Behavior change is tricky. How many times have you told yourself you would start something only to fall off the wagon weeks, days, or even hours later?
The reason it’s so hard to change our behaviors is because of habits. Our habits are engrained over time. They can include brushing our teeth, waking up to mindlessly scroll through Instagram in the morning, the thought patterns running through our minds, and even the way we’re speaking to ourselves.
About 40% of our daily behaviors are automatic habits, and about 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. Even if you think you don’t have any habits, you do: they’re just so much a part of what you do that you don’t even notice them!
This is why the new things we want to implement in our lives are so elusive: the things we’re already doing and thinking get in the way of creating new habits and patterns!
Why are habits relevant right now?
Now more than ever, we need to create a sense of rhythm in our lives. In quarantine, we need to have routines established throughout our days to feel purposeful. Structure is liberating. When we don’t have structure, we feel lost and ungrounded, or stagnant and stuck.
This often leads to looking to external sources for quick fixes, distractions, or numbing in the form of food, technology, drugs or alcohol, negative thought patterns, online shopping, etc.
My job is to help people implement the behaviors, thought patterns, and habits they need to improve their relationships with themselves, with their bodies, and with their lives. These habits help them feel connected with their own needs, and give them the capacity to honor those needs rather than numbing or distracting from them. The habits help improve their overall energy levels. They help them find more ease, happiness, and joy in their day-to-day lives.
It all comes down to habits.
This time of quarantine is also an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that we may have more time on our hands! With more time, we can get really clear on where we want to go after we emerge from this period.
But we have to do it intentionally. Otherwise, our days can slip away from us and start to feel monotonous, dull, and repetitive.
Now is a time to solidify healthy habits that serve us, both for getting through quarantine and for emerging with renewed energy. Instead of waiting for this time to be over, let’s leverage the invitation we so clearly have to reflect inward on our values, how we invest our time, what matters to us, and how we can live in integrity with ourselves and the world around us.
That is not to say that we can’t be gentle with ourselves: we can and should be! This is an incredibly difficult time for so many of us, and has created heightened anxiety for many even if we don’t feel like we have it ‘as bad’ as other people. I encourage you to give yourself grace for not doing things perfectly (in fact, there’s really no place for perfectionism in a healthy lifestyle: see below).
Instead, I encourage you to see what little things you can start to incorporate to make you feel just a little bit better day by day. As you do this, you’ll feel more empowered, more purposeful, and more aligned with your authentic self.
Obstacles to Change
Some of the most common obstacles I see in people wanting to change their habits and behaviors are perfectionism, denying their needs and desires, and trying to rely on willpower.
When we think of perfectionism, we might think of the Type A personality. But perfectionism in behavior change research is a little different: it’s the all-or-nothing pattern that says we won’t do something unless we can do it all the way.
Perfectionists’ homes are often messy.
They say to themselves: “Well if I can’t clean the whole house, why wipe down the counter or put my dishes away?”
Perfectionists often struggle with their relationships with food.
They say to themselves: “Well, I ate that one **insert thing I wasn’t ‘supposed to’ eat,** so I might as well eat the rest of the box and then never eat another ever again starting tomorrow.”
This of course adds up over time, creating a pattern of all-or-nothing thinking and being “on” or “off” with health habits.
This is correlated with…
The Denial/Binge Cycle:
The Denial/Binge Cycle is pervasive in diet culture especially, where we restrict our diets and then our physiological need for food wins out over our willpower, resulting in a binge. This is part of the reason why the traditional method of dieting doesn’t actually work, and why we need to instead tune into the messages of our bodies in order to honor our needs.
But denial/binge cycles are pervasive in other parts of our culture as well.
We push through the entire work day without so much as a calming breath, only to come home so exhausted that the only thing we have the capacity to do is watch Netflix or scroll on our phones and order takeout.
We don’t allow ourselves to have fun and recover from work during the week, so we party all weekend and don’t feel rejuvenated by Sunday night.
This brings us to…
Willpower doesn’t work.
In our culture, it is a sign of strength to muscle through something to succeed. But in order to create sustainable change in our day-to-day lives, we can’t actually rely on willpower to succeed.
We only have a finite amount of willpower. The rest, as I mentioned before, is automated habits and thought patterns.
This is why we need to learn how to automate our habits instead of relying on that willpower or motivation. We need to harness motivation when it is high to make things as easy as possible for when motivation is low.
Overcoming Those Obstacles:
If you resonate with these common themes of self-sabotage, there are a few things you can do to overcome them and create lasting change in your life.
In order to free yourself from the perfectionism paradigm, the first thing you can do is break whatever it is you’re wanting to implement into the smallest possible step. In other words, you can make it so easy you can’t say no.
For example, instead of exercising for an hour at the gym every morning when you’ve never had a consistent workout regimen, you can start with just five minutes of exercise (yoga, burpees, stretches, etc.). The goal here is not the single workout itself: the goal is to become someone who exercises consistently.
Another example is meditation. Starting a meditation practice can be as simple as 30 seconds of breathing and being mindful each day. The goal is not the single meditation: the goal is becoming someone who meditates.
When you make things more complicated than they need to be, then you’re more likely to throw it all away when you aren’t able to execute it perfectly.
Architect Your Environment
This also plays into willpower: if you have to rely on willpower to do your desired behavior consistently, you’ll quickly “fall off the wagon.” But if you set up your environment to make it easier and more conducive to doing your desired behavior, you can make it doable even when motivation is low.
For example, instead of making yourself go to the gym every morning when you’re first starting an exercise routine, you can do an at-home practice.
But you can even take it a step further: you can set up your at-home movement space so it’s inviting and easy to get started. If your yoga mat or weights are buried under a pile of clothes in the closet, you’re much less likely to pull them out and start moving.
In this instance, setting up your movement space when motivation is high, and keeping it set up so you can come back to it day after day, will make you much more likely to actually do it!
Be Gentle, and Allow Pleasure
And in order to break out of the denial/binge cycle, you’ll want to have intermittent breaks sprinkled in throughout your day and week. When you push too hard, or restrict yourself of little pleasures throughout the day, your capacity for making positive choices later on is diminished.
Try taking a few deep breaths during your work day, pausing to do some jumping jacks, stopping work to enjoy your lunch, doing something in the evening that brings you really joy. You’ll find you have so much more capacity to make changes in your day-to-day life when you take the little breaks you need to rejuvenate.
Health Goals Calls
If you want to take advantage of the universe’s invitation to turn inward during this time… if you want to get crystal clear on your priorities so you can live with integrity now and after quarantine… I would love to talk with you.
You can sign up for a Health Goals Call here. In it, we’ll dive deep into what it is you want out of your health as well as your day-to-day life. We’ll uncover your dreams and your potential. We’ll dive into what’s getting in the way of those dreams, and identify next steps to getting there.
I look forward to connecting with you and helping you establish the habits and routines you need to thrive in your life!