So, what went wrong? It wasn’t like I didn’t want to do those things. I did and still do. Why was I unable stick with the goals I set for my self?
What is a habit?
My questioning lead me to Webster’s definition of habit:
- a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
- an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary <got up early from force of habit>
- a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
These definitions made me realize that I have a multitude of habits, good and bad, most formed without my noticing. If this is the case, it must mean they are easy to form, right? So why was it so hard for me to change habits I wanted?
I did some more digging and found there is a scientific process to creating and changing habits. Apparently, I was doing it all wrong. Because I set out to achieve so much at once, I ended up not accomplishing much at all.
First, you must establish the habit.
- Choose a small action. Setting goals of “exercise more” or “eat healthy” are overwhelming and can doom you to failure. Try instead “Attend Zumba class 3X per week” or “Eat one piece of fruit per day.”
- Attach the new habit to an existing one. I typically have a mid-morning snack, so I will switch it from pretzels to an apple. I’m already in the habit of grocery shopping on Monday evenings. Since the Zumba classes are across the street from the grocery store, I’ll plan to shop after the workout.
- Make sure it’s easy. It takes 3-7 repetitions in order for a habit to become conditioned, so you’ll need to focus on actions that can help you succeed during that time. I plan to tape the Zumba schedule to my refrigerator and plug it into my phone calendar. I will also keep the apples on the counter where I can see them as I pack lunch each morning.
In everyone’s subconscious, there lies a story we tell ourselves which drives our actions and habits. Oftentimes, this underlying story prevents us from making the long-term behavior changes we want. We may not even realize that we have this internal dialogue about ourselves, so writing it out can be revealing. Here’s what you can do:
- First, write out your current story around the changes you want to make. Be sure to note the things that make it difficult to keep your resolution. My story will state that it’s difficult for me to maintain these changes over a period of time because I want instant gratification. I don’t like that I have to take the time to implement changes slowly. This was an “a-ha” moment for me.
- Next, it’s time to rewrite the story with the outcome you want. It’s kind of like positive affirmations. For me, my story will be written to say that I am disciplined, consistent and patient. When I get caught up in trying to achieve too much at once, I am able to stop, reset, and start again.
Photo by Emma Simpson courtesy of Unsplash
Weinschenk, Ph.D, Susan. The Science of Why New Year’s Resolutions Do Not Work. Web.