As I dusted off my blog today my first thought was “Ugh.” Why is doing something like blogging (or flossing for that matter) so hard to do consistently? I floss every.single.night the first two weeks after a dentist appointment. And then it slowly wanes until 2 days before my next visit when I’m vigorously flossing morning, noon and night. Like I somehow think the hygienist won’t be able to tell.
Same with blogging. I really got in the groove with blogging the end of 2016 through the beginning of 2017, and then BAM “something” happened that knocked me off course and out of the habit and here it is 16 months later. What the heck?
Why Good Habits are so Hard to Keep
It was at Brunch and Learn at Engenius Web Design here in lovely Greenville, SC where Kory first introduced me to the analogy of blogging and flossing. So two things came out of that event for me. One, was me dusting off my trusty blog and getting back to the habit of writing. And two, was me thinking about all the habits we have in life and which ones “stick.”
Those that stick… Anyone else feel like it is really easy to get in the “habit” of throwing our clothes over that chair in the bedroom (the one we all know no one actually ever sits in….because there is always a pile of clothes on it)? What about the habit of putting the toilet paper on the roll a certain way? Or the “habit” of endlessly scrolling through social media? Or eating Oreos in a particular order? Or the million other little “habits” that really in no way enhance our lives?
And those that don’t… But when it comes to exercise, flossing, making healthy food choices, going to bed at a good time, or even blogging – things that obviously have a positive impact on our lives (or work), well on those things we are champs at procrastination, making excuses, and even sometimes (yikes) “shaming” our friends for doing said task. [Seriously, who here hasn’t said something like, “you’re going to bed at 9 pm Granny” or “come on, just one slice of dessert won’t kill you” or some such jab at a good habit?]
The Brain Game
So what’s up with the habits? Turns out our brains want to make things “easy” for us – or so they think… Our brains are trying to be all efficient and keep our thoughts on what is easiest for us. The least strenuous decision, or the one it feels has the most reward (the one we “like” the most), yep – those are the ones the brain tries to get us to choose.
- Throwing our clothes on the chair – EASY! At least for the moment.
- Toilet paper and Oreos – It’s what we “like” so it’s worth it whether it is actually “easier” or “harder.”
- Scrolling through social media – EASY! And if someone “likes” our post, that’s also positive feedback for our brain. Double whammy.
- Brushing our teeth – Great reward (in that people will want to be around us).
So how can we take the other tasks that we’d TRULY like to incorporate into our lives, the ones that will actually improve our lives and make us a better version of ourselves and make THOSE habits? Something we don’t have to constantly fight our brains to do?
1) Understand WHY the result is important to you and how it will improve your life.
What will you get out of a habit of exercise, blogging, flossing, healthy eating, time with your spouse instead of Facebook, etc.? If the end result is not something you truly desire, that action will never become a habit (unless forced on you – think mom and making your bed…). IF, you can see the result in your head and the value it brings to your life, then when your brain starts fighting you (because it will at first) you are mentally prepared to fight back. You can quickly remind yourself why this task is absolutely worth the work, time, effort; and it becomes easier to make it a habit.
I always explain to my health coaching clients that their WHY has to be stronger than a number on a scale. They have to see how a healthy lifestyle really positively impacts their life before it is worth it to “sacrifice” something easier and things (foods) they enjoy.
2) Turn the task into something positive.
Remember – your brain wants “easy” and what you enjoy! It really does think it is trying to help you. So if you look at a habit as punitive or missing out on something “better” your mind is going to constantly fight you on doing that. A few examples:
If you’re trying to lose weight, before you might have said, “I can’t have dessert, wine, etc. I’m trying to lose weight.” Instead, you want to pick healthy food you do actually enjoy, and then turn your thoughts to something like “I’m fueling my body with yummy, healthy foods.”
If you’re trying to write your blog, you might pick a space where you really enjoy working (by the river for instance…) and instead of saying to yourself “I have to get this blog written” turn your thoughts to “What fun thoughts and ideas can I share with other people?”
3) Keep at it!
It will take a little while to retrain your brain and get it on the same page with your overall goals. So being consistent, rewarding yourself (remember, your brain LOVES rewards!), and tracking your habit so you can see progress (that in itself is a reward) will all help you shift your brain to a place where it really is helping you!
4) Reap the benefits!
Enjoy the life you are creating that reaches your goals and aligns with your values. And relish in the fact that with each new habit you instill, you are building momentum for more and more!