Adopting new healthy habits is challenging. No doubt you’ve experienced this in your own life, whether you’ve been trying to eat better, exercise more, or spend less time surfing the internet.
When it comes to forming new, daily habits, the most common question I get is: What if I know what I need to do, but I lack the motivation to follow through?
Just last week, when I gave a workshop for the adult students at EOI Berguedà, the local English language school, this was the most discussed question by far.
In response, I wanted to offer five key steps that will help you stay motivated to follow through on new habits.
First, let’s give you a real-life scenario.
Let’s pretend that the new habit you want to create is to run at least three times a week. For the first week, you run three times, no problem. You’re elated. The second week you have a work trip to attend a conference, and your routine is totally disrupted. All you manage is a run at the weekend.
By the end of the second week, you’re feeling discouraged. You’re upset for not following through when you had such a good start.
1. Put aside the bad feelings.
Take a deep breath and see if you can start to let go of these self-critiques. Being hard on yourself just isn’t helpful. Imagine looking at your situation not as a critic but as a friendly, curious observer. What has happened so far?
2. Notice the bright spots.
From a place of friendly curiosity and a desire to learn, ask yourself: What has gone well so far? Where have I made progress? What seems to work for me?
For example, you might notice that the reason why you’d been able to run the first week was because your schedule was routine. You ran twice during your lunch hour at work, and once on the weekend when your spouse was home and could look after the kids.
3. Review what didn’t work so well.
Using that same friendly curiosity, with no self-criticism, ask yourself, “What didn’t work? Where did I get stuck or lose momentum?”
Here, you might notice that it was really travel that got in your way. You’d done well by packing your running gear on your trip, but the idea of using the hotel gym wasn’t appealing after a long day of meetings. The hotel was surrounded by highways so a run outside wasn’t an option.
So you went to dinner each night with colleagues instead.
4. Adjust your follow-up plan based on what you’ve observed.
First, take what’s working and think of ways that you can continue or even increase your results using similar tactics. Second, take what’s not working and look for ways that you can prevent it or minimize the likelihood of it happening again.
This is an iterative process. You’re building on success and learning, step by step.
Now, for your third week, you review your weekly schedule in advance. You actually block out your lunch hour in your calendar for your run. You see you have to travel for a couple of days the following week and book a hotel next to a park so you can run outdoors.
5. Appreciate every win.
Take extra time to acknowledge a success, no matter how small, and your motivation and momentum will grow naturally.
You make a small special effort to observe how you feel when you run. You notice one day after a night of poor sleep that your mid-day run gives you a burst of energy that lasts all afternoon. You really enjoy the fresh air during your run, and you feel stronger.
As you notice more and more positive effects of your run, the more you start to value it. After a while, you rarely miss a run because you know how important it is.
What this is really about
I’ve found that the key to really making lasting change is to create a self-caring, forgiving and curious learning environment for yourself.
This environment allows you to make progress forward step by step, ably circumventing the roadblock of discouragement.
As you gain momentum, motivation grows naturally and sustainably.
Sure, it's possible to form new habits using pressure and strict rules. For example, many people have lost weight by counting every calorie for week and telling themselves sternly that they don’t want “to be fat anymore.”
But this not the kindest way to change. From what I’ve seen, it’s also not a sustainable way.
What is sustainable is if you can approach this as a learning opportunity. If you can create a learning environment for yourself that’s about kindness, curiosity, and trying new things.
Build your own rewards into the process – by noticing small changes in feeling healthier, happier and more empowered – and you will go much further, with less effort.
What new habit are you working on building, and where are you getting stuck? Share it below and we'll chime in with ideas for how you might take your progress forward!