I’m learning that for a new habit to become an established habit, it needs to matter to me.
Once it matters enough, there are two more things that are needed:
Consistency and Time
Most recently, I’ve experienced this with running.
I’ve always disliked running. I’d say I have a gait akin to a baby elephant, but this is probably unfair to the elephant.
Last July some friends signed up to run fifty miles in a month for charity. Against my better judgement (about the running, I could get on board with the charitable donation) and in need of a challenge, I joined them.
Fast forward nine months and I’m now running an average of three times a week.
It’s no longer difficult to go for a run in the morning, because it has been a consistent part of my routine for a while now.
Get clear on what you want, then let it go
Good habits can stick almost as easily as bad ones, it’s just the bad ones are usually already stuck (and often more fun in the short term).
This is where it’s important to get clear on what you want in the long term.
‘Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.’Bill Gates
Have a clear vision for the long term, then forget about it.
Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it?
But if the long-term goal is far from where you are now, it can feel unattainable and overwhelm can set in.
There’s a sense of urgency that can come with focusing on the end goal, and this urgency is counterproductive to the small, actionable changes needed right now, to get from here to there.
If my longer-term goal is to run a half marathon, to get there I can focus on running three times a week and increasing my distance each month. That’s it.
If I start thinking about the full distance now, I’m likely to curl up into a ball and cry.
If my long term goal is to write a book, then I need to focus on writing a little each day, instead of scaring myself stupid with the mammoth task of writing a book from beginning to end.
Here’s where the ‘f*ck it mentality’ comes into play. I’ve found one of my biggest barriers to growth or progression is this kind of all or nothing thinking.
You know the kind of thoughts: ‘f*ck it, I’ve had one biscuit so I may as well have five more and a slice of cake,’ (I battle this one most weekends, with mixed success).
This way of thinking often derails me from consistency.
When I slip up, I berate myself, label myself incapable of achieving the changes I’m striving for and fall back into the safety of pre-existing habits.
With my writing or exercising, if I miss a few days it can be tempting to miss a few more. Before I know it, I haven’t written or exercised for a week.
But, if I can silence my inner critic and give myself a break, then I can frame my progress over a few months or a year, instead of a few days.
If I can forego the mental self-flagellation, and get right back to focusing on the small actions that will take me in the direction of where I want to be.
The f*ck it mentality often happens when I’m setting myself unrealistic expectations.
My dreams of making a living from my writing are not yet realised. Writing is a new habit for me, so sitting down to do it is not yet second nature.
When I’m finding it hard, or I don’t like what I’ve written, the f*ck it mentality sets in.
My inner critic will tell me there’s no point in even trying, I’ve come to writing too late in life to hone my skills.
Yet if I put my writing into perspective using the time and consistency model, then it’s not a problem.
I’ve been writing with some consistency for nine months, which in the long game of life is no time at all. I’m not earning a living from my writing yet, but if I give up now, I’ll never know if that could have been a possibility.
Get Clear on Why it Matters
Knowing why I want to do something also helps. The why reflects my core values, which makes the actions matter enough to stick.
My why for running is linked to the value I place on my health and regular exercise, and the connection with my running partner (running for an hour would be zero fun without her).
Writing honours my core values of connection and personal growth. It’s my way of reaching out to people and getting to know myself better.
It also brings me joy. Time disappears into the ether when I write.
I’ll keep following this path for as long as I am able. Check in with me ten years from now. With time, consistency, some self-compassion, and a little less of the f*ck it mentality, who knows where my evolving habits will have taken me?
This is where I was going to leave you. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that I’m still struggling with habit formation when it comes to food, and have been for years. So…
…what about when I know all of this, but it still doesn’t work?
I’ve struggled for most of my life with eating healthily.
When I was a teenager it was all about being slim, so for a while I restricted my calories.
In my late teens and early twenties, I ate whatever I wanted, which usually consisted of junk food and sweets. I never ate regular meals and would frequently have an upset stomach (I didn’t connect my sporadic eating patterns to my digestive issues until my thirties).
After I had my children in my late twenties, I began to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Now, I eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and have regular meal patterns, but I still sometimes struggle with binge eating chocolate and biscuits.
The f*ck it mentality comes into play often, usually over the weekend.
I’m getting more aware of the reasons why I over consume confectionary. It can be boredom or tiredness, sometimes it’s a reward or comfort, and sometimes it’s a response to a bad day.
Knowing all of this doesn’t seem to stop the cycle of eating too much of the foods I know make my body feel lethargic, then feeling bad about it, then promising myself I won’t eat those foods again (unrealistic expectations), abstinence, and then more of the same.
This was the same pattern I had with alcohol and social smoking, both of which I have addressed, so I’m finding it really frustrating that I’m still struggling with food after so many years.
Having a certain level of awareness around my eating habits and knowing what I need to do, doesn’t make doing it any easier.
But I am starting to have trust in myself that I’m going to get there.
I’m trusting that I will overcome this too.
As my belief grows, I hope that so will my self compassion around my eating.
My goal is to be able to eat just one biscuit, or one dessert, or one chocolate bar, without needing to go back for more.
My why is the value I place on supporting my health, wellbeing and energy.
The next time I overeat the sweet stuff, I will try to offer myself compassion instead of judgement.
Slowly but surely, over time, and with consistency, I believe that this will change my relationship with chocolate and biscuits, and get rid of the self-destructive f*ck it mentality for good.
Self-compassion. Belief. Consistency. Time. Repeat.
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