Have you been finding it tricky to stick with healthy eating or regular exercise? Maybe you find you meditate for a few days then stop for a couple of weeks before getting your cushion out again. Or perhaps you’re trying to quit smoking or binge drinking but you find yourself in a tricky situation, have a ‘weak moment’ and slip up – straight back to square one.
You’re not alone! In fact, I think this is how most people go about incorporating a new practice or taking a new approach:
1. Decide to do New Thing
2. Do New Thing for 2 or 3 days, maybe even a week if you’re lucky
3. Stop doing New Thing because you forget/don’t have time/ it’s stressing you out/ you’re not really sure your made for hula hooping and watching season 3 of Girls again is just a much more attractive option/ etc
4. Decide that New Thing is still something really worth doing and make it happen for a few more days again
5. Repeat steps 2 – 4 a number (possible a million) times, all the while telling yourself off for having no willpower, severely lacking discipline and, hey while you’re at it, that you’re a bit of a stinky failure too.
So how can we make this little sequence a little more fun? And what can you do to make sure you don’t fall off the wagon a million timees?
The secret is to stop beating yourself up for not being able to instantly and permanently incorporate that New Thing into your life. Instead of feeling like a failure, become interested in your patterns and start to see them as an experiment.
This on-again off-again relationship you have with New Thing is actually pretty great because it gives you an opportunity to see how you feel when you do New Thing and when you don’t do New Thing. It gives you a chance to really feel out how supportive New Thing will be for you. Once you start to take notice of the experiment of hopping on and off the wagon it’ll become easy to incorporate New Thing because you’ll be super aware of how it is beneficial for you.
Take meditation for example. You read a great article explaining the benefits and decide you’d better start meditating. After you first medi you feel great! So you keep it up for a couple of days. Then you have a crazy day at work or have to rush off in the morning and your new meditation practice is the first to go. Normally, you’d feel guilty, hopeless and like you’ve failed. But now, you’ve got your curious hat on, and you’re ready to take a look at the findings of your first little experiment.
You notice that on the days you meditated you felt calmer and had more patience. And the days after you stopped you were more easily frazzled and frustrated. Armed with this evidence, you see first hand how beneficial a meditation practice has been so you get back on your cushion and find some stillness. More things will come up and you’ll be gifted with more opportunities to see how you feel when you meditate versus when you don’t. It won’t take long before meditation becomes something you want to do as opposed to something you feel like you should do. You’ll roll on from there.
This experimentation phase is pretty much never ending so it’s a great thing to get into the habit of doing! Imagine you’ve become a master meditator and it’s been months since you’ve missed a day. You wake up one day with your head buzzing with ideas and instead of sitting down to meditate, you grab your phone or hop on your laptop to start researching and writing plans. By the end of the day, you’re a little weary and a bit scattered. You know meditation that morning would have been helpful but instead of beating yourself up, you hold some gratitude for that little reminder. That little experience that popped up to let you know “Hey, don’t forget just how supportive this is for you”.
Taking this approach takes away the need for discipline and willpower. It allows you to create the life you desire without trying, trying, trying and getting bogged down by the ‘needs’ and the ‘shoulds’. Allowing yourself to try New Things out and include them if, and only if, they are truly supportive for you. It means that things will come naturally and there will be an ease and flow in your days.
And that’s pretty great if you ask me.