If you decide to change your life what will be your first steps in accomplishing that? Habits seem to be generally accepted as a good starting point. We also have this whole chapter dedicated to this issue so they do seem like an appropriate transition area. But the way you slant your habit-discarding or habit-making will ascertain the expected results or an everlasting mental block.
We agree that changing your habits is top priority when setting out to create fulfillment in your life but rarely it proves to be as easy or as hard as we tend to imagine it because most of us oscillate between these two extremes.
If may be true that getting into changing your habits may require time but it’s rather non-productive to focus on the length of the process in this initial phase. That’s not important. Of course you need to take it gradually but constantly acknowledging it as a long-term progression will only increase your internal resistance to change. Most of us seem threatened by changes and the possibility of failing and are finding it hard to commit to them unreservedly. We have been taught that people don’t change, we’ve even developed an entire life ‘philosophy’ on ‘nothing’s gonna change me’ theme but that again depends on how you look at it. The fact that a habit belongs to your lifestyle makes it a bit tough in the beginning to get rid of bad dependencies but makes it a whole lot easier after a period of a few weeks, once you have integrated into your life style, to blend it into your daily routine. And even if you do manage to build a new productive habit for yourself, there’s always the chance to fall back into old ones if you don’t assimilate also the habit of persistence. About the latter in a future chapter.
How many times have I not planned for jogging out every other day and after maintaining that habit even for two months or more, I backslid unexpectedly and required maybe just as much time to get back on track and resume that healthy habit. The really tricky part when you break your newly acquired (but not necessarily newly acquired) good habit is that you will take false advantage of the ‘opportunity’ created to justify giving up the habit entirely – ‘I’m not that good anyway’, ‘at least I’ve tried’, ‘maybe if I lived somewhere else…’, ‘ I can’t keep up with all the work and doing this at the same time’ etc. I’m sure you’re pretty familiar to some of these as well. I remember making up excuses based on the weather, the bad physical shape I had regressed into, or any reason for that matter, to postpone re-committing to the abandoned habit and simulate that I’m OK with it. You’re never OK with it, once you know something is good for you and then you drop it, not finding the power to put the saddle back on the horse will permanently remain a like a thorn in your mind’s side.
But now, no matter how many times I will interrupt jogging regularly, I know will be jogging regularly because I like it, it feels great, I like myself more when doing it and because I know I can pick it up again just like that, this thought alone motivates me, in turn, to try jogging regularly. See how it works? It’s like a reversed vicious circle – I mean reversed because this time it acts to your benefit.
Habits prove often quite fragile when changes appear predictably or unpredictably in our lives. How many times you’ve heard someone complaining or regretting their ‘good hobbies’ before marriage when they ‘had the time’? I have heard it dozens of times and people always try to find excuses for lack of continuity. That’s what we do. We find excuses. But if we just spent some thinking in trying to understand how we function and how habits function then we might see that habits need training to strengthen them, just like a muscle does and the more they depend on some external factors or your disposition and mood to be maintained, the more vulnerable they are to interruption. Build your habits strong right from the beginning. If you want to start jogging, do it when is sunny, do it when is windy or rainy, do it when you feel happy and do it, by all means when you feel sad, is about tapping into a zone of enjoyment per se that goes beyond meeting a bunch of conditions to be carried out.
Another crucial aspect to consider if you want to create a solid habit is SEQUENCING: taking it one step at a time, focusing on and enjoying it as such. If I want to kick off the day by writing one page in my notebook just to get it all on paper and declutter the mind, it’s always just this day I have to do it, not all the days ahead of me, my focus is only for today, I’ll use tomorrow’s focus to repeat the process. But I’m not making a concern alone out of having to repeat the process. I’m doing it one time only. Each day.
Constructing this mindset for yourself will spear you of a lot of energy spent trying to figure out what’s not right and why can’t you be more consistent. Take the burden of having to maintain something over an indefinitely long amount of time and replace it with the desire to do next what’s good for you even if you just ‘skipped a beat’ – it’s like when reading a book which you really like – you might find yourself at times just going through in and out, reading lines without actually consciously assimilating the information because some other thoughts distract you; you don’t give up reading altogether, you simply shake off distractions and return to the top of the page or put aside the book and return to it later with a clearer mind. Remember: “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us. “ (John Dryden)