Real progress looks boring
Recently I had a giggle at a meme I saw on Facebook that went something along the lines of “There! I ate a salad! Am I skinny now?” I’ve had moments like that too, especially when I’ve been really good about being consistent with my yoga practice and thinking “surely I should be able to do headstands by now! I mean seriously! I’ve been working on them all week!!” When we set about trying to achieve goals or make changes to our lives, we often get caught up in the excitement and momentum of the change, hurtle along doing all the right things and then watch in disappointment as we slowly abandon all the new things we set out to do and fall back into old patterns and habits.
It’s very frustrating and is one of the most common things that people come to me to work on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had new clients say to me
“I did amazingly for like three weeks and then I just lost all will power. I’m just lazy and a failure.”
But what most people who set out to make changes don’t realize is that it’s not just about willpower, it’s about working WITH the way your brain functions, not against it. And to do that, you need to use the simplest and most boring tool that we have, the power of routine.
As an example, which do you think is going to have a greater impact on your fitness, going to the gym for a mammoth session once a week and vegging in front of the TV the rest of the time, or going for a walk every day?
Not only does routine have huge cumulative effects, for example, the difference between caring for your skin every day vs doing nothing and trying to fix it all with a facial once a month. But it’s also closely aligned with the way your brain works best.
Our brains like to create patterns and put things on autopilot, which is why it’s so easy to slip back into an old habit as soon as we stop focusing on the new behaviour that we’re trying to create. Our brain, if given a choice, goes “Well this way takes effort and I already have a pattern for this so I’m just going to switch back to that one!” And the time it’s most likely to do this is when you’re stressed, or busy or overwhelmed. Which is why making a lot of big changes all at once is very exciting but unlikely to last.
This is why, if you want to really understand why your life is the way it is, have a look at the things you do every day.
Because our collection of habits and routines are what make up our everyday existence.
The trick to sustainable changes that create even bigger changes is to focus on shifting the routines and the habits that we have now, to more positive ones that support our overall goal. By focusing on the smaller steps, each successive supporting habit, we build our way more easily and with far less frustration and resistance to what it is we really want.
For example, my goal is to be more productive earlier in the day. Now I could set an alarm clock for 6am and drag my butt out of bed and then argue with myself and later get annoyed because I am inevitably going to hit snooze 50 times and keep sleeping. And repeat this pattern every day relying on willpower to try force myself into a new habit. (Which then becomes a habit on its own!)
I could focus on building routines that allow the 6am wake up call to happen more smoothly. I go to bed 30 min earlier than usual so my internal clock starts to shift. I have a morning routine where I get up and take the dog outside straight away which helps me to mentally wake up. I plan out what I’m working on in the morning and in what order the night before so that I don’t even have to think. I can simply grab my tea and get started. Each of these habits once established, means that my morning happens on autopilot in a way that works towards my larger goals rather than against them.
If you’re trying to achieve a goal, whether it’s to exercise more or lose weight, be more productive or make more time for family and hobbies, have a good look at the things you do daily, all of your habits and routines and be honest. Are they supporting what you’re trying to do, or are they sabotaging your progress?