Smart habits are the cornerstone of a successful and satisfying life. Smart habits make for rich living. Seeing how that is my tagline , I was thinking it might be a good idea to tackle the topic. I tackle it indirectly in every blog post but today, I want to take it to the next level.
Let’s talk habits, yours and mine.
Does this sound familiar?
Tell me if this below sounds familiar. (This is a rhetorical question so please say yes so that the rest of the post goes as smoothly as I planned!)
Your intentions are great. You want to build smart habits in your life. In fact, most of the time, you do a pretty darn good job. You start something with a fabulous intention. You feel good. You continue the cycle. You feel even better. You can almost say that it is a part of your life and that it has even become second nature. Then inevitably, as though it was planned because it’s usually right after those brilliant affirmations, you find yourself completely off the charts, nowhere to be found in the proximity of your beloved habit. Your smart habit, the one which you were so proudly describing to your best friend only yesterday, has left your entire system, leaving behind only a dim memory.
What happens next is the saddest part of this affair: You stay in this funk and every day, you get further and further from the amazing habit you were cultivating. Instead of rushing back to embrace your habit again, you stay in this limbo state, feeling this wall of resistance in front of you and this massive hesitation from getting back into it. You might tiptoe around your habit a bit, and even try it again for a few days but it seems to take tremendous effort to get back into that cycle once you have fallen out of it. It almost takes more energy and effort to get back into the habit after you have fallen out of it than it took to start it for the first time.
By the way, if this has never happened to you and all your smart habits have taken off the first time you established them in your life, I want to interview you right now!
So why does this cycle happen? How can we get out of it? How can we stay in the center of that smart-habits zone and not fall off the wagon so many times? Because, really, how many beatings can our self-confidence take? How many times do we have to look in the mirror and tell ourselves “Oh please, I told you it is perfectly normal to fall out of the habit so would you just cooperate and get back into it”?
Finding Root Causes and Crushing Excuses
The problem is not so much that you fell out of it. If you didn’t, you are not human – and whoever you name in a clever response is most likely not human either. Chris Brogan, for instance, surely is an alien from outer space and a great one. I love the guy, I really do but he is an off-the-charts level of a devotional blogger and his passion is beyond measure. I aspire to be Brogan-like but that is one insanely tough habit to sustain.
Right, so as I was saying the problem, I am convinced, is that we do not understand the reason why we fall out of the habit. And what we do not understand, we tend to repeat.
What good is the knowledge (of something that is good for you) without the action (of doing that which is so good for you)?
I have fallen out of more habits than you have; that is a sure bet as any. The first time I fall out of my so-called smart brilliant habits, I try to be kind and forgiving to myself but by the second and third time, I am less patient and more aggressive. Why am I acting so irrational, I wonder, and why is it so hard to find that zone again?
Have you identified the root causes as to why you fall out of your cycles?
Every time I have clearly identified the root cause – been waiting to use this word outside of the mathematical realms – of my failure, and then promptly set out to do something about it, I have slipped back into my habit as though it was made for me, much like a worn comfortable set of PJs. And I’ve stayed committed much longer.
Story of A Habit Reclaimed
Example (cause proof matters):
Take my vegan journey (affiliate). I first tried it exactly a year ago. I was determined to do it but I was terrified of what I was giving up. I was so conscious of what I was giving up that I hardly noticed how much I gained (not in weight of course)! My first attempt lasted some 20 odd days before I ran back to my comfort foods, embracing my yogurt like my long lost friend, and declaring myself the healthiest non-vegan alive.
The root causes:
In the not-so-fun process of figuring out precisely why I fell out of my vegan eating habit (affiliate), I naturally realized that yogurt was not a necessity to my happiness after all but here are more excuses I had to crush:
1. Fear – I was terrified of giving up certain foods, just as I was terrified of giving up cooked foods in this raw vegan challenge. Fear changes your entire mindset and rationality hasn’t a chance against it.
2. Association – I associated food with social life, fond memories and bonding. Giving up sushi with my husband was more than giving up raw fish and wasabi. It was giving up an experience and my direct link to that experience was food.
Fresh new attempt to win the races:
On New Year’s Day 2011, I started my second attempt at going vegan and nearly 8 months later, it has become a part of who I am and how I eat. I survive and thrive every day but only because I was able to pinpoint my hesitation and resistance to this habit and to then find ways to overcome it all.
The fear was unsubstantiated. I did not miss yogurt much at all and I did not find it impossible to politely turn down a favorite dish in favor of another. I did not feel deprived because that was a deal-breaker. If a habit makes you feel deprived of something else in your life, it is time to examine things.
As for the association? It was nonsense. I have been enjoying a lovely social life and I hardly need to even mention my diet. Plus, vegan sushi is delicious! Most importantly, bonding can occur over any plate, regardless of contents.
The Bottom line is …
… that you need to identify the real root cause of why you fall out of your cycle and why you stop your habit. The easiest way to do this is to simply ask yourself. The trick, my darlings, is in the how of asking.
Have a conversation with yourself. Invite fear, self-doubt, resistance, and any other emotions to join the conversation, if you like. Just ask yourself over and over and over again until the right answer shows up from right under your nose, where it has comfortably been waiting for you. Ask in as many words and phrase as you can find:
Why did I stop doing that?
No really, why?
Is that really why?
Seriously, what made me give that up?
What happened inside me?
Why did resistance show up?
Why and tell me the truth or I will keep badgering you with why!
You may find the whole exercise ludicrous. That is fine but do it anyway. Do it in a way that you mean it and find out the real reasons that make you slip out of your habits. Then go to work on them and find your way back to your happy zone.
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