Get in the Habit!
Now that you’re a week into your new year, you have probably discovered the real challenge to sticking with a resolution –it’s takes a lot of energy to keep reminding yourself over and over of the fact of the resolution. What do I mean by that? Well, in our daily life we are comfortable with the regularity of everything in our day. Humans are creatures of habit and tend to find a level of stasis through repetition. We create a set of routines, and within that routine we are at ease. Of course, when you inject a new goal or activity into that routine, by definition there is a disruption. That disruption causes discomfort. So you will find yourself veering toward the routine you already know and away from the discomfort. That tension between the comfort of the familiar and habitual and the drive to change through disruption is tiring. And to keep truing yourself up to the new direction requires energy. The energy may be spent on reminding yourself to do some action that’s a part of the structure you created, or not to do something else, or it may be in simply fulfilling the ancillary demands of the new structure, like waking up earlier or getting to the gym after work. But whatever the actual specifics are, the energy required to manage the interruption in your routine takes energy.
Many resolutions flag and fail at this point because the energy demand to stick with the change gets subsumed into the overwhelming drive to return to familiar comfort. So how can you succeed against those odds? Well there are some strategies that can be really helpful right now in building a fortress against the onslaught of reasons and justifications that could pull you back into your old comfort zone and away from your goal. It starts with learning a few basic facts and psychological tricks that will give you some mental reassurance.
First of all, the fact: The discomfort won’t last. That may seem unlikely when you are in the throes of developing a new habit or learning a new skill or cultivating a new ability. But we are so hard-wired to return to stasis that even the most extreme disruptions and changes in our daily activity will become habitual. We can’t help it. So as hard as it is right now to keep doing your new thing, it will not stay hard forever. That is a mantra worth embracing. It will get easier, and even easy!
The next thing to remember, is that not only will it get easier, but there is a specific time by which it will get easier. There is mixed research on this, but the range is between 21 days and 45 days for a new activity to become habit or routine and therefore, comfortable. So however challenging you may find it now to sustain your daily action, your documenting habit and your weekly action (if you are lost here, have a look at this post where I outline steps for succeeding at a resolutions), within 2 months it will be second nature and no longer difficult.
Is there really anything that you can’t keep up for JUST 45 DAYS?
The point is to take the disruption and routinize it — turn it into your new normal just like you did your old habits. That may seem unlikely, but there is tons of scientific and anecdotal evidence that almost anything can become comfortable if done regularly for a few months. I think this can be really helpful because part of what makes us give up on our goals is the overwhelm that stems from a sense of not being able to do this forever. It isn’t that we can’t do it just one more day — but that as we do it one more day we are projecting ourselves into a future of doing it over and over. And each time we imagine doing it, we expect it to require the same amount of energy and psychological management that it takes right now. But in fact, it won’t take that energy once it is habitual. So if you can remind yourself of how easy it will be — that there will be relief, a light at the end of the tunnel — then you can sustain the change one more day, and one more day and so on. Then one day, quite quietly, it will be easy. In fact, it will be so routine that you will likely not even notice it has become your new normal. So hang in there!
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