We like things the way they are. It makes sense. Everything around us is comfortable and safe. We have a routine, we have order, and we have certainty.
As the year closes, especially as this decade closes, many of us take the time to declare resolutions. We reflect on our lives over the last year (or ten) and decide we want to make a change. We jump in with excitement and tackle our goals head on.
But some of those goals aren’t always easy to embrace. We want to change our diet, but it is hard to stick to it. We want to be more social, but the minute we are placed in those situations, we withdraw. We want to pursue a passion, but find ourselves procrastinating.
Resistance is natural — it’s our mind telling us “hey, I’m uncomfortable. Why are you changing what I’m familiar with?”. As humans, we dislike the unfamiliar, awkward, and stressful feelings that come with something new, so we stick to what we are comfortable with and never make the change. Or we make the change but revert back to old habits before we can see a difference.
Many of us don’t stick through the hard part, and that’s a huge piece of why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work out. It’s not that we don’t want to, but we lose that edge we once had. The change no longer has excitement, but rather dread. We resist the change because it gets hard — we reach a new level of discomfort and uncertainty after a few weeks of the new habit.
To get through these moments, we have to learn to embrace the uncertainty. It goes against every bone in our body, but there are ways to make it work for you.
Make small changes with adaptive planning
Often, we bite off more than we can chew. We want to be healthier so we completely overhaul our diet and start running three miles a day. Well, after about a week, that chicken and broccoli doesn’t taste so good. Our shoes no longer feel comfortable. Our route becomes familiar and boring.
Making small changes helps you fight that natural resistance. Maybe the first week you plan to add a veggie to your plate. Next week you will exchange your soda for a water. The following week you will try running a different route.
By making small changes throughout time, and the more you add them together, helps you plan and adapt better to how you feel. Adding something new each week adds an element of excitement as you tackle the change in small chunks. You might surprise yourself with your growth over time.
Continue learning throughout the process
I’m sure a lot of us do our research before starting a goal. We look at diet plans, we figure out recipes we can make, and learn about the journey from others who have followed a similar diet. That doesn’t just stop as soon as you start the diet. You continue to learn new things and research ways to make it work for you.
We also continue to learn as our habits start to take shape. We learn better ways to cook certain foods, we learn a new running route that challenges us or has a peaceful view, and we learn what we like and dislike. The more we learn, and the more information we gather throughout the process, the better we are able to adapt and develop our habits and keep them interesting.
Create your mantra (why)
Declaring your habit is one piece of the puzzle. What is the habit you are trying to build into your life? How are you going to do that? This is where we plan, in increments, and adapt that plan as we go.
Sometimes this isn’t enough. That’s where our mantra, or our why, comes in. Why are you trying to develop this habit? The why, or the internal drive to create change, is our biggest source of motivation. We are changing our eating habits because we want to be healthy to see our children grow up, or be a good example to them. We are running because we feel great afterward, and love to challenge ourselves toward a final goal (like a marathon).
Write out your why and make reminders for yourself. Tape it up on your mirror, write it in your planner, or set reminders on your phone. Instead of feeling uncertainty, discomfort, or fear when making the change, we will have a new source of encouragement.
Tie your new habit to an already established trigger
It is hard to change our habits, especially when we continue to surround ourselves with the old ones. Perhaps you decided to start running, but find you’re struggling between sitting on the couch when you get home from work and going to the gym for a run. You’ve had a long day, and you deserve to have mindless entertainment. Technology today makes it possible to do both! Download your shows and allow yourself an episode or two while you run on the treadmill. It makes running more interesting (and tolerable).
Some people like to tie a new habit with an old one. If you decide to run in the mornings, tie brushing your teeth in with the habit. You know that every time you get up and brush your teeth, you are going to go for a run. Or maybe you sleep in your running clothes, and as soon as you wake up you put on your shoes, before your body has time to tell you no. Maybe you tie healthy eating in with a family meal, making you more excited to sit down and eat broccoli than if you were trying to eat it on the run.
Make your change fun
Sure, some changes we make are more for our health than for enjoyment. We know we need to start running or exercising, we know we need to eat better, we know we need to finish that project, etc. Those changes aren’t always inherently enjoyable, but with a little creativity, we can make them fun.
Instead of running on the same road every day, head out to a local trail and mix up the workout. Not only do you get a new challenge, you have some beautiful sights. Make a game out of cooking your healthy meals. Pretend you are a chef and make the fanciest chicken and broccoli plate as if it’s the most expensive thing on the menu. Give yourself milestones to hit on your project, and every time you reach one, have a dance party or treat yourself to something.
Resistance to change is completely natural, but there are ways to bypass that resistance and stick to our goals. These mindful shifts can help make the change more exciting, and help us beat that natural lull once the newness wears off. Remember that uncertainty, or the discomfort zone, is where we can grow the most. Embrace that change and see what you can accomplish.
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