Last Updated onIf you’re reading this blog, chances are you want (or have wanted) to change something about yourself or your life. Your goal could be anything – a thinner waist, a fatter wallet, or giving up smoking.
Maybe you had an epiphany. You’re finally ready and determined to create the lifestyle you’ve always wanted.
We’ve all been there. At that moment, we feel unstoppable. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes, whether it’s giving up our favorite snack food or staying late at the office.
But, the truth is, many of us will fail. Why is that?
Where We Go WrongLet’s say losing weight is our goal. That extra twenty pounds around our midsection has plagued us for far too long, and it’s finally time to get rid of it for good.
We do our research and create a plan of action. Cut out junk food, consume less calories, opt for healthier meals, no snacks before bed, exercise three to five days a week, and, last but not least, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Everything is going great for a week or two. We feel like a new person. Then, one day, we cave. We wake up on the couch in a stupor to see an empty ice cream carton on the coffee table and snack cake wrappers on the floor.
We feel weak and defeated. But we’re not weak, we’re just making a crucial mistake in the way we approach our goals.
The Secret Behind WillpowerYou probably think of giving up cigarettes as an exercise in sheer willpower – breaking a bad habit through determination and self-discipline. Mind over matter and all that.
But even something that seems so straightforward on the surface is much more complex beneath it. It’s a little deeper than simply not lighting up and puffing away.
There’s the obvious nicotine addiction. There’s the feeling of smoke filling your lungs, the small head high.
Long term smokers often have oral fixations as well, created by years of dangling cigarette after cigarette between their lips. It’s why they feel the need to chew on their pen or eat more to fill the void. They don’t know what to do with their hands when not holding a smoke either.
Believe it or not, willpower is a limited resource. And breaking each of those habits uses some of it. If you’re going cold turkey, that’s five or more compulsions to rid yourself of. Things you’ve done every day for years.
Sure, there are people who have the kind of willpower necessary to just up and quit cigarettes on a whim. But imagine if they’re also trying to lose weight, just got a promotion (and more responsibility at work), are having relationship problems, or any of a myriad of other stresses in their life at the same time.
Each one draining that pool of willpower bit by bit until they’re lighting up the 20th cigarette of the day, wondering what went wrong.
The Importance of HabitsSo what’s the secret to making the most of our willpower? Habits.
Almost everything we do is a habit. They’re things that are so ingrained that we do them automatically, without even thinking. It doesn’t require a conscious effort to put on your seat belt or brush your teeth (hopefully).
You probably don’t remember, but just learning to walk required plenty of hard work. Now, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Some people can even do it in their sleep.
Our life would be a mess if every single thing required thought and effort. That’s why we have habits. They’re just something you do – sometimes without even realizing.
And because of that, they don’t tax your willpower. So how do we make the most of our willpower? By creating those habits and using them to replace the old ones. Because once something becomes a habit, it becomes easy. Imagine if going for an evening jog was as routine as putting on your pajamas.
Big Change, Little by LittleKnowing that, how could we approach losing weight differently? Think about it.
Turn all those willpower draining changes we discussed earlier into habits. But not all at once. Take it day by day, month by month, habit by habit.
Let’s start with healthy eating. Every day for a month, you’re going to eat something healthy for lunch. We mean really healthy, not some lettuce slathered in ranch dressing.
Along the way, you’ll probably be really tempted to binge on burgers. Feel free – at dinner. And around day 30, choosing something healthy for lunch will start to feel noticeably easier. It’s becoming something you “just do”.
You’ve built a habit. Now you can start adding another one. It could be a healthy dinner now. Or walking a little every day. Or cutting back on the sweets. The choice is yours.
Now, maybe this doesn’t feel drastic enough for you. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ll never make any progress like this”.
But consider your options. By building a new habit every 30 to 60 days, that’s 6 to 12 new healthy practices in a year. That’s a massive shift in lifestyle. You’re making healthy choices for each meal, you’re exercising, you’ve given up junk food almost entirely. And the pounds are melting away in the process.
Or, you can do it the old way. You can try doing everything at once and give up in frustration within a month. If you keep trying every few months or years, we’re sure you’ll eventually pull it off – or maybe not.
“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it.” – Horace Mann
Now We’re Getting SomewhereSo what do you want to do? Build muscle, make more money, learn a second language? Whatever it is, take the time to really analyze everything that will go into your new pursuit.
Break things down into smaller goals and take it one piece at a time. Building strong, successful habits is the secret to creating the lasting change and improvement we’re all seeking.
Photo Credit: Aberro Creative via Creative Commons.