Today, I’d like to invite you to go easy on yourself.
We live with a cultural narrative that tells us to Go Big or Go Home, one that stresses that we have to push, push, push, and be tough and disciplined, and work hard all the time.
I vote no.
There can be a time and a place for all of those sorts of feelings and that type of effort but the first days of building a new habit is definitely not that time or place.
This is a time to be gentle with yourself, to work with the feelings of reluctance and discomfort that often surround making any sort of change.
After all, our brains like to stick with established routines – those routines use less brainpower, less energy, and they feel more efficient – and introducing new habits will require work.
That’s why we need to go easy.
We need to know that we might start later than we intended or that we might miss some days in our plan.
We need to acknowledge that we will have ups and downs in the process of developing our new habits. We need to recognize that things going awry doesn’t mean we have failed, it means we are following a perfectly normal pattern of developing a new habit.
If you are in the honeymoon phase of your new habit, when everything is going smoothly, this may seem like a weird time to bring all of this up, but I think it’s useful to consider that there will be challenges ahead. Maybe you’ll want to make some encouraging notes for your future self about how you feel right now or about how you could choose a streamlined version of your habit to use on a challenging day.
If you are still struggling to get started, then going easy is definitely going to help. I know that in the past, I have set a date to start something new but when that day arrived, something was in my way – a work project, a migraine, a missing piece for the routine- and I didn’t start the way I meant to. Sometimes, I abandoned the plan right there and then because I only had one vision of my new habit – things going perfectly – and I didn’t know how to work with anything less. Other times, I started anyway but the plan felt somehow tainted because I hadn’t managed to start as I had planned.*
Instead of planning to be our most perfect selves on our most perfect day, it would be better for us to go easy. Learning to take small steps and to do things like creating a version of our new habit that we can do even on the hardest of days will serve us better in the long run.
I know that we all approach new habits in different ways. Some of us like to start with a huge workout or a long meditation and some of us like to work our way up. And, obviously, I want you to do what works best for you. However, it’s a good idea for us to all have a ‘go easy’ plan to use on days when we struggle.
On any given day, go easy might mean doing a low-key version of our plan or it might mean taking a break, but going easy will never be a sign of failure. It’s a sign of self-compassion. It’s us recognizing that we are human and that our days will vary. Being prepared to for all kinds of days and all kinds of energy levels will help us stick with our new habits until they become routine.
And now, since I like to have an example as an anchor, here’s how my yoga plan for this month will go.
I’m signed up for Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day ‘Move’ program for January but I am going to do it on my own terms. Ideally, I will do the video for a given day at 10pm. However, there will no doubt be days when I will have a family obligation or an online meeting with someone in a different time zone at 10pm. On those days, I will plan to do the video at 2pm. BUT, if that doesn’t work, I will do a very short practice on my own and I have decided that even one asana will count as a practice. So, even on my most difficult day, I can lie on the floor in Savasana (corpse pose) for couple of minutes and consider my yoga done for the day.
When you are building a habit, having what I call a placeholder practice – like me doing Savasana – is an important way to go easy while still keeping your momentum.
You aren’t slacking off, you aren’t letting yourself off the hook, you are being responsive to your own needs in the moment.
Your efforts count, whether you are meditating for an hour or a minute. Everything you do to build your habit matters, whether you do one squat or a hundred. Trust yourself to know whether you need to go easy or push hard.
And here’s your gold star for today’s efforts – even if the only thing you can manage today is reading this post – or even part of it, there are a lot of words up there!
*This might be a being-too-literal-sometimes ADHD thing or it might just be a being-too-literal-sometimes Christine thing but I have always hated the sayings ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ and ‘Start as you mean to finish.’ I understand that the spirit those sayings are trying to foster but, to me, they always seemed impossible. How am I supposed to know at the beginning how things are going to go later on? What about if I start strong and can’t sustain it? What about if I don’t have enough information at the beginning to know how things need to be later? This is more evidence of my expert-level overthinking.