For those of us who started the new year with great aspirations and goals, it’s coming to the time of year when many begin to falter on their new habits. That’s completely normal, but we can do better.
The good news is, we can figure out how to overcome the difficulties that often plague our habit-changing attempts. First, it’s good to be aware of some common saboteurs:
- We delay starting on the new habit.
- Our minds start to rebel against the tediousness of sticking to a plan.
- We rationalize not doing the habit.
With those very common obstacles in mind, here are three powerful techniques for overcoming them:
Focus on simply starting. Set a trigger or alarm when you’re going to do the habit each day—let’s say you’re going to meditate when you wake up or work out when you get home. When the time comes to do the habit, just launch into it without delay. Focus on getting good at the skill of starting.
When the alarm goes off, have a reminder note nearby that says, “just start.” Lower the barrier to doing the new habit by making it easily manageable (for example, just meditate for a few minutes at first). Create barriers to pursuing your usual distractions, and just take the smallest first step. Practice getting good at starting, every day. If you master this, you’ll also get a lot better at not procrastinating on other things.
Be present with the habit. When you do start the habit, it’s very common to focus on just getting through it, trying to complete the task. This is a mindset that most of us have all day long—we are just rushing through our tasks, trying to finish each one. But this is not actually helpful for habits. We want to be completely present with the habit, really feel the texture of the experience, and imagine there is no end, that this moment is all there is and ever will be.
This can transform the habit, turning it into a mindfulness practice, and we can even find gratitude for it. We change the narrative from “having to” do it, to “getting to” do it. This is an act of love for ourselves, and we are doing it to not only be compassionate with ourselves but to enable ourselves to be more present and committed to serving others. This moment of doing the habit is an act of love for everyone we know. This is a wonderful cure for the tedium of sticking to a plan.
Pause when you start to rationalize. The problem with rationalizing is that we don’t often notice we’re doing it. We just start subconsciously moving away from doing the habit. We think, “it’s OK, I’ll do it later,” or “forget it, I don’t really need to do this,” or “just this one time won’t hurt.” These are not helpful thoughts.
Instead, we should learn to pause. Sit still, take a breath, and remind yourself of why you’re committed to this habit. Whom are you doing it for? Are you devoted to them, and if so, is your devotion larger than your momentary discomfort and rationalizations? Take this pause and remember your love, and pour yourself into this habit by just starting and being completely present with it.
Experiment with these three techniques and give them a full-hearted effort. You might be surprised how far they can take you.