This scene may be dealt with overcoming slump, creating the right environment, practice the skill of mindfulness, journaling & reflecting, relying on not feeling like it, talking not yourself out of it, getting through the DIP, restarting & re-motivating, on consistency, overcoming adversity, changing your identify, and negative thinking. That is, let it say you do not succeed at the previous rule (“Don’t Miss Two Days in a Row”), or you give in to distractions, or you get disrupted by illness and accordingly you fall into a bit of a slump. You have missed a few days, maybe a week or more … and you do not even want to think about the habit. This slump is often the ending of a new habit. We do not think about the habit, feel guilty about it, and put it off until we have completely given up. So if you are in a slump, this is a crucial juncture: are you going to just give up, or are you going to get out of the slump? This is a key habit skill — getting yourself out of that slump.
How do we do it? We have been in many slumps ourselves, and though we are not perfect, we have broken out of some of them. So, here is what we have found to be helpful: (1) Recognize that you are in a slump. Be honest with yourself, (2) Ask for help. Get a friend to help give you the accountability and support that you need to get started again, (3) Start super small. Just the smallest thing you can do to get going again, (4) Celebrate that tiny success. Reflect on how you got started again, after taking that super small step. Tell your friend about it, and celebrate and (5) Set a consequence. Tell yourself and your friend that you are going to do the super small step every day for the next week, with a consequence for missing a day.
Get help, start small, and get moving again. That is all it takes, and it is not that hard, but if you do not put in the effort and focus that is required, your habit will die. If resistance is the reason we struggle with habits, and our minds want to just run away from resistance, are we just doomed to fail? Yes. In normal circumstances, we will fail because of the power of resistance and the power of the mind to run from resistance. However, in the right environment, we can actually overcome that resistance. Sometimes we just happen to have the right environment. For example, if you are in the military, you are much more likely to exercise and keep a neat bed, because 1) there are people who tell you to and are checking up on you, 2) you look good among your peers if you excel at these things, and 3) you are likely to get punished if you do not do those habits. Lots of other environments are well-suited to helping us overcome resistance. When I was working at a daily newspaper, I overcame the resistance to writing and wrote articles every day, because of the environment. I wrote more fiction when I was in a writing group, trained for a marathon when I was in a running group (or when I had a running partner), studied more when I was in college.
However, what if you are not in the right environment? You will know you are not if you are constantly struggling with productivity, health or mindfulness habits. The good news is: we can create the right environment. A lot of examples are found in this book. Think about some of the following things you can do to set up a good environment:(1) Create accountability with other people, (2) Set up consequences and rewards, (3) Set up reminders — digital and physical, (4) Get rid of the junk food in your house and have only healthy food, (5) Set up a challenge so that you and others can support each other, (6) Join a group or a class, (7) Get a coach, (8) Allow others to see what you are doing, so you are less likely to cheat, (9) Make the habit small and the motivation strong, and (10) Join an online forum or group to support your habit.
Those are just some examples — what can you think of to make your environment more conducive to the habit you are trying to form? It is a good habit skill to consider your environment, see how it might be helping or hurting your habit, and then changing the environment in small or big ways to help you succeed rather than fail. When you are doing a habit, like exercise for example, it is easy to get into the mode of “just get it over with.” It is like a chore you have to do, a task you have to check off your to-do list. However, this is a mistake. If the habit is like a chore that you need to finish, then it becomes something you dislike, are bored with, even dread. And there is only so long you will keep up a habit like that, in my experience. What if, instead, it was something you enjoyed? What if you looked forward to this beautiful break in your busy day? The skill of mindfulness can help with this. It is about being present with the habit, paying attention, finding things to appreciate about it, finding joy in each step instead of looking forward to some goal in the future.
Here is how I recommend practicing: (1) Notice when you are feeling rushed and looking towards other things you have to do after the habit, (2) Pause, and think about your intention with this habit. If you are doing it out of love for other people, for example, bring this love into the doing of the habit, (3) Try to pay attention to your body, your movement, and your surroundings as you do the habit, (4) When your mind wanders to something else, just notice and gently bring it back, (5) Be curious about what is happening right now, in the present moment, as you do the habit. What does it feel like? What can you discover?, (6) What can you find to appreciate and be grateful for right now?, and (7) Smile, breath, do the habit slowly, and enjoy yourself right now.
Treat this like a spa break. You do not have to do all of that at once, but you can pick two or three things on this list to practice with. Eventually you will get better at these skills and will not need to think of the list, but it is good to come back to it as a reminder, because mindfulness is something that’s easy to forget as we rush through our day. One of the most powerful tools for creating a habit is reflection. And journaling is one of the best ways to reflect regularly. So the habit of journaling is one of the best habits you can form to help form all other habits.
Why is reflection so important? Because it is a way of reviewing how you were doing, what is going right, and what is going wrong. You can see the obstacles that are getting in the way, and figure out how to overcome them. You can reflect on the resistance you have been feeling, and pick one of the techniques in this book to overcome it. Basically, it is the opposite of what causes most people to fail: not only do we face resistance that causes us to struggle, but we avoid even thinking about that resistance. This avoidance is the real cause of our failure. If we don’t avoid thinking about the resistance, we can figure out how to overcome it. This is what reflection does for us.
There are lots of ways to reflect on your habit regularly. One of my favorite ways is to reflect during a walk or a run. Get away from everything else, no headphones and no music or audiobooks, just yourself and your thoughts. As you’re forced to be alone with yourself for a little while, reflection becomes a natural activity. You can also just have a reminder at the end of each day to pause for a few minutes to reflect on how the day went. You could email someone with reflections on your day or your week. Or you could journal. Journaling can be made easy: just commit to writing a few sentences every day. A five-sentence journal only has to take one or two minutes. If you feel moved to write more than five sentences, great! Go for it. Otherwise, just meet the minimum requirement, and reflect for a moment each day on how your day has gone (or how yesterday went, if you’re journaling in the morning).
As you reflect, think about what you did right — and take a moment to celebrate that! It reinforces what you want to do by rewarding yourself with self-praise. Think also about how you might have failed. Failure in this case is nothing to feel bad about, but rather it’s useful information. You can use this information to self-correct, change what you’re doing. What can you add to your method or your environment to make it more likely you’ll stay on the right path? Make a note to implement that immediately. Reflection is an easy habit, but a powerful one. I highly recommend it in any habit creation effort. When we were thinking about whether we were going to do our habit (or any task, really), the most common criteria people use is: do I feel like it right now? This is a mistake. If you are feeling tired, not in a good mood, rushed, overwhelmed, uncertain, uncomfortable, uninspired, unmotivated and you will skip the habit. Do not rely on your mood to determine whether or not to do a habit. Do not rely on “feeling like it.”
Instead, figure out beforehand if you are going to do the habit or not. The day before, the week before, but not right in the moment when you’re supposed to do it. If you plan to meditate when you wake up, don’t put the question to yourself in the morning. You will be tired then! You will not feel like it. Instead, plan the day before to meditate when you wake up … then when you wake up, just do it. If you plan to work out after work, when you are done with work, do not even ask the question. Just do the workout. How do you get yourself to do the habit when you don’t feel like it? Don’t let it be a question. Just say, “OK it’s time, now let’s do it.” Get in the habit of not asking, just get moving. Just start, without asking. Yes, this is contrary to how we normally do things. But how we normally do things does not work, not when it comes to habits or beating procrastination. Not when we were faced with resistance. Instead, change things up. Just start, without asking the question.
I have a friend who makes serious plans for his future, gets excited about the plans … and then when push comes to shove, he gets doubts. A week or two later, he’s making up completely new plans for the future. What happened? He talked himself out of his plans. This is something we all do — when things are tough or uncertain, we have lots of doubts. We rationalize why we should back out. But it’s such a pattern with my friend that I called him out on it: “Stop talking yourself out of it,” I said to him. Now, whenever he starts to back out, I remind him, “You’re talking yourself out of it again!” And he admits he is. We have an agreement that he has to redouble his focus and efforts on his original plans when this happens, really try to take action. Again, we all do it. We have a plan for what we were going to do for today, and then when we have to do it … we talk ourselves out of it.
Some excuses we make: (1) I am tired, (2) I do not feel like it (not in the mood), (3) I deserve a break, (4) One more Youtube video will hurt, (5) I will just check email real quick first, (6) I do not know if this is going to work — I should think of something else, (7) Those dishes need washing instead!, (8) I can not do this, I should just quit, and (9) This is too hard, I hate this, I do not know what I was thinking. Those are just some examples — you probably have your own set of rationalizations, right? What do you say to talk yourself out of what you planned to do? The trick is to realize that you are rationalizing, that you are talking yourself out of it. And then do not let yourself talk yourself out of it.
Talk yourself into it instead. The first year that I started changing my life by changing my habits, I discovered something really interesting happened after about 2-3 weeks into a new habit. I would consistently hit a dip in motivation at 2-3 weeks. I started calling it The Dip (in homage to Seth Godin, who wrote a book for entrepreneurs with that title). The Dip, when it comes to habits, comes after the initial enthusiasm for doing the habit dies down. Here is what typically happens: (1) You start a new habit filled with enthusiasm and ideals about how it will go, (2) You do it for the first week — and if you start as small as possible, as I recommend, you do great!, (3) It feels good to be successful the first week, so your enthusiasm pushes into the second week, (4) However, at this point, other things pull at your focus. It is easy to miss a day, or at least not care as much about the habit as you did before, (5) If the habit is not what you hoped it would be (which is often the case), you feel let down, (6) By the third week, you have lost your initial enthusiasm and focus, and at this point, you’re likely to miss 2-3 days of doing the habit, and (7) If that happens, your habit is very likely to die.
Yikes! That escalated quickly. However, that is a typical pattern, though it varies depending on a lot of factors: what’s going on in your life, how much energy you have, how badly the habit fares compared to your hopes, whether you allow yourself to miss two days in a row, etc. Here is the thing: if you expect the Dip, you can beat it. If you know it is coming and plan for it, you can overcome this obstacle. Some ideas: (1) Plan ahead — set a calendar reminder for that week to do a couple things (see next items), (2) Ask a friend to give you some extra encouragement and accountability during this period, (3) If you miss a day, ask several friends to make sure you do not miss a second day. Set up a seriously embarrassing consequence, (4) Get some friends to join you in a challenge, and (5) If you feel your enthusiasm flagging, try some of the things in this book to get yourself going again. Specifically, tap into your deeper Why once again.
These are some ideas you can try, but the main idea is to expect the Dip and plan for it. It happens to the best of us: we all get stalled on a habit. Things come up, we lose our focus or motivation, life gets in the way. The question is not whether or not we will stop a habit and the question is whether we will start again when that happens. For example, I recently had my meditation habit stalled (travel and visitors got in the way), and I had trouble starting again. But a few days ago, I started it again, and I am really glad I did! So the technique we will focus on in this chapter is restarting, after getting stalled. And re-motivating ourselves, after losing motivation.
Re-motivating Ourselves. The first thing is to notice that you are not that motivated anymore. You lost interest, other things came up, you got pumped up about some other thing. When you think of this habit, you just are not feeling it. When this happens, it is a red flag — time to figure this out! It is good to go back to your original deeper Why for doing the habit. What moved you to do it in the first place? Can you spend some time thinking more about this motivation and see if you can get moved again? If you can not even find the motivation to do that, ask a friend for help. It is as simple as sending a quick email or text to a friend saying you need help finding motivation for this habit. When they ask how they can help, ask for some accountability, some encouragement, setting consequences, talking over the deeper Why. This is tremendously helpful. Look for other reasons to get excited as well. Talk yourself into doing this.
Restarting When We were Stalled. If you have stopped doing the habit altogether, this is another red flag. Unfortunately, we often do not even want to think about the habit when we’ve stopped doing it, so it can be a problem even noticing the red flag when we’ve given up. The solution, again, is to phone a friend. Or email them. Ask for help. You might even ask them to keep you honest before you stall with the habit, when you are just getting started, in anticipation of stalling. Ask them to check in with you every few days to see if you’re still sticking with it. If you are stalled, getting motivation as in the previous section is a great idea. But re-starting as small as possible is the best prescription — for example, I re-started my meditation habit recently by just sitting for a minute or two. Lower the friction for re-starting. And as in the previous chapter, you can ask friends to join you in a new challenge, or set up an embarrassing consequence and ask friends to hold you to it, to get started again. The main takeaway is that you can always re-start if you get stalled, and re-starting is actually a key skill in forming habits. Start small, get some motivation, and get going again! Don’t let stopping become a big deal — it is just a bump in the road.
Consistency with a habit is something people struggle with the most. It can be a difficult thing, but we have covered the most important ideas when it comes to being consistent — I would like to just take a moment to review a few of them:
First, small habits. If you keep the habit as small as possible (just 2 minutes, for example), then it is much easier to be consistent.
Second, one at a time. Trying to form multiple habits at once makes it harder to be consistent. One habit at a time makes it much easier.
Third, motivation and accountability. If you have a deeper motivation and strong accountability, you are more likely to be consistent.
Fourth, dealing with resistance. Resistance (and the procrastination that results) is the main reason we stop doing a habit. Learn to deal with the resistance using the techniques I presented earlier in this book, and you’ll stay on track more often.
Fifth, just getting started mentality. When it is time to do the habit, just start, as simply as possible. This is another way of dealing with the resistance.
Sixth, getting back on track. No one is perfect at the habit — there are disruptions, we miss a day — but if we can get good at just getting started again, we can be more consistent rather than less consistent. Get back on track after disruptions.
These are the key habit skills when it comes to developing consistency. If you can work on these skills, along with some of the other ideas in this book, you will develop a greater consistency over time. However, it is good to note that you don’t have to ever be “perfect” with a habit. We’ll all face bumps in the road, and some habits just will not stick the first try (or even the second or the third). For example, meditation is one habit that I have started and stopped many times over the years — and yet, I keep coming back to it, because I find it immensely helpful. I am not perfect at it by any means, but I’m OK with that. We can get better at consistency, but we’ll never be completely, perfectly consistent. In the end, just keep coming back. Our lives are never perfect … and neither are we. So when we face difficulties, moments of weakness, stress, it’s natural that we’re not perfect with our habits. Getting better at how we deal with the adversity can help us be better at habits. So let it look at a few situations.
First, moments of weakness. We all have those moments, when we were tempted by something or not feeling very strong willed. In that moment, if you can pause instead of procrastinating on the habit or giving in to temptation, that is a incredibly useful skill. Just pause, and notice your rationalizations, notice your urge, stay with it instead of just acting on it. Reflect on your intention or motivation behind this habit. Give yourself a chance to choose to do the habit. If you give in to the weakness, instead of being harsh with yourself, be kind, let it go, and start again. The starting again is more important than self-criticism.
Second, difficult or stressful times. When things get tough, it is easy to skip the habit because we were stressed out or not feeling up to doing the habit. First, pause and be mindful of your stress level, your sense of loss, your frustrations … anything that’s difficult for you right now. Give yourself some compassion. Next, think about how your habit will actually be helpful in this moment of difficulty, and see if you can do a reduced version of it, just to keep it going. Third, if the habit is not helpful right now, consider taking a break until things calm down. Set a reminder for later and get started again as soon as you’re able. Sometimes you have to make room for difficult times.
Third, overwhelmed by other things and dropping habits. We often get overwhelmed by all we have to do. However, dropping all our helpful habits isn’t always the answer. Again, it’s OK to take a break if needed, but if we drop all our habits every time we get overwhelmed, we’ll never stick to habits. So, again, it’s useful to consider whether you can do a reduced version of the habits, and consider how they might be helpful to you right now. Be mindful of your story about how you’re overwhelmed and don’t have time for the habits, and see if you can instead take some time to meditate, do your habits, and not feel you need to do everything all at once.
Fourth, doing habits when it’s harder (tired, it’s late, etc.). In those moments of being tired, it is easy to skip the habit. And if you’re super exhausted, that’s OK. Just do it again the next day. But you might also consider whether you are just rationalizing, and whether you can do the habit anyway, or at least a very minimal version of it. Learning to do the habit when tired is an amazing skill that will pay off in many ways, not least by reducing your tendency to procrastinate.
As you can see, we have different options when it comes to dealing with our habits during difficult times: we can be mindful and compassionate with ourselves, see our rationalizations, do the habit anyway even if we’re tired or stressed; we can do a minimal version of the habit; we can take a break when necessary and just be sure to restart as soon as possible. These are great habit skills, and you can get better at them with focus and practice. As you work with your habits, a technique to practice with is to see how you see yourself. This view of ourselves is our identity — we might see ourselves as screw-ups, as compassionate, as inadequate, as a lawyer or teacher or writer, as a good mother, as untrustworthy or undisciplined. We have many ways of looking at ourselves, and some of them are unhelpful.
What I have found is that our identity — our view of ourselves — can actually get in the way of forming new habits.
For example:(1) If you see yourself as a smoker, then it is hard to give up smoking — it is a key part of how you see yourself and feel about yourself, (2) If you see yourself as a meat eater and someone who loves cheese, then it would be hard to eat a vegan diet, (3) If you see yourself as someone who hates exercise or vegetables, then it’s hard to make those changes, and (4) If you do not see yourself as a “meditator” then it is hard to meditate regularly. And in fact, you might see yourself as a “bad meditator” and so meditating is frustrating for you.
As you can see, identity can be an obstacle. However, the good news is that identity can also be helpful — and it’s also changeable! I changed my identity from a “meat eater” to a “vegan” and now a vegan diet is not only my default way of eating, I see it as an integral part of my way of life. I changed my identity from someone who was sedentary and bad at sticking to exercise … to a marathoner and eventually someone who loves working out. I changed my identity to someone who meditates regularly, to someone who is a patient and loving father, to someone who writes every day, to someone who lives minimally. And yes, in some cases I do not completely live up to those ways of seeing myself, but in the end, I always go back to them because I have changed how I think of myself. So yes, identity can be changed. I recommend you change it consciously — start calling yourself a “regular meditator” or an “ex-smoker” or a “habitual exerciser” or something like that. Journal about it, repeat it to yourself, and start to view everything you do through that lens. Soon, your identity will not be getting in the way, but will actually make you stick to your desired changes. This article is from Leo Babauta, THE HABIT GUIDE, under uncopyrighted book.