There’s no way around it — habits are often difficult to alter, especially at the outset. Some habits are more deeply engrained than others, but adopting a new routine is bound to require some extra energy at first, simply because you need to get off auto-pilot and pay more attention to what you’re doing. Our brains naturally prefer “the usual routine” (until we’re bored out of our minds), due to the same ol’ same ol’ requiring less energy, which we can then apply to other matters.
The bottom line is that you need personal and significant motivation in order to make a change and to stick with it for the long haul. So, take a moment to answer these questions, to clarify for yourself how the proposed change may alter your life. Write down some examples for each of your answers.
1. Will I feel better about myself?
2. Does this action lead to increased suffering or increased happiness, for myself and others?
3. What is my heart’s deepest wish? What is of greatest value or priority for me?
4. Will it improve my quality of life?
5. Will my physical health be enhanced?
6. Will others benefit?
The more details you can provide, the better, as this will paint a more vivid picture of a happier and more fulfilling life for you. The odds of hitting a target increase greatly when you aim at it.
Then, if you’re convinced that this new habit will be beneficial, try the following steps:
1. Break down the goal into manageable chunks. For example, if your goal is to go back to school and finish college, make a list of necessary action items involved, starting from the very beginning. Then, each day, just take the next indicated step. Stay in today and in this moment. Strive for simplicity.
2. Lower the bar. Perfectionism tends to breed procrastination, or even paralysis. Instead, go for “good enough”. Rather than waiting until you have an hour to study, set your timer for 15 minutes, open your textbook, and apply yourself fully to the task at hand. When the bell goes off, you’re free to stop – but you may find yourself resetting your timer again and again. Before you know it, you may have studied for an hour after all. But you don’t have to.
3. Honor your personal clock. If you’re a morning lark, don’t wait until late at night to tackle your project. Get going on it early in the day, when your mental and physical energy are at their peak. On the other hand, if you’re a night owl and tend to ramp up after dinner, by all means, reserve the evening hours for your new project.
4. Watch your words. Using terms such as “I have to”, “I should”, or “I ought to” can make us feel a bit like children and as if we’re being controlled or ordered around. Substituting phrases such as “I choose to” and “I want to” puts you back in the driver’s seat and reminds you that this new undertaking is your decision.
5. Make it fun. For instance, if playing some of your favorite music in the background won’t distract you from the task at hand, go for it. Sip an iced caramel, nonfat Starbucks double shot, if that’s your preference, while you plug away. The idea is to pair your new habit with things that you find personally rewarding.
6. Acknowledge your progress. Give yourself credit as you move forward. Take yourself to a movie. Celebrate by going out to dinner with friends. Speak encouragingly (“Good job!”) and consolingly if need be (“This was a tough day”) to yourself. You’re with yourself 24 hours a day, so practice being on your own side.
Change can be scary, but “in the end, the only people that fail are those who do not try”. (David Viscott)