lots of attention to detail. You’re actually just too tired at the end of the day for that kind of effort.

In one case you tell yourself you don’t have time, when you actually just haven’t acquired the skills. In the other you believe all cooking needs to be complex and time-consuming.

In both cases knowing a few simple cooking techniques, having a weekend shopping habit, and a handful of Home Court Recipes would solve the problem.

If you get past the limiting belief, you can go about tackling these much simpler, more practical concerns. Instead of having to move mountains to find an extra hour in your day, in a few weeks you’ll be able to walk in the door after work and whip something up in under 30 minutes.

Recognizing your limiting beliefs helps you turn a seemingly insurmountable problem into a smaller, more manageable challenge you can actually handle. There are creative solutions to almost all simple problems, but you have to be willing to consider them.

Can you recognize a limiting belief you have now or have held in the past. How has it served you and how might you be applying it too broadly in your life now?

Modified from the original published September 15, 2014.

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51 Responses to “The No.1 Thing That Prevents You from Changing Your Habits”

  1. Sara says:


    As a subscriber to your SummerTomato weekly newsletter, I enjoy reading through the insightful links you include in your Friday rundown as well as your pithy commentary on Foodist ideals. I don’t, however, appreciate your use of colorful language in your articles. It isn’t necessary. Yes, you may call me old-fashioned, but some of us still refrain from WTF, sh**, and other modern “intellectual” language when conversing.

    Thanks for the good work you do for those of us trying to traverse the ocean of health and nutrition information out there. That is appreciated.

    • Gwendolyn says:

      Sara – I agree 100%! I’m annoyed and actually right in the middle of emailing Darya.

      • MR says:

        Employing “colorful language” is a method of creating colloquial style, of setting mood and tone, of being inviting. To write “shit” is to suggest authenticity, honesty, and sincerity. It is a good move on Darya’s part, and puts many readers of this casual lifestyle blog at ease.

        Hemingway advised that there is no other word for “shit” than shit: call it what it is.

        I don’t know which baffles me more: the suggestion that “sh**” is supposed to somehow be less offensive than “shit” spelled out, or that there are not one but two readers who are offended by the word.

      • Natalie says:

        I disagree 100% and have no problem with your language, Darya. It’s real and relatable.

      • Chrysan says:

        I’m a huge fan of Darya’s and read her blog religiously. I love that she writes in a causal “colorful” tone and doesn’t take life too seriously (because it should be awesome, right?). Her writing is much more real, authentic and interesting to read this way. Revolutionary, “holy shit” findings call for language that matches!

      • Craig says:

        I tend to overlook the potty patter but if it gets orgasmic it feels like tmi. Think about pure and lovely things like this instead?

      • Brian says:

        Of course your name is “Gwendolyn”

    • sloane says:


      As someone who has also been following Darya for years (4, to be exact), I don’t quite understand why you think it’s okay to tell Darya to change her writing style to appease you. I find her use of “colorful” language refreshing, as I’m sure many of her other readers feel the same. You may be “old-fashioned,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of Darya’s readers are.

      So perhaps, next time, maybe just MAYBE you’ll be able to tolerate other people for who they are instead of chastising them for not being more like yourself.

      • JIm says:

        As one of the older generation, I too feel the need to relate better to the younger generation. And
        I too enjoy greatly Darya’s commentary and articles.
        Paradoxically, I find no need for today’s use of trashy language in either writing or speaking–so in vogue and so sophisticated–gee Mommy I’m adult now I can say shit –one of the great benefits of culture on the West Side (what a joke). It’s neither edgy, colloquial nor Hemingwayesque (if by Hemingway one is making an inference to masterful writing). But, I do want to relate better to today’s young sophisticates, so I find it “microaggressive” and invading my “safe space.” It offends my sense of intolerance and is therefore politically incorrect.

    • Cactus Wren says:

      Sara, in the words of Ina May Gaskin: “If you find any of these words offensive to you, perhaps you should search your soul. Because these are only words.”

    • Farnaz says:

      WTF? Really? This sounds like a limiting belief (opinion). 😉 I absolutely adore the way she writes. Reading her articles is often the highlight of my day and I wouldn’t want one tiny part of it changed.

    • Geege says:

      Sara, words are just words. Language evolves, and words undergo changes in usage and even meaning; Don’t be so rigid. I am 74 years old, but have evolved along with our culture. For that reason I enjoy a great relationship with my children and grandchildren. Just allow the richness of communication to enrich your life!

    • John Fawkes says:

      As a fellow blogger, I can shed some light on this: it’s about conveying her personality. Her expertise is only half the reason people read Summer Tomato- there are plenty of other health bloggers out there saying similar things. The only way to set herself apart is to convey some personality. She can swear, she can go the opposite route and be incredibly prim and proper, she can make comic book and anime references, she can pepper her writing with weird jokes- but one thing that’s not an option is being totally dry. No way to convey personality without putting some people off, unfortunately.

  2. Mattie says:

    You’re my favourite foodie.

  3. Becca Jensvold Hayes says:

    I love this! As someone who hates to cook (tragically, its true, I wish it weren’t, but it is) I know I just need to modify my views and maybe I will learn to love it. Could just be that being mom and cooking for kids, creates that feeling of it all just being another chore. Keep up the amazing work, love to see how far you’ve come from behind the ‘Orange Curtain’…and BTW, I cannot for one second imagine anyone making fun of you or being mean to you, I just remember a super cool confident girl!

  4. Beth says:


    Thank you so much for this. This issue is something I’ve been struggling with lately and your encouraging words are very helpful (as always). Please don’t change those words, YOUR words, because others might find them uncomfortable. YOUR message, and how you choose to express it, are what make hanging out in the Summer Tomato Cafe so enjoyable and educational.

  5. Marie says:

    hi Darya, i’ve been following your blog for quite some time now and i just wanted to say that it was a good part of the inspiration to change my healthstyle (i really like that concept !).

    The last example i have in mind is i’ve started running this summer.
    I’ve always THOUGHT i hated running, i’ve always BELIEVED i was not a runner, and of course i’ve made fun of those poor girls (or even my own friends i’m ashamed to say) i was seeing running in the street and who didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as they seemed to suffer.

    Having suffered myself in my young years at school by feeling humiliated every time we had to take on running in gym class (and i would end up last and feel shitty), i never thought for a minute i would ever start doing it again. I even had a whole set of excuses to never do it again : “my boobs are too big, it hurts” (buy a sportsbra dumdum !), “i can’t breathe and run at the same time” (made a lot of friends laugh with this one, and thus validated my belief), “this city is too polluted” (well it is, but i still walk in it every day), “i’m not good at it, my gym teacher from a zillion years ago told me so” (in my mind, not with actual words).

    Then i started changing my lifestyle a bit (got a podometer for christmas haha !), one habit after another. And then i started exercising a bit every day. 5 minutes turned into 20-25, but still, i was keeping it in the safety of my living room, exercising with my wii. Yet among other exercises, it got me running on-the-spot. For 3 minutes at first, then 5 minutes, than 8 or 10 minutes. My own best friend told me it was useless to “fake-run” like this. Well that was hurtful thank you. But i felt like at least it was better than sitting on my couch doing nothing. In the end, it proved not useless at all on another level : it was actually changing my belief in my abilities, without me exactly realizing it.

    In august i read an article you shared, telling that running 5 minutes a day is good for your health. I was leaving for the summer holidays, i had a dog to walk, what could go wrong ? I started running in the morning.
    5 minutes. Then 7. That became 10, 12, 18, 24, 30, 44 minutes over the course of 3 weeks (you can imagine the dog was overjoyed on the last days with the morning runs becoming longer and longer !) (me too as a matter of fact).

    I’ve come back home in a big city, and kept up the habit of going running every morning, of actually WAKING UP EARLY only to go running (it gives me purpose to wake up, and i love it). I’m now quietly up to 30 minutes per day during the week, 45 on week-end days. I was afraid i would stop after the holidays. That the city would kill the buzz, or even only my motivation. But it didn’t. I did not listen to any of the stories building up in my mind. It has become a habit, it’s part of my daily routine, and part of who i am now (it still feels weird to acknowledge it but i’m quite proud of it at the same time !).

    This post really brings the point home for me : i have long thought that i was not “the type of person” to do this or that (cook, run, whatever) and it’s actually limited my quality of life in a way. Realizing it for the past months, and seeing it in writing today, it simply crushes a lot of the stories i’m telling myself and that actually prevent me from doing anything. As of today, i’m never telling myself “i’ll never run a marathon”. I don’t know if i will, but i stay opened to the idea that it might one day actually happen, that i might one day fancy doing it, and feel/be able to do it. The nice part is it can be applied to anything else in life. And i hope it will ^^.

    Thanks for all the insight and the sharing, your words and your experience do inspire change. And today self-belief.

  6. Marcy says:

    Love to cook and eat, which is why I enjoy your blog so much. Even when I had young kidlets at home and was working full time, I loved putting meals together. Often times it meant that Sunday was the BIG cooking day and the rest of the week might be my attempt at creative leftovers, which my kids hate to this day.
    Housecleaning was my issue, though I’ve learned to tolerate it because I do love clean and tidy.
    Thanks for all your insight.

  7. marlene says:

    What an inspirational post…..I love it.
    You have so many insights about life and I thank you for sharing them with your readers. Thank you!!!

  8. Rosemarie says:

    Thank you for your very thoughtful message. It’s caused me to do a lot of thinking about myself and where I am in my life right now. There have been so many things that have happened in the past several years that have changed me and shaken my faith. I wondered where I lost my fearlessness. I have also been at the onset of new experiences – starting a new business, ridding myself of some bad habits, new relationships. And found myself frozen and in some cases moving backwards. Limiting beliefs apply in all of these situations. You’ve caused me to do some soul searching. Thank you. And never stop writing using your own words.

  9. anniemax says:

    But did you ever stop thinking your mother was a failure?

    • sloane says:

      I don’t think she ever thought her mother was a failure. In fact, you’re the only person who mentioned “failure” on this entire page.

    • Darya Rose says:

      sloane is right, this was not intended as a judgement on my mother. I was trying to illustrate my fear of remaining stagnant in a place where I wasn’t particularly happy. This incident showed me clearly that change wasn’t at all guaranteed, and that if I wanted something different and better for myself I had to actually do something about it.

      For what it’s worth my mother wasn’t a particularly happy person, though I don’t think that made her a failure. I do know that she wanted better for me.

      • Dave says:

        As parents, we are limited by circumstances, locales, history. At times, we act out of familiarity, not knowing there are other options. Life evolves, so people who parented a certain way at the beginning of the 20th century would find that those skills would not work today.
        Here is my barometer on the success of a parent: How have the children turned out?
        Darya’s mom was no failure…look at the resultant product. Sure, there were ups and downs as in everything, but the result is the reward. She did the best she could, or knew how, and directed the path (even unknowingly) of Darya.
        We are only failures if we choose to be.

  10. elaine ryan says:

    My limiting belief is that I can’t do 10,000 steps a day. I’ve already worked out with weights and done yoga which came to less than 1000 steps today. How can I fit in more?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Maybe your limiting belief is that you have to do 10k steps per day? I recommend 10k steps as a simple heuristic to 1) avoid sedentary behavior, and 2) burn more calories without spiking hunger. For people living in walkable cities it isn’t that hard to do, but maybe that isn’t true for you and it’s worth finding an alternative (or even a few alternatives that add up to similar benefit).

      Also keep in mind that 10k is arbitrary. Simply raising your steps to 5k gets you halfway there.

  11. John says:

    The contributor seems to have a ‘grass is greener’ attitude to the cities mentioned. It is possible to get good food anywhere if you look hard enough. You may not have access to all ingredients, which can be frustrating, but life is a bit like that.
    My only longer term objection to meal delivery services like PlateJoy ( in Australia here we have a very successful similar operation called ‘Lite n Easy) is that it doesn’t seem to help in teaching people how to source, prepare and cook healthy food, which I think your article was trying to encourage.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thank you for being the only person who answered my challenge! I’d be delighted to send you a signed copy of Foodist as a thank you 🙂

      I had a slightly different interpretation of the commenter’s limiting belief. He seems to have divided the world into “us vs them”, mocking people who live in cities as being privileged and lazy. I detect a hint of envy with the derisive “pretty people” comment as well. It’s the same attitude that had people making fun of cellphones and social media years after they are widely adopted, and it would likely stop him from considering a potentially useful solution if he saw it as something “those people” would do.

  12. Kathryn says:

    I too was offended by the swear word in your recent email – it made me physically recoil when I read it. I have since unsubscribed as I don’t need this type of language arriving in my email.

  13. La says:

    Wow, I had no idea so many people would be offended by words like WTF and shit! Funny… I’m more offended (and likely to unsubscribe) if writers mix up your/you’re or there/their/they’re! LOL. Anyway, bygones…

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I know that I’ve overcome beliefs about myself in the past that held me back from achieving things. I think those beliefs were a form of safety – so that I didn’t even bother trying and risking failure or rejection.

    So now, I’m trying to figure out what my current limiting beliefs about myself are. It might be that I don’t like doing (or have time to do) household chores. I really hate cleaning/tidying and just do the basics. But I know that having an untidy space can lead to an untidy diet (as described in Peter Walsh’s book “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?”), so I’m going to look at that a little more closely. For the record, I don’t live in total chaos/squalor, but not the super clean/tidy/organized house that so many other people pride themselves on.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Inspirational post, for sure! As an adult I would cook with a couple of friends for big, fun dinner parties. One started telling me how “bad” I was as a cook I was (telling me I didn’t stir properly and so forth). It took the joy out of cooking for me for a long time. It wasn’t until I started cooking with the man that I married that I realized how supportive and loving and healing cooking could be. I continue to love sharing the kitchen with my husband and am overjoyed that I can spend time in the kitchen supporting my three kids as they start exploring cooking. My two oldest want to start cooking a weekly meal for their grandparents. Thanks for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine! 🙂

  15. Vivian McDonagh says:

    Your last two articles have provided great insight and “food for thought” that challenged me to examine not only YOUR message but those of your readers. I’ll admit that my first inclination was to focus on the thoughts of your Mother, some of which did not seem that flattering but then, I began to think about your message. Your articles were not talking about your mother specifically or the value of whether or not one can enjoy an In And Out Burger. Your writing was challenging us to stretch, expand or go beyond our self imposed beliefs and expectations. FOCUS PEOPLE!
    Darya’s message is the “entree”…not the comments about her mother”s life choices, her writing style and choice of words, or hamburger preference. These rest are just side items that keep you from stretching your mind into a better and happier you.
    And, that my fellow readers, is the gem here.

  16. elaine ryan says:

    It depends a lot on your lifestyle or even phase of life. I am retired now and shopping and cooking healthy is an easy thing. But when my sons were in sports and I worked long hours, many nights were hot dogs or fast food at 10 o’clock at night. A local cooking delivery service would have been a truly wonderful thing.

  17. Dee says:

    I still think I’m ‘too good for cooking’ it’s still a chore … But I do it because it’s the only way I keep skinny and my partner won’t do it…. And it’s a form of slow exercise

    My parents spoiled me allowed me to always focus selfishly on my life and academics and ignoring menial tasks like cooking and cleaning … But I now know the importance of making those things come naturally , so I teach my kids that regardless of how much money we have or social status

  18. Jani Moon says:

    Darya, I love how raw & real you are. It blows my mind that the word “shit” has created just a hissy when we should instead be focusing on our freaking “limiting beliefs” that hold us back like “in order to be a good person I have to not cuss” or “I have to be look a certain way to receive love” or my personal favorite, “I can’t get a man unless I’m skinny.” Thanks for saying the difficult, vulnerable “shit” that too many of us are just too scared to say. <3<3 <3

  19. RNPattiD says:

    Darya, your writing, your blog, the wisdom you bring to food and eating habits are all invaluable. If someone can’t tolerate an occasional four-letter word then they should probably just unsubscribe, and deprive themselves of all the good your articles bring. Their loss. Me, I crave your posts, finding gradually just gradually I’m changing life long damaging habits and loving every minute of it. Keep on with what you do! You’re saving lives, in tiny steps…what could be better than that?

  20. Dade Dyana says:

    Wow Darya! This is a great post and I am so glad you pulled it from the archives to share with those of us newer to the blog. This has a very powerful message – one that we should all take to heart. How often do you look back to this post? I think I will need to keep this bookmarked to remind myself how frequently we all limit ourselves.

  21. As a life coach, I often run up against client’s limiting beliefs and I want to share an observation. I posit that how you ask a question (of yourself or others) is AS important as the question you ask. So for example, if I ask a client “Why don’t you cook more?” most people would answer that question question with all the reasons they don’t cook more. But, if I ask “How can you cook more?” they answer that question instead, they become problem solvers, they think of ways to cook more and usually implement them even without my prompting.

    The same thing happens when we talk to ourselves. If I keep saying to myself “what’s wrong with me, why can’t I get fit?” I will answer that question with all of the things that I perceive as being wrong with me and all the reasons that I can’t get fit. This just reinforces the negative, self-limiting beliefs I have about not being able to get fit. If I ask the question: “how can I get fit?’ – then I become my own problem-solver and find solutions that will work in my life.

    In this way, how we phrase the question itself can enforce or free us from self-limiting beliefs.

    • Darya Rose says:

      100% agree. That’s the principle behind motivational interviewing. Thanks for the insight.

      • KB says:

        This is great. I realize now that my limiting beliefs have started to drown me lately, mostly concerning my dissertation, but also spilling over into fitness, eating, cleaning…asking myself these how questions seems like a good start.

    • Craig says:

      I’ve been challenged to do the gym workout 3x/wk. limiter was perceiving the need to get there early and performance. And have fun. Now I call it a trip outside and reward myself for just getting there. I also find doing abs first rather than last though unconventional gives me positive feedback.

  22. Mel says:

    One of the things I like about Summer Tomato is that you write like I talk, which makes it all more relatable. So, yep, I cuss. Don’t change.

  23. Kathleen Malone-bogusky says:

    Not surprising given that I just joined your 30 day learn how to become a cook training, I have a limiting belief that I am not designed given my math/science type mind to cook without recipes. I always tell people there are two types of cooks the artistic type who can just throw things together but don’t usually make it exactly the same the second time around (both times good though) and me the scientific one who needs a recipe to start and could change it around the edges. This is limiting since when I get food in the CSA I have no idea how to use it and it takes too long sometimes to figure it out that it goes bad before I get around to it. Also if I am missing ingredients I am stumped. Anyway I am opening my horizons and seeing if it is possible for me to do this.

  24. John Fawkes says:

    Yeah, I used to think cooking was too time-consuming. Which it can be, but then again I can also scramble some eggs, or throw a bunch of stuff in the slow cooker and leave it for a few hours.

    I also used to think healthy food couldn’t taste good, but that was based largely on misconceptions about which foods are and are not healthy. Turns out meat and vegetables, without the grains, can be both healthy and delicious with the right spices.

  25. merrie says:

    Just a quick response to the debate about using curse words in writing: If part of your audience is put off by the use of these words in your blog, what benefit is there in using them? I’m convinced that Darya is a talented, real, and relatable author without the use of words that offend some of the people she hopes to benefit through her writing.

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