We’ve all done it. We wait… for Monday.
You know what I’m talking about. Let me go through the pantry and freezer and finish off what really shouldn’t be here on Monday when I start “the diet.” Doesn’t matter what diet it is, doesn’t matter what is going to be restricted or limited, we’ve all assigned an imaginary start date to what should be the rest of our lives. If you think about that, much like the dieting mentality in general, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Because anything that starts ultimately also must end.
No Start. No Stop
The first thing we need to do is understand that there is no start and stop to improving ourselves. Can you imagine telling your child to start being good on Monday? To start listening to the teacher on Monday. First and foremost, things don’t work that way. But also, what kind of message is this sending? That one can abuse and rebel until the stopwatch tells you it’s time to make a shift? That we can get away with bad behavior – self-damaging behavior — because at some point, we have scheduled an imaginary commitment to stop?
Now, let’s look at it a different way. What if we took control – in small, manageable, conquerable steps? What if we could gradually phase in new behaviors that would ultimately make our other decisions on a day-to-day basis easier because we now know we are capable and competent and can continue them with no end-date in mind.
It’s like mental strength training. It’s a very small price to pay to test and reward your ability to stick with a new behavior. Many experts call this habit stacking, and it is a highly effective way to change our behaviors one element at a time. We take the victory from knowing we can accomplish one small task and then we assign a new behavior to follow our first one.
For example, when I wake up, instead of hitting the coffee pot, I drink a full glass of water. I can still hit the coffee pot, and you better believe I will, but if every day for four weeks I start my day with a full glass of water I’ve made a habit. It’s automatic. I no longer have to think about it. And more so, I’m ready to give habit 1 a friend. I’m ready to have it stacked. After my glass of water, I’m going to take deep breaths for five minutes and give myself a minute to wake up in quiet and clarity. Before I touch my phone, check my email, and start the adrenaline rush of a day full of to-dos, I’m going to drink a glass of water and take five minutes of deep breathing.
Drink a glass of water. Deep breaths. Repeat.
And weeks later and we don’t even think about the water anymore. We like how we feel hydrated and awake from that very simple first step to our day. And now it’s automatic to follow that with deep breathing. Habit 2.
And this is not difficult. No one is asking you to give up a food group or change your routine overnight. You are starting with small behaviors that seem like nothing. But like everything in life, consistency and determination are key. Wake up, drink water, clear our minds for five minutes, and now we add another. Habit 3.
We really must respect the notion that we are creatures of habit. But no one said we were creatures of just bad habits. So that’s proof enough, knowing that we can learn a behavior, adopt it as routine and then add another.
In the clutter and chaos of the holiday season, why not implement a new behavior now and use the many weeks of family and social obligations, work deadlines, and a calendar of school activities as a time to challenge yourself to find some peace within it all. Because if you can do it now, you can do it on January 2 when things “calm down.” Imagine by the time you hit 2022 that you already have three awesome new behaviors under your belt, and it took nothing more than training yourself a couple minutes at a time.