One Reason Habits Are Hard To Change

Have you ever tried to change a habit and found it more difficult than it should be? Have you ever done something without consciously thinking about it? Have you ever created a new habit and had it sabotaged by your subconscious mind?

That’s what happened to me yesterday.

I decided that I wanted to go faster on my bike.

I researched the topic, asked questions, and came up with a great solution.

I bought a used set of biking shoes and clip on pedals for my road bike. Everyone told me that they would make me more efficient, keep my feet aligned, and above all… make me faster!

I believed them.

Oh and everyone told me that I would fall at least once

Hmmmm I though… a little scary.

I went down to the bike shop and had the pedals put on and had the guy set the bike up for me. He put my bike on a treadmill stand, adjusted the seat, and showed me how to clip my biking shoes into the new pedals.


Push down and forward until they click in. You’re hooked up.

Turn the back of your foot away from the bike to release.

Click in, click out. Simple!

I took the bike home, put on my riding gear and helmet and headed out to the front curb. I put one foot in the clip… click. I held on to the mailbox and hooked in the second foot… click.

I started to pedal, let go of the mailbox, and…

rode around the neighborhood for over a half hour. I climbed hills, went down ravines, and found the new shoes and pedals to be very enjoyable. I tried turning my feet outward and disconnecting my shoes… unclick… easy.

I tried reconnecting while riding… foot up, align, click… easy.

Everything was going well until I went down the little hill in front of my house. I turned around and found I was in too high a gear to pedal back up.

The bike stopped.

I fell over and crashed.

My neighbors probably thought it was funny. I didn’t know what hurt worse… my hip where I landed, my leg that scraped against the gear, or my pride for just falling over like the guy on the tricycle on Laugh-In.

I did what any self respecting personal development person would do. I got back on the bike and tried again.

Left pedal up… clicked in. Start pedaling… right foot up, align pedal, click in, oops, not clicked in, click in, oops… not clicked in, slowing, try again, no click… oops…

fall over… crash.

This time I crashed much harder.

I’m lying in the street, bleeding, with my left hip really hurting, my arm all jacked up, my pride in the toilet, and I did what any self respecting personal development guy would do.

I gave up.

I walked my bike back to the house, straightened the seat, and put it away. It didn’t have a scratch on it.

I on the other hand had scratches, lumps, and a bruised ego.

What went wrong, I thought?

It was a rather simple problem. My forty years of biking experience had taught me to pull my foot backwards off the pedal when the bike stopped, and put my foot down on the ground to keep me from falling over.

When the crisis came, my subconscious mind took over, and tried to pull my foot backwards. It didn’t work… I was locked in… and I fell over and went boom.

My conscious mind said turn your foot out, but my subconscious muscle memory said something completely different… pull your foot back.

The subconscious mind won out.

I have a problem.

I have my first triathlon coming up in two weeks. I want to ride fast!

But I certainly don’t want to fall over and crash in the midst of hundreds of riders. That would not be good. The thought of people riding over me is not a pleasant one.

So what do I do?

Here is my solution…

I will take off the click-in pedals and replace them with a standard pedal with a single toe clip. This will work with my new biking shoes to give me more power transfer through out the pedal cycle and also give me something I really need.


It will give me peace of mind that I’ll be able to pull my foot back off the pedals consciously or subconsciously when I need too. That I won’t crash and burn!

Changing old habits isn’t easy, especially when muscle memory is involved.

Sometimes a work-around is necessary.

Here is a question for you…

Have you ever had to break a habit like this, where the subconscious took over? If so, how did you do it?


  1. lyn adler says

    Outwitting the brain. Great blog post, John. It definitely elicited a few chuckles from me—not to mention spot on for where I am right now. I just added to your request (from a month or so ago) for good reads, a book called, HARD Goals, by Mark Murphy. A big premise of the book is "outflanking" the brain, as Murphy puts it. Which this post reminded me of. I'm pretty new to this brain science stuff, but Murphy has me hooked and I am committed to learning more. Best of luck on your upcoming triathlon.

  2. Laura says

    This was really enjoyable to read. I found myself laughing a little too loud! I am a nursing student and just went to an alcoholic anonymous meeting for an assignment. I was wondering what "habit" had to do with forming a new way of life. This is a great lesson for my topic as well.

    It takes a lot of determination, commitment, training and seeking knowledge to change your bad habits into a positive one. And, maybe you have to try another route to get the success you desire.

    Anyhow, thank you for such a wonderful story!


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