Learning From the Habit Dip

When we get off track in our goals for change, we are faced with an incredible chance to grow
September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020

I was talking with a group of people in my Sea Change Program who had success with some difficult habits for a few months and then hit a dip.

This dip is something everyone faces when changing habits: We lose motivation, we get discouraged, we encounter difficulty, we lose focus because other things get in the way, or we get sidetracked by life.

The dip is completely normal and even predictable when you’re changing an old habit or forming a new one. In fact, anytime you take on a project or goal, you will face this kind of dip.

That’s the bad news—you’ll always hit a dip in motivation, focus, and energy.

But there’s good news, too:

  1. The dip is temporary if you keep going through it; and
  2. The dip is an incredible place of learning

The last point is so important I need to repeat it: The dip is an incredible place of learning.

It’s the place where we grow and get better at facing difficulty.

When things are going well, everything seems easy, and you just have to keep doing the same thing. There isn’t a lot of learning there.

But when things are hard, you have to face the difficulty if you want to keep going. If you want to avoid going to your usual pattern of discouraging yourself or quitting, the dip is the place and time to learn.

Learning From the Dip

The habit dip (and all other dips of motivation and focus) can teach you to face difficulty instead of avoiding it, or encourage yourself when you feel discouraged. It can teach you to let go of the ideal you have that’s making you feel discouraged and be more realistic and forgiving in your appraisals. It can teach you to deal with your difficult emotions of frustration, including discouragement and fear. Facing these instead of running toward distraction is an invaluable lesson.

The habit dip can teach you to nourish yourself when you’re feeling depleted and give yourself compassion when you feel you’ve made a mistake.

The habit dip can teach you to not run for your usual methods of control, avoidance, or quitting when things are hard. You can use these opportunities to practice letting go of your usual focus on your self-concern.

The habit dip is an incredibly rich time to learn if you open up to it.

The Dip Is Temporary—if You Keep Going

Habit and motivation dips are always temporary. Everyone who has run a marathon or ultramarathon knows what it’s like to want to quit, to get bored with training, to feel discouraged when things are hard. And so many of us who’ve faced that have finished the marathon.

We’ve all given up when things are discouraging. We’ve all avoided even thinking about getting back on track when we’ve been thrown off the track. We’ve all messed up on projects and goals and habits. We’re human.

But if we get back on track, if we encourage ourselves when things are dark, if we find compassion for ourselves when we’re not living up to our made-up ideals, there’s more growth available down the road.

Everything is temporary, even failure, even success, even getting off track. These are not the endpoints, they’re waypoints. Keep going.

How to Practice With It

So if you’re ready to learn while you’re in the dip, then there are ways to practice and gain from this difficult area:

  1. Come in with a learning mindset, one that is focused on growing instead of judging yourself.
  2. Let go of your ideals, and bring curiosity instead. What can you find out about this?
  3. Learn to face difficult feelings in this area. Bring mindfulness to them, feel the bodily sensation of them. They’re not a big deal, just emotions.
  4. Notice how you’re discouraging yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for discouraging yourself. But notice what you do.
  5. Find ways to encourage yourself instead. Find ways to give yourself compassion. These are incredible skills to practice.
  6. Find something new to learn every time you bring your awareness to the dip. What else can you find out? And what else?

If you go in with a mindset to embrace this difficult area, you’ll actually find your own ways to practice. But start with these.

If you can bring this mindset, so much is there for you. Be grateful when you find it.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net