By Mary Jaksch
Did you make a resolution to start a new habit a while ago? Maybe you were determined to start exercising, lose weight, get up early, stop smoking, start meditating, and so on. What happened – did you manage to establish a new habit? Or is your new habit on a downward slide – or never really got off the ground?
The problem is that humans beings tend towards homeostasis, that is, we like stable, constant conditions. Change is unsettling. I’m just in the middle of trying to establish a new habit, namely doing a short run at first light. It’s not easy. But what makes it possible are two important factors, using a particular mindset, and following a n0-fail strategy.
The mindset that makes change easier
When we embark on change, we often think in black and white. That is, we feel good when we follow our goals of change, and feel bad when we lapse. Because lapses are normal during the process of change, we tend to have a lot of negative self-talk around establishing new habits. That’s not very helpful.
Personally, I use the mindset of inquiry to help with change. I’m curious about the process of change, so everything is of interest. When I lapse or struggle, I don’t beat myself up. Instead I take interest in why I lapsed, and I devise experiments about how to get myself back on track.
Why you should forget about ‘all or nothing’
It’s easy to get hooked into a kind of ‘all or nothing’ mindset. What that means is that we dismiss any small attempt to change. For example, say that your goal is to meditate at least 25 minutes each morning. But then you get up too late one day, and you have only 5 minutes. At that point, most people then flag meditation for that day because they think that just 5 minutes isn’t worthwhile.
There is another way to go about this. If you ditch your ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset, you’ll find that just 5 minutes is a much better option than doing nothing, because it keeps the new habit going, even if it’s at a low level.
The three-point strategy
Forget about what you ‘should’ be doing. Instead, make change easy for yourself. Here is a three-point strategy that enables you to change – without putting pressure on yourself.
Strategy point #1: “Too easy”
Make sure that you set a schedule of change that is ‘too easy’. This is a way of flying under your radar of change.
Strategy point #2: “Too slow”
Wind down your expectations and forget about what you ‘should’ be doing. For example, if you want to start running, ‘too slow’ is an excellent strategy. If you want to lose weight and it seems to be taking for ever for your kilos to start coming off: that’s ‘too slow’ – which is actually a good thing. Because slow change tends to stick better.
Strategy point #3: “Too short”
Remember the ‘all or nothing’ mindset? This strategy teaches you the reverse. It teaches you that even the shortest time of engaging your new habit is valuable. Let’s say you want to exercise 30 minutes each day, but somehow the day got used up and there are only 5 minutes left. If you exercise briskly for 5 minutes, you support your new habit, rev up your body, and feel more alive.
So, try out this strategy of ‘too easy’, ‘too slow’, and ‘too short’. I think you will find that it’s much easier to establish a new habit if you use this strategy. It undercuts your expectations, and makes establishing your new habit easier and more pleasurable.
What’s your experience of establishing new habits?