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Habit development

Hello,
Whenever I try to change or build a new habit, I get all excited at first , and I start working on building this habit until it doesn’t excite me or satisfy me any-more. Then I quit and go back to point zero,  even though I don’t want to, and I know that this habit will change my life for the better. I am tired of being stuck in this loop. What do I do to keep this excitement alive?

Hello,
Whenever I try to change or build a new habit, I get all excited at first , and I start working on building this habit until it doesn’t excite me or satisfy me any-more. Then I quit and go back to point zero,  even though I don’t want to, and I know that this habit will change my life for the better. I am tired of being stuck in this loop. What do I do to keep this excitement alive?
Asked by Rebecca S.

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Answers (5)

Sacha Stewart

Wellness and Personal Development Coach

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Hi Rebecca,

Firstly congratulations on having the motivation to change the habit in the first place. That is a big first step. Preparation is also really important. Depending on what the habit is you want to change, are you finding something new to replace it with? We need to add in more than we take away. For example if you were giving up a certain food, what would the healthy option be to replace it so you don’t feel like you’re missing out?

Having a support structure to keep you accountable and motivated is also key. Would it be possible to do it with a buddy? A coach can also be very beneficial here to keep you on track over a period of time, and to keep your energy high about the change. And tell a couple of friends or family what you are doing so they can support you during the process.

Break the habit into small goals that you can assess every week or fortnight, so you can see your achievements and how well you’re doing, I normally encourage a 3 month process where the habit has changed and you are starting to move into on-going sustainment. It’s also important to congratulate yourself on these small wins. Perhaps every two weeks there can be a little reward for continuing on the new behaviour, something that excites you and keeps you looking forward to how much positivity the new pattern is bringing to your life.

Also if you have a setback, I encourage you not to feel like you are back at ground zero. Yes it happened, but today is a new day and you can choose differently.

Good luck!

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Alex Klokkaris

Life Coach and Workshop Facilitator

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Hi Rebecca,

Your question is excellent in that it has a universal quality to it; most of us come across this resistance to changing habits in some form or another.

Firstly let me congratulate you as my colleague Rasheed has, on your intention and taking the initiative to make a positive change.

It is understandable that good intentions and changing habits are often lost when the initial motivation and ‘kick’ you get out of starting a new routine soon dissipates.

Here are some points to reflect on:

1. What is it that you hope to achieve from introducing your new habit? Write down the benefits and place it somewhere visible.

2. What personal values do your habits correspond to? Is the new habit you are working on aligned to something that you hold dear as a core value or personal principle? As my colleague Helena, said, remind yourself of the ‘why’ and I would suggest have it written down. Also see how it fits in the bigger picture, i.e. ‘ In what way is this supporting my vision?’

3. We often assume motivation is just ‘there’ for projects and desired changes. ‘People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.’ (Zig Ziglar) There are a number of techniques for staying focused and motivated; one of them is to read your goals daily, visualise and really engage in associated feelings and senses for the outcome that you want; another is to create and step into your future self, ‘wear’ the energy incorporating the habit, and act as if you’ve already achieved it.

4. Willpower is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Give yourself a 30 day challenge on the new habit. If you miss a day, that’s fine, return to it the next day. Once you get over the barrier, there will be a time when it will become an automatic behaviour, keep at it, despite how you feel. If it’s too big a change, break it into an easier more do-able steps/habits and build on your success by introducing greater challenge once you’ve mastered it. (Make sure it’s not too easy though, as that may demotivate you. You will know what the right bite size is for you.)

5. Feelings are important and we need space to process them and learn. When it comes to taking actions however, such as changing or introducing a new habit, take the actions, despite what feelings you are experiencing. It is part of the human condition that we often tend to base actions on our feelings; it’s called emotional reasoning ‘too tired today’, ‘haven’t go the time’, ‘too upset about x and y’, ‘this isn’t working anyway’.

6. Begin to train yourself to become aware of the thought that generated the feeling. Give a nod to your mind and thank it for the thought, and take your intended action anyway. Later you can return to the thought and if it is still relevant, take a look at process the feeling. Use the feedback of the feeling to inform you of your needs and come up with ideas on how you can best respond to these.

7. Bear in mind that human ego sees any change as a threat to its status quo and would rather stay static. The aforementioned emotional reasoning is one the ways ego very cleverly keeps us stuck in old ways. If it sees that you are serious about change, it is expert at coming out with countless ‘excuses’ and reasoning. So just by becoming aware of the ‘voices’, can help you disassociate from the feeling, (i.e. that’s not ‘me’, it’s a passing thought from my automatic conditioning) and refocus on the action.

8. I agree with Helena, maybe there is a part of you that needs excitement. My final question to you is: How else could you create excitement in your life? What is exciting to you and in what other ways could you generate it?

9. Leaving you with a quote by Robin Sharma: ‘All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end!’ You can do it!

Best wishes
Alex Klokkaris

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Helena Clayton

Coach and Facilitator

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What a great question, Rebecca.  And I sympathise: it must be frustrating to put in a lot of work only to feel that you’re back at the same place.

So first, a few questions for you.  And then some reading that you might find helpful.

If I were working with you as a client, I might ask you:

  • Why do these changes, these new habits matter to you?  And when you answered, I might keep asking ‘and why does that matter to you?’  I’d want to know if you really wanted or needed to make this change, whether there was enough of a reason to try to make it stick. How clear are you about your motivations?  Are these changes important enough for you to do what it takes?  It’s not fashionable to say so but I think our capacity to create specific, planned and structured changes in our lives is more limited that we might think.  And so it’s worth investing time in the things that really matter.
  • Also, I’d be curious about why you feel that it needs to be exciting?  As Rasheed as already mentioned, making change stick is rarely exciting.  In fact, it’s often the opposite.  It’s about repetition and that’s often quite boring.  It’s about persistence and discipline, and that’s often dull.  Some recent research showed that pushing the boundaries of what you can do, through intentional practice,  is not enjoyable, it’s not fun. It seems as if building change requires some struggle!  But the researchers found that a sense of enjoyment (although they didn’t mention excitement) came later, and it came from the satisfaction of achieving the results.   So, I wonder,  what would it be like to let go of the expectation of feeling excited?  And what sort of feeling would you accept instead?
  • And then, I’d ask what has changed? Because I hold a belief that nothing is ever wasted and that even though it feels like you haven’t moved forward at all,  all that work you have clearly put in will have changed something.   What has changed – however small, and in tangential areas of your life – as a result of putting in all this hard work?
  • And finally, I might observe that it sounds as if you regularly seek to make change and so maybe it’s the process of changing something that you find exciting and not necessarily the outcome itself.  Does that resonate with you?  And maybe that’s ok, and you can really let yourself enjoy the novelty of trying new things and not focus so much on creating lots of new behaviour.

And for further reading, you might like Charles Duigg’s The Power of Habits.  Or Vincent Deary’s How We Are.  Both are great reads about how we create our ‘habit webs’ and what we might need to understand about how they work – so that we can create new ones.

Wishing you well

Helena

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Simon Matthews

Psychotherapist

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Dear Habit Person,

Can you give us an example of how this has played out in your life? My initial impression is that if you are trying to build habits which give you initial excitement and ultimately dissatisfaction you may be working at cross-purposes with your deeper nature….but it it is hard to advise without an example, so I am looking forwards to hearing back from you,

Love,

Simon

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Rasheed Ogunlaru

Coach - Speaker - Author

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Thanks so much for getting in touch.

First of all give yourself credit for the fact that you clearly want to have habits that support you. I say that because the key thing about habit-building and trying to progress in anything is to ‘be on your own side rather than divided’. The second thing is that – as you may well have heard – daily habits usually take around three months to settle in. So patience is really key.

You mention excitement. Changing or building habits is not often not exciting: even if they start out that way. They are often functional. Think Back to childhood. You are taught about brushing your teeth, making your bed, tidying your room, tying your shoe laces. Often these are not exciting. They are functional. It’s the same in adulthood: the hoovering or washing up may not be exciting. What happens is the become a routine that helps support our lives.

So the first thing is to identify if the habits you are keen to adopt will have benefits that are greater than the potential ‘non excitement’ of doing them. If so then you have started. The next thing to identify is do you need help with this or do you have the will and discipline to do it alone? For example when it comes to exercise, while i do some alone I far prefer to play squash or tennis with a friend than going to the gym. So it’s key to ask yourself ‘what way of habit changing could work for me knowing – knowing myself as I do?’

Then you can start to bring these things together:  is there an enjoyable way to build this habit? If there is then that’s great. If not then see it as functional – and keep the benefits in mind. If you find it tough to work on the habit along then get some apt support be it someone close to you or a specialist in the area you want help with. Your contacting us is a powerful step.

Wishing you all the best, Rasheed

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