Trying to Start a New Habit? Consider This.

building habits

Setting healthy habits is the key to an amazing life. But sometimes, you break your habits, and things get out of hand. Such a thing happened to me recently.

It all started Monday. I woke up on time and did two hours of work before getting ready for the office. But something was off, I felt hungry, and did not have enough to eat.

After arriving at work, the hunger hadn’t gone away, and I made an impulsive choice to eat an unhealthy snack. I ate a sugary granola bar and soon afterwards, grabbed another.

Later, someone put out some latte mix. I’d already broken my sugar rule, so I tried it. More still, someone put out chocolate bars. Using the same logic, I decided it was alright to eat a few. By the end of the day, I’d had more junk than the whole week before. Guilt or biological causes had me feeling bad.

When I was getting ready for bed, I had none of my usual self-control. In part because I was tired, but more so because I had broken my routines during the day. I decided not to set my alarm.

I didn’t wake up till much later than usual. After that everything was off. I ate more than usual for breakfast, and then I was late to drop off my daughter at daycare. The subway was delayed, and a bus didn’t show up. Finally, by the time I got to work I was over an hour late.

All this could be traced back to my choice on Monday morning. When I ate an unhealthy snack, I let chaos rule over my day. In turn, causing everything to go bad. My problematic days could have been avoided if I’d stuck with my habits.

Starting A New Habit

Starting a new habit is difficult, and usually takes a while to get going. You must first get into the right mindset. Once you get started, you are often disoriented and distracted.

Most often, when you decide you need a new habit, there is a trigger. You may have a bad week or look in the mirror and realize you are getting overweight and need to do something about it.

Other times, new habits come when you realize you want to do something. Changes occur out of a desire to make improvements more likely to happen. The most obvious example is when you set a goal. Usually, to realize that goal you need to repeat something every day.

When you set a goal, you need to plan it out to make it more likely to succeed. You need to be willing to realize what you are doing now and what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Sometimes you even need to consider what will happen if you don’t follow through with your goal. The motivation here comes from knowing everything you will lose if you do not take the action you need to.

When you start working on new goals, you must make a choice. You must choose to work at getting what it is that you want. Choosing requires letting go of the idea that you are the product of genes and upbringing.

The point is that, when working on a goal, you need to understand it is possible in the first place. To do that, you need to think that change is possible. You also need to believe that you can be and do something different from what you have always done. In essence, this is a choice and affirmation of a commitment to something.

It Is Difficult And You Will Resist

When you first decide to make a change, it will be painful. You may think about it or regret what you’ve chosen. You will see temptation at every step.

The first couple of days are the hardest when you put a new habit into place. If you are giving up sweets, you will see them everywhere. If it is smoking, you will see people smoking anywhere you go. Regardless, the temptations will be fierce.

But this is how you gain strength, and you need to see the temptations as a test that you’re motivated to pass. It is always a matter of changing the way you perceive the situation. At first as a temptation, then later avoidance becomes a reward. The more you resist, the higher the prize, the more likely you will not get pulled into the habit again.

At times, you will resist, you may even think that your bad habit wasn’t so bad. You may also start to feel your new practice is a problem. Why did you give up something you love so much? What about this “new” pattern is so much better? You may even wonder, who decided to take up this practice anyway?

In the beginning, is the most useful part in the development of a habit. The reason being, you will start to see the early benefits of the choices you’ve made. You will see the bad in what you used to do without thinking.

When you stop smoking, in the first few days you breathe easier. Your food will taste better, and your health will show signs of improving. But, you may not notice these things if you don’t try to pay attention, so pay attention.

An example of this is when you start a new job, which is a habit. In the beginning, you’ll notice all the things you did differently in your previous positions. In this sense, in the first couple of months, you get an honest impression of things. After that, your perception gets opaque with experience.

When You Accept Change It Gets Easier

Evolving and becoming a better person can be a long process. It is hardest in the beginning, and you need resilience.

But at some point, something will click, and you become sure that you have changed for the better. At the same time, you will accept your new habits as a representation of who you are. At this point, it becomes more natural. And instead of being a choice, it will become second nature and automatic.

You will also feel confident in what you have chosen. You will start to believe you are becoming the person you envisioned. In a sense this will be true, once you commit and accept a new habit, it becomes part of who you are.

When it gets easy, it is simpler to add more habits to the mix. If you make a significant life-affirming change, you will notice other habits come with it. The benefit here is that it will be easier to add them. Reason being, you are changing, so you are willing to accept the possibility of change. With acceptance, you become what you are.

Once you quit smoking, you may realize you also want to eat better. With this new habit, you may want to exercise. Working out will be more comfortable too because you won’t lose your breath so quickly. After a week of this, you will feel better about your body in many ways, and that will encourage you to do more.

New patterns will develop whether you notice it or not. Which is to say, your mind will pick up on better habits once you’ve committed to making one significant change. Your conviction and commitment will be subconsciously translated into better choices. At some point, this will become obvious to you in the rest of your actions. It will no longer be a choice and will be automatic.

At Last You Self-Enforce

The last step in developing a new habit, and the one that was illustrated in the story at the start. Self-enforcing happens when you’ve got things worked out. Usually, it happens after you’ve been working on your new habit for a while.

During the last phase, you start to feel sorry for breaking your habits. Fortunately, it is also when you don’t have to push as hard. But, now the punishment is more severe. You will feel worse about breaking your streak.

Consider this, after getting enough sleep for a few weeks. When you break the cycle, you realize how bad not getting enough sleep is. In the past 4 hours of sleep would have been ok. It might not have even affected you. But after getting into a better habit of getting enough sleep. Missing a night will make you exhausted and useless the next day.

You notice the adverse effects of your old bad habit right away. You will even see how far they extend, while in the past you didn’t notice anything at all.

If you cut out sweets, having a sweet will feel bad. If you exercise every day, not doing it will feel lazy.

Use This Process To Your Advantage

With any significant change, there are three steps. At first, you resist and fight yourself at every step.

Next, you get into the acceptance phase. You come to realize that it is best for you and can see it as a new and better way. At this point, it gets easier to maintain the habit, and with time it becomes second nature. Again, you may even pick up related habits without intention.

Finally, we self-enforce our new habits. We start to feel sorry for breaking our new way, and our bodies react negatively if we fall back to our old ways.

The key is to realize these steps. If you have a sense of where you are, you know what to expect and how to deal with what comes next. You can also use these steps as a measure of your success. That said, they will also help you understand why you feel the way you do.

The best thing you can do is choose a new habit and commit to it. Then the rest is a process, and that can be easier with faith in the process.

This faith will help you establish your new habits. No longer will give up when things get tough. Once you realize what is happening and why it is happening, it is easier to accept and move forward.

Making a new habit is a significant challenge, but it is worth it. You will be happy with the results and how they make you feel. Sometimes you have a second chance when it comes to breaking your habits. Your self-enforcing self will warn you about the effects of breaking your habits.

But remember, this warning shouldn’t be an excuse to break a habit. Instead, it will give you a chance to re-realize your potential bad choices.

Life is a bunch of habits, use them for good and good things will happen.

Learn more about my book How To Be Amazing! A Manifesto