Great things are done by a series of small things brought together
– Vincent Van Gogh
As a coach, it is no surprise I help people to transform habits. Everyone has a healthy habit they want to welcome into their lives and/or an unhealthy habit they want to see the back of.
There is something in your life you would like to change – whether it is something you want to do more of or something you want to do less of, you believe you would be happier if you could build this new habit. Chances are you have already tried to implement this change more than once, but it just hasn’t stuck… yet.
I know how frustrating it can be. I also understand why we struggle and the real work you need to do in order to make long-lasting change. That’s why I created my online program ’21 Days to Breaking the Cycle’.
I’m not talking about big goals and dreams.
Don’t get me wrong – I am pro big goals and dreams, they make your world go round. But they only bring purpose to your life when you are actually taking steps towards them. I love setting goals with people, but I am more passionate about helping you stick to them and actually get to where you want to be.
That’s why I am talking about the things you do every day. The daily habits you possess. I need you to tell me the habits you are aware of and then I need you to consider the unconscious habits – the ones you don’t even notice you’re doing, like aimlessly scrolling through social media.
What you do every day is going to determine two important things for you:
What you do regularly influences your happiness. Your happiness influences the likelihood of you reaching for your goals because when you feel good you will be in the right frame of mind to make the big stuff happen.
“Don’t be disheartened – just because it hasn’t worked in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t this time”
What habit keeps springing to mind as you read this post?
Perhaps you want to start working out in the morning, you want to start reading before bed, you want to take lunch to work, you want to keep a gratitude journal, you want to wake up earlier, I could go on.
If you have tried changing habits in the past and nothing.seems.to.work. Don’t be disheartened – just because it hasn’t worked in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t this time.
Not with this new attitude towards habits you are currently cultivating 😉
Throughout this post let’s refer to how I introduced exercise to my morning routine. I choose this one because it is a routine that is important to how I show up in this world. I tried for years to exercise in the morning. My first attempt was at 17 and trust me I have tried hundreds of times since. At 30 years old (!!!) I decided to tackle it once more, this time I was going to do it properly and give myself the best chance (keep reading for how I did it…).
“Be mindful of saying it is hard”
Let’s state the obvious – breaking and forming habits is not the easiest thing to do. You know that or you would have made this change a long time ago. HOWEVER, be mindful of saying it is “hard”. Saying something is hard will not only put you in a negative mind-set, it will give you the permission you need to give up – “I tried but change is too hard”. You are human, if something is hard, naturally you won’t want to do it.
Put in some perspective – In the grand scheme of what is hard in this world, changing habits is not hard. There are harder things in life than this.
It is uncomfortable – it requires you to think more, say goodbye to something you like (in my case – staying in bed an hour longer), and cope with cravings.
“The relationship you have with yourself will change”
Every time you tell yourself you are going to do something (tomorrow I will hit the gym at 6am) you are making a commitment to yourself. If you don’t follow through on that commitment, you have broken a promise with yourself.
If someone else told you they will do something for you tomorrow, and then didn’t do it, how would you feel? What if they told you “I just didn’t feel like helping you today, I will do it tomorrow instead” and again, they didn’t show up for you? How many times can that person let you down before you decide they cannot be trusted? I’m sure you wouldn’t be too fond of them either.
That’s what you do with yourself. It gets to the point where you know, you know you won’t follow through on these things. You will have a low expectation of yourself and act accordingly.
When you stick to your promises, you begin to trust yourself. The relationship you have with yourself will change. You will believe it when you say you are going to do something, or not do something.
This sends a positive message to yourself. The best bit? When you set habits and goals in the future, you will be more likely to stick to them, because that’s who you are now.
“You haven’t exercised your self-control enough”
This experience can be daunting, no matter how small the goal. We don’t take to change that easily, we prefer to keep life as we know it. Even the slightest change can spark fear in us (“if I go to the gym in the morning I will be tired all day”).
Your self-control isn’t great at the moment. That doesn’t make you a bad, useless person. It means you haven’t exercised your self-control enough, I’ve been there. If you wanted to run a marathon you wouldn’t expect to get there straight away, our brain needs the same treatment – slow and steady.
You are not the only person struggling with this. It is a problem for everyone, all you have to do is look around you to see you are not alone in the struggle to change your life.
If you want to build your will power, you have to face the new behaviour head on, then repeat it again and again.
“Get real with yourself, why isn’t this working?”
When a habit isn’t working out, don’t beat yourself up, that isn’t helping the situation in any way. Instead get real with yourself, why isn’t this working?
Is it because you’ve gone too big? Is it because you are not willing to put the effort in right now? Is it because you haven’t prepared? Is it because it’s not something you care about that much? Is it because you don’t know why you are doing it? Is it because you are not aware of the obstacles? Is it because you are putting yourself in high risk situations?
If you want to figure this out, take the time to answer these questions for yourself. In fact let’s look at them a little closer:
Is this too big?
Resist the temptation to go all in at the beginning. We have a tendency to go big right from the off. The motivation gives us the idea this time is different and we can do it all.
Don’t go in at the deep end without thinking things through. Life is easier when you take a slow, kind, patient approach.
It is a lot for your brain to take on; it will cope better if you phase it in. I started going to the gym at 7:30am, which has now moved forward to 6:30am.
You don’t need to take on too much. This whole process is supposed to be adding goodness to your life, not pressure.
Focus on one change for now, you are more likely to achieve when you focus on one thing at a time. The more you practice, the more your will power will grow. Maybe later you can make more than one change at a time but for now, keep it easy.
Are you willing to put the effort in?
Don’t just say yes. Ask yourself how much effort you are willing to put in to this, and then consider the effort that is needed for the change. Do your answers match?
If this habit requires more time and energy than you are capable of giving right now then why put yourself through it? You won’t carry it through, all that happens is you end up feeling rubbish.
Is this something you want?
Is this something you definitely want? Do you value this change you want to make?
Take notice if you are doing this because you feel like you ‘should’ do it, or because someone else wants you to do it. If it’s not coming from you, you won’t care about it enough.
If you can say hand on heart this is something you want, go get it. You will feel amazing for doing it or you will feel off for not doing it.
When our behaviours are not in line with our values, we feel pretty crap.
Why do you want this?
A key ingredient to making this healthy habit a reality is knowing why you want this. I urge you to sit down and focus on how this will serve you. If you don’t have time to sit down and work this out, I would suggest you don’t have time for this goal right now.
Knowing your why will be your driving force when the going gets tough. You will understand why you are putting yourself through the discomfort of change and you will have an idea that it’s worth it.
Are you willing to jump the hurdles?
If you want this and you are feeling motivated, excellent. I love that feeling, the butterflies and the excitement over what could be. That feeling convinces you this time nothing can stand in your way…
Sadly, the motivation will soon go. Life will happen, it suddenly feels like a drag and all that fire has gone. When the motivation lacks, what will you do? Give up and wait for it to come back?
When you don’t feel it, do it anyway, it’s as simple as that. A lack of motivation is tough but it doesn’t make action impossible.
What about the temptations? Are you putting yourself in harm’s way? You have to be really honest here, sometimes you secretly on purpose put yourself in a situation where you will ‘fail’ – you won’t even know you are doing it sometimes.
Make this part of your preparation stage. Unless you plan you will respond to old triggers the way you always do (alarm = snooze button) and you will go with the easier option when you are in the moment (cover over head and back to sleep).
Because you like instant gratification, you want to feel good right now. I used to run a course helping people to break their binge drinking habits, we used a tool known as the PIG – I remember it clearly, an old school flip chart with a large hand drawn pig. PIG = Problem of Immediate Gratification. PIG.
You want what you want (warm cosy bed at 6am), and you want it now so you dismiss the long term gains (getting to spend my evening at home instead of the gym).
Initially you need to choose the path of least resistance, don’t put temptation in your way, you don’t have an endless supply of willpower. If you spent Friday (cake day!) at work fighting off all the carrot cake, don’t go home and have a load of chocolate in your house too – you will be too worn out to fight any longer.
What about your excuses? You’re so good at them even you believe the lies you tell yourself. Make a list of your common excuses and be ready for them.
How will you prepare?
You are wasting your time if you attempt something tomorrow when you have put in zero preparation. Be ready, make this as convenient as possible for yourself. Avoid making decisions later. Talk to people about what worked or didn’t work for them. Plan what you will need to make this happen.
Plan what needs to go into this. Be as ready as possible and have everything you need (my gym kit next to the bed ready to go). See above point about preparing for hurdles, excuses and temptations.
As a quotes girl, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t share the classic words of Bejamin Franklin here:
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.
Have you made a decision?
Once you have put the work in and considered all of the above, it’s then time to make a decision.
Is this goal still the right thing for you?
If the answer is yes, then you have made the decision. Don’t let the weather, lack of motivation, someone else’s opinion stop you. This is your life, so take control.
You’ve decided you need this to be happier. You care about your happiness, your mood and your life, so go see what it takes to change a habit. Some things will be scary, some things will need adapting as you go along, some things you won’t like – but if you really want it, you have to take action. Even when you don’t feel like it, push through that barrier and live the life you want to live. Be the person you want to be.
You can do this.
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Carly Ann xx