There are a ton of things we want to begin doing, whether its beginning a diet, practicing meditation, keeping a journal, organizing our lives better. Why is it that it is so hard to start even one?
The steps themselves might be deceptively simple: pick one habit, keep it small to start with, and remember to do it every day.
But it’s not as easy as it looks — there are a many forces that we allow to pull us away:
- People in our lives create resistance to the habit.
- Our environment itself creates resistance (i.e. Internet distractions get in the way of writing).
- We forget.
- A crisis or other disruption comes into our life unexpectedly.
All of that is difficult … but there’s one obstacle that gets in the way more than any other.
Our biggest obstacle is our own ego.
You shouldn't be surprised. Take a look at the following:.
- I am bad at it.
- I know I may fail.
- I am distracted by addictions (e.g. browsing social media) that are more comfortable
- I am afraid of acknowledging the issues that led me to avoid starting the habit earlier.
Kinda hits home doesn't it? We are our own biggest obstacle to the new habits we want to create in our lives.
Our ego lets us come up with all kinds of excuses.
Excuses that sound reasonable that really aren't.
We object to waking up early to write, because we’re tired. Tiredness is a big objection of ours.
We object to doing yoga or exercising, because it’s hard and we don’t feel like it right now. We’d rather check our phones. Procrastination because distraction is easier than discomfort is another major way we deal with our objections.
We object to the difficult studying, because it makes us feel like losers to not know what we’re doing. This feeling of uncertainty is another huge objection.
We object to the daily practice, because it feels restricting. It feels useless somehow, to practice but not get anywhere. It’s not working.
We object to discomfort, uncertainty, being overwhelmed, having to do something regularly, not being able to comfort and reward ourselves whenever we want.
We can over come the ego at times but other times we give in. So we must plan for our own failure.
photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau
To overcome our ego, we must admit that we will sometimes lose.
From studying behavioral psychology, I have seen countless people with huge spurts of motivation and humility, willing to do anything and everything to achieve their goal. I've seen people go to the gym for several hours a day to achieve their fitness goal. I've seen powerful people volunteer at homeless shelters for an entire day. But then there is burnout. The burnout isn't due to a sudden change of direction but a depleted tank of motivation.
And the sad truth is that burnout is unavoidable. Like our body, after we exercise our mind, we must recover. Eventually we will succumb to outside factors but we can plan for this by keeping ourselves away from things that distract us from our goals. There were some great insights in the most recent book I have been reading, called Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith. According to Goldsmith, who has coached some of the most powerful CEOs in the world through the same issues, there are five main ideas:
- “If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us”.
- “Feedback—both the act of giving it and taking it—is our first step in becoming smarter, more mindful about the connection between our environment and our behavior”.
- “A feedback loop comprises four stages: evidence, relevance, consequence, and action”.
- “The [Daily Questions] announce our intention to do something and, at the risk of private disappointment or public humiliation, they commit us to doing it”.
- “Self-discipline refers to achieving desirable behavior. Self-control refers to avoiding undesirable behavior”.
So the right answer for me might not be the right answer for you.
Let’s look at a few different approaches — I suggest you try one out, and see if it works. Experiment!
Have Answers to the Objections
If we have a set of common objections to sticking to something, then we can pre-plan our answers instead of blindly believing the rationale we usually use.
Here are some common objections, with examples of how you might plan to answer them:
- I’m tired (or don’t feel like it). Answer: Just do a little bit of it. You don’t have to do it for very long … if you can do one minute (or write one paragraph), you can call that a win for today.
- Why should I put myself through this. Answer: This is a gift to yourself. Doing this habit is a loving way to make your life better, and always putting it off is a harmful habit. See the deliciousness in this experience!
- You deserve a break/treat. Answer: Take a break right after you do it for a minute. Or … let this be your treat!
- I’ll do it in a minute (or “One won’t hurt). Answer: You know that rationale is a lie. Don’t listen to the lies you tell yourself when you’re tired or afraid. Instead, tell yourself that doing the habit for one minute won’t hurt. Or putting off doing something you’re trying to quit (cigarettes, for example) won’t hurt.
- This is scary/sucks because I don’t know what I’m doing. Answer: Yep, the uncertainty is scary! And yet, everything good in your life has come because you pushed into uncertainty. So see it as something to savor, this uncertainty, because it is the ground where you learn, grow, and get better. Learn to relish in it.
- This is hard, I’ll do it later. Answer: Do a small dose of the hard stuff now, then go to your favorite distraction after. Switch up the order and things get a lot better in your life.
Of course, the answers above won’t necessarily be the best ones for you … so figure out what answers work for you.
Set Up Your Environment
If having answers to your objections doesn’t work, you might set up your environment to be more conducive to habit success, when you’re feeling good and optimistic.
- Clear away distractions. Make it hard to get to them.
- Make your best option the most convenient option. Put out the healthy snacks where you can see them, and make yourself have to drive to the store to get the unhealthy stuff.
- Tell others in your house/office that you’re not going to do something (not go on Facebook, not eat candy) … and if they catch you doing it, you owe them $50.
- Get others to join you in a challenge.
- Put reminders or inspiration everywhere.
- Make your Instagram or Twitter feed only filled with inspiration, not distractions.
- Ask others to encourage you on your goal every time they see you.
- Set up your tapestry, clean your room, create positive vibes so that you can start your day with mindfulness and confidence.
The first of many, this post was written with my own struggles in mind. I hope it was insightful and gave you some direction in your own endeavors. I will end this post with a moving quote I heard while watching BoJack the other day.
"It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day. That's the hard part. But it does get easier."