by Leo Babauta
For many who started the year with great aspirations and goals of creating new habits … it’s coming to the time of year when lots of people start to falter on their new habits.
That’s completely normal, but we can do better.
We can figure out how to overcome the difficulties that often plague our habit-changing attempts:
- We delay starting on the habit.
- Our minds start to rebel from the tediousness of sticking to a plan.
- We rationalize not doing the habit.
With those very common obstacles in mind, I’m going to share three powerful techniques for overcoming them. They take effort to implement, but you got this!
Here are the techniques:
- Focus on just starting. Set a trigger when you’re going to do the habit each day — let’s say you’re going to meditate when you wake up, or work out when you get home, or read during your lunch break. When the time comes to do the habit (the trigger happens), just launch into doing the habit, without delay. Focus on getting good at this skill of starting. When the trigger happens, have a reminder note nearby that says, “Just start.” Lower the barrier to doing the habit by making it smaller (just meditate for a minute or two), create barriers to doing your usual distractions, and just take the smallest first step. You’re going to practice getting good at starting, every day. If you master this, you’ll also get a lot better at not procrastinating with other stuff!
- Be completely with the habit. When you do start the habit, it’s very common to focus on getting through the habit, trying to complete the task. This is a mindset that most of us have all day long — we are just rushing through our tasks, trying to finish each one. But actually this is not helpful for habits. We want to be completely present with the habit, really feel the texture of the experience, and imagine there is no end, that this moment is all there is and ever will be. It can transform the habit, turning it into a mindfulness practice, and we can even find gratitude for being able to do it. We don’t have to do it, we get to do it. This is an act of love for ourselves, and we are doing it to not only be compassionate with ourselves, but to enable ourselves to be more present, compassionate and committed to serving others. This moment of doing the habit is an act of love for everyone we know. This is a wonderful cure for the tedium of sticking to a plan.
- Pause when you start to rationalize. The problem with rationalizing not doing the habit is that we don’t often notice we’re doing it. We just start moving away from doing the habit. We just think, “It’s OK, I’ll do it later,” or “Screw it, I don’t really need to do this,” or “Just this one time won’t hurt.” These are not helpful thoughts. Instead, we should learn to pause. Sit still, take a breath, and remind yourself of why you’re committed to this habit. Who are you doing it for? Are you devoted to them, and if so, is your devotion larger than your momentary discomfort and rationalizations? Take this pause and remember your love, and pour yourself into this habit by just starting and being completely present with it.
I offer these three techniques to you, and I hope you’ll give them a full-hearted effort.