Changing Habits

The Rewarding Habit of Rewarding Habits – part 2

Making new year's resolutions stick
wrote this on February 25, 2013
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I recommend that you read The Rewarding habit of Rewarding Habits part 1 to make sense of this Post.

Almost 2 months passed since you’ve made your new year’s resolution, right?  I have a question for you:

Are you still progressing on that resolution as you thought you would? Were you able to create that new habit successfully?

The answer is probably no (unless I’m wrong, which makes you a master at reaching your goals and me, extremely unworthy).

Why do you think you’ve failed to ignite that passion you had when you set that target? What has changed that made you stop trying?  What exactly happened between New Years’ day and today?

What & Why?

The answer my friend is that resolutions are often ego driven.  We want more, we believe we deserve, and very often we simply overreach or don’t set realistic target.  For example, rather than saying I want to lose 50 lbs over the next year or better yet, I want to lose 5 lbs in the next 1 month, we say we’ll lose 50 lbs in 3 months.  When we fail, our ego won’t take failure lying down.  We either abandon our quest or procrastinate, all in an effort to avoid admitting failure, e.g., the hubristic crime of perfectionism.

Ah…The curse of perfectionism, it haunts us on so many levels.  It’s almost as though we were programmed to fail.  But why do some people beat the odds and you can’t?

We were all born more or less the same; the same default behaviors and instincts guide us all. We were all programmed to work under the assumption that there’s no tomorrow, which means that right now needs to be perfect. Our more primitive brain was not ready for the major jumps we made both technologically and socially, that’s why we need to integrate conscious behaviors like planning into our daily lives to overcome our basic impulses and their repercussions.

Yes, strategy and planning are not inherent behaviors.  They are taught and nurtured behaviors that we need to imprint forcefully.  The more you know, the better you’re at it. Imprinting a habit successfully in our conscious mind requires both: nurturing and teaching (aka learning).

Motivation on the other hand is an inherent behavior.  But it’s ruled by the spiral occurrences we undergo each and every day. To keep motivated, we need to make conscious actions that will fuel our drive, preferably before it’s depleted, and that requires a bit of know how. If you don’t know how to motivate yourself during the critical three weeks of a new habit, it won’t stick.  So, you’ll need to learn how to motivate yourself effectively.

Although we were born the same, experience sets us apart. There are some things you need to do and others to avoid while you’re working to reach a goal.  It starts with a sober plan, drive & motivation, and keeping flexible to deal with the unexpected…here’s how:

1# Rewarding habit – Planning – The good enough approach is the best

Good enough is better than perfect because it sees the light of day.

As I said, perfectionism haunts you on many levels.  It is the planning phase’s number one asset since it helps you plan all details.  But it is the execution phase’s number one enemy since it prevents you from making progress because nothing really goes 100% according to plan.

Our mind is designed to get a reward for every action we make.  By denying those rewards, we introduce into our plans anxiety and stress, the two elements you were trying to avoid in the first place by planning. Reaching a goal is a reward, your mind craves that reward badly and perfectionism pushes it away.

Drop perfectionism from your planning process and create reachable targets that can be easily obtained with small chunk sized actions, expect a “good enough result” so you’ll be able to rip the rewards your mind craves fast.  That’s all you have to do. Sounds simple right?

The longer it takes for you to reach a target, the less likely you’re going to achieve it.  Set achievable intermediate targets.  Want to run a marathon, set targets at 3, 5, 7 miles, and so forth.  Don’t aim for the entire 26 miles immediately.

2# Rewarding habit – Drive – Introducing excitement into the equation

In my previous post, I talked about how you need to plan change and introduce it in the planning stage rather than doing it on the go or alternatively leaving it to chance. Why do we need to plan for change? Because it keeps things fresh! Why do we need to keep things fresh? Because we get bored real fast from practically everything we do.  Keeping us interested requires planning and willpower.

When you try to remember how your new year’s resolutions felt when you made it, you’ll be able to recall that distinctive feeling of excitement and the anticipation of change in your life. That feeling of anticipation needs to be constantly nurtured so you’ll stay in an excited state for longer periods.  This is critical in building new habits.

3# Rewarding habit – Flexibility – Trying to do a reboot when there’s only a need for an update or a review

Starting all over again? How wonderful!

Too bad it’s a complete waste of time, seriously. By starting all over again, you throw all the things you were working on, abandoning the path you previously tried with the excuse that it’s not for you or that a fresh start will give you an opportunity to reach your goal faster.  Are you listening to yourself? It doesn’t make sense.  You are just going to repeat the same failed course of action.

Although it’s tempting, you must resist the lure to throw everything away and begin from scratch. Why is it so tempting? Because it’s easier to make the excuse that “this time it did not  work, let try it again, next time will be better”.

Unfortunately it’s much more time consuming, and even worst, after you fail twice, you’ll probably give up all together. That’s why when you get stuck, your first solution should be to review your work, reassess what you’ve done and improve/update it. The more frequent the review, the less likely you are to reach saturation or bump into show stopping hurdles.

“Nobody plans to fail, people just fail to plan”; one on my favorite sayings….

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