The 3 things that absolutely DO NOT work in developing good habits!
With everything in life that you succeed in, there is always somewhere you go wrong. Sometimes you get things wrong in a small way, other times in a big way. When I look back on my own journey on breaking old habits and fostering new habits, I can’t help but think of Miley Cyrus’s smash hit “Wrecking Ball” because that’s exactly what each attempt felt like, I came in like a wrecking ball and failed. Spectacularly. Following my post on staying disciplined and forming good habits, I feel obligated to share with you what absolutely did not work. Looking back on it now I fully understand why it didn’t work, but it took me years to get the lesson. Bad habits are barely broken by sheer force and here’s why.
The number one delusion behind building a habit is being spurred on by motivation. Any new thing you want to bring into your life must learn to sustain itself outside of motivation. Think about it, are you motivated to brush and floss your teeth every day? No, most times you just do it because you have to. Motivation is not an automatic thing, it’s an emotion, a fleeting experience. Depending on “feeling like” reading a book, writing a blog, showing up to work may work some of the time but certainly not all of the time. In my case, there I was I getting motivated in the first week to get healthier and you know how it goes:
· Buy new gear, check!
· Take a few progress photos, yup!
· Weigh myself, shock horror!
All of that necessary stuff to get the ball rolling. And sure in the first week I was living off the high that exercise gives you. I would push as many weights as possible, running as many kilometers as I could stomach, I mean I really pushed myself and it felt fantastic. However come week 2, I’m not as motivated. I skip day 1 maybe comeback day 2, brush off day 3 and 4 and come back hard on day 5. By week 3 I’m negotiating with myself that I’ll go in the evening, or I’ll double up the weights or my favourite, “Sunday is always a day” yeah sure, who was I kidding? I knew that I was done and that’s probably also the reason why I never told anyone that I was embarking on a new lifestyle journey. Because somewhere deep down inside I knew that there would be a likelihood that I would fail on this and I wasn’t going to fail in front of everyone. So what I’ve learnt through this roller coaster ride is to leave motivation out of it. What do you think spurred Miley to come in like a wrecking ball? Emotion. A motivation to try fix things with a mighty bang, but you have to go beyond the feelings and hone in on the systems around you. Letting go of motivation and going slowly is in your favour. So what’s the other thing that we mess up?
A few things I’ve learnt to accept is that any one of the people that we see on social media who are successful in their chosen field had to work hard for a long period of time. When I think about my journey to becoming a Chartered Accountant, it took a long 7 years to have 4 letters behind my name. It took me 4 years of learning and writing countless exams, then 3 years of very long hour and very tiring hours auditing financial statements. It was difficult. I felt like giving up on many occasions and I can quite blankly say that I was not driven by any motivation most of the time. So what did I take out of that experience? An appreciation of time. Nothing happens overnight and I’m glad it doesn’t. Learning patience is by far one of the most important skills that I think we all struggle with now that we live in an instant gratification world. And it’s hard to understand when you’re being spurred by motivation that you need time. I want my abs now! I want my quads now! I want my lats and traps right now! Although I have a great appreciation for the potential a 7 day ab challenge or 21 day bikini body can do for one, they can also create in our minds the idea of a time period of when we’re supposedly going to have these amazing bodies. They reinforce in our minds that a good habit has an end date, when in fact most habits shouldn’t have an expiration date, your bad habits don’t, so why should your good habits? If you’re trying to build longevity in your new lifestyle then you have to appreciate the importance of time, which brings me to my final mistake.
3. Too much too soon.
When I embarked on my journey of becoming a vegan I soon began to realize how overwhelming the experience can be. It’s not easy going from eating meat, dairy and eggs every day to none. When you factor in avoiding sugar, choosing organic and non-GMO products, you’ll be quitting veganism by noon. The key point is to focus on breaking down your lifestyle one component at a time. I focused on cuisines I liked and cut out the meat first. Once I was accustomed to that change I focused on organic products and then finally eliminating sugar a few weeks after that. It wasn’t such a total shock to the system and most importantly I didn’t feel overwhelmed. You’ve got to think of your new habit as an infant. None of us would expect a baby to compete in the Olympics, when they can barely crawl. We’d encourage, crawling, standing and walking first bearing in mind that they’d fall often, but we’d have the kindness and compassion to never give up on them. Little by little, they’d grow confidence and someday they’ll run around without thinking about it. You want your new habit to almost take over like a natural progression of life.
All of these seem pretty obvious so why do we keep repeating these mistakes? Well one thing for sure is impatience but I think on a deeper level we may lack kindness. Think about it, you’ve been programmed to do things a certain way for a long period of time (a life time perhaps), so to try and unlearn all of that takes a lot of understanding of how you think and processing things. But we get very impatient with ourselves not realizing that this is not a simple change. So much of the decisions we make are also informed by how we grew up, how we deal with problems and how we process emotion in our lives. Reminds me of the part of the song where Miley finally understands what’s required to fix things, “I never meant to start a war, I just wanted you to let me in. And instead of using force. I guess I should have let you in”. And that’s what you should be doing, letting yourself in. Changing should be a safe space of learning and growing. Bashing of your self esteem shouldn’t be tolerated, not even from you.
I’ve talked about the mindset behind gaining a new habit (click the previous article below) but I encourage you in all aspects of this to have some compassion towards yourself. Your body and mind have carried you through some of the heaviest things in the world, so practice an attitude of gratitude and you’ll be rewarded. And I strongly recommend getting off the wrecking ball.