Have you ever tried to start a new habit, with all the determination and good intentions you can muster, only to slowly fall back into your old ways? Whether it’s losing weight, starting a new exercise routine, spending 20 minutes a day cleaning your house, spending less time on social media or Netflix, saving more money every month, or whatever you want to change… we all start off with tons of momentum. We’re sure that THIS time is going to be different. This time we’re going to stick to our word. This time we’re really going to make it happen. But we usually don’t.
The statistics on sustained behavior change are pretty dismal. Only 10% of people who make New Year’s Resolutions are still keeping them by February. And only 3% of people who lose weight can keep it off for more than a year. It’s not because we’re weak-willed or lazy. Most people just don’t have a good understanding of how the human brain works. They put all their energy into trying to change what they DO, without paying any attention to changing the way they think.
When you change your habits but you hold onto the same old thought patterns, it feels like a struggle. You’re always having to pay attention to make sure you’re following the new rules. You have to keep reminding yourself to do the new thing instead of the old thing. And because the old thing feels familiar and comfortable, but the new thing takes effort and focus, you’re subconsciously still thinking about “the good old days” when things were easy. Most of us can white-knuckle our way through discomfort or deprivation for a couple of weeks. Maybe a month or two. But eventually we start letting our old habits creep back into our daily routine. Other people don’t fall into line with our new plans. Your workout partner cancels on you. The receptionist at work keeps bringing donuts and ordering pizza for the whole office. That Coach bag you wanted so badly just went on sale. Temptations don’t stop happening. Over time, our determination is repeatedly tested until it deteriorates and falls apart.
You’re not a failure. You just need better tools.
You’ve heard the expression that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail? The more tools you have at your disposal, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with life’s challenges. The problem is that most of us only have 1 or 2 coping skills to deal with stress, frustration, or fatigue. Remember that old habit you were so determined to change? That was probably your go-to coping skill. That was how you rewarded yourself for a hard day, or calmed yourself down when you were stressed out. That was your familiar and comfortable mental space where you could retreat from the world and relax. It was easy and familiar and pleasant, which is why you never stopped wishing you could have it back.
The key to creating and sustaining a new habit is to make it something that you enjoy and look forward to. You can’t be telling yourself how much it sucks to get up at 5AM to go to the gym, if you expect to keep it up for very long. Our capacity to do things we find unpleasant is very limited. Our brains want to do things that we find rewarding, pleasant, and easy. So if you want to make a change in your life, it starts with training yourself to think of your new habit as something you look forward to instead of something you dread. Stop telling yourself “I have to”, and start telling yourself “I get to!”
You can’t create your new life if you’re mourning the loss of your old life. When you have to make yourself do something, you’ll always be looking for an excuse not to. When you enjoy and look forward to doing it, nothing will stop you.
Learning how to motivate yourself takes practice and patience. Changing our own thought patterns is one of the most challenging things we can do, but once you learn it will empower you to create transformation in your life. It’s the most important work you can do for yourself.
If you want to level-up your life but you need help getting started, remember that I’m here for you. Schedule your free 30-minute consult call so we can discuss and strategize a plan for your new life.