Building habits and making changes – even ones you want to build and change – tends to stir up a lot of complicated feelings. So complicated in fact, that I am making a two part post and there may be a few subsections and contradictions in both of them. Roll with me and let’s figure this out.
One of the first feelings-related tangles in building new habits is dealing with days when you just don’t feel like doing your new practice.
Not feeling like doing your practice might just be your brain resisting change, it might be a sign that you need to rethink your routine, or maybe today is an overwhelming day and you need to rest.
Let’s poke around those ideas a bit and see what we can find.
Is ‘not feeling like it’ a sign that you have picked the wrong thing to work on?
It depends on whether you are facing every single session with dread or if you are having trouble stirring yourself to do it every now and then.
If you are facing every single session with dread, that’s probably more than ‘I don’t feel like it.’ even if that’s the answer that your brain is churning up for you right now.
That regular sense of dread might mean that you have taken on something that you feel you *should* want to do instead of something you actually want. Dig into that a little and see if you can figure out why you chose this habit to build. Where did the idea come from? What are you hoping to gain from it? How do you see it enhancing or expanding your life? Your answers will tell you whether to reconsider your plans.
Or it might mean that you have taken on too much at the start, that your first step is too big for right now. This is a VERY common thing to do when trying to build a new habit. You know where you want to end up and you want to get there quickly. You assess your time and your capacity on your very best day and use that to make a plan. It works for a while but then you have a day when your time and capacity are limited and things go awry. If your daily dread is centered around how huge your practices seems, then dial things back to something much smaller. On high energy days, you can add extra things but average day can stay manageable.
Or your feeling of dread might be coming from something more easily fixable. A few years ago, I was doing a short stretching practice in the morning. I had my mat set up in the rec room with a small speaker for some energizing music and I really enjoyed the practice once I got started each day but I still found myself dreading the whole thing. I pushed through most of the time but I hated having to wade through all that dread to get to my mat. Luckily, the whole thing came up in conversation with my son and he noticed something I hadn’t paid attention to: how chilly it is in the rec room. I started putting on a cardigan before I did my stretches and I stopped dreading my routine. Your routine may not involve being too chilly but perhaps there’s a type of discomfort involved that you haven’t noticed. Are you hungry at that time of day? Are your socks too slippery? If it noisy or messy? Are your boots uncomfortable? Is your jacket too tight? Do you get interrupted a lot? Any of these things could be creating dread without you even realizing it.
Every Now and Then?
If you ‘don’t feel like it’ every now and then, or even several days in a row, you might just have what my dad refers to as the ‘sooners.’*
As in ‘I’d sooner get a poke in the eye with a sharp stick as do that now.’
That feeling, Team, tends to be good old fashioned resistance.
Your brain likes your old patterns. They’re familiar, the neural pathways for them are smooth and well-established, they take less energy than creating something new. Of course your brain wants to stick with them. Even if it knows, on some level, that the new pattern will be beneficial, it is harder and energy-consuming right now.
If you have the sooners, you will probably want to coax yourself into doing your practice anyway. In this case, your ‘don’t feel like it’ is usually about not wanting to switch gears from what you are already doing (even if you are currently doing nothing.) It’s often a resistance to getting started, not a resistance to doing.
And it’s okay to dial things back to help yourself get started. Make use of your placeholder habit and tell yourself that you only have to do a minute of exercise or meditation and then you can stop. If you are still feeling meh after a minute, stop. If you want to continue, go ahead. Or you can offer yourself the chance to switch things up a little. Maybe do your stretches in bed instead of on the floor or do wall pushups instead of floor pushups, anything that helps your practice feel more doable.
Is ‘not feeling like it’ a sign that you need to rest?
It very well could be.
We live in a world that is full of pressure to push ourselves to do more, more, and more. We take in that ambient pressure without even realizing it and we can end up packing our days with so-called productivity and alleged self-improvement. This leads to us forgetting that we need rest.
If you have even the smallest inkling that rest is what you need, then rest.
The worst thing that can come from resting is that you will feel more rested. (The horror!)
Resting doesn’t mean you are lazy.** It means that you care enough to give yourself what you need. Your body and brain need rest to function and we all need different amounts of rest at different times. If anyone tries to give you grief about that, send them to me. I have both a fierce Mom-look and a swift front kick ready to deploy as needed.
Resting can look like crawling into bed at 7pm. Or it might look like a gentle walk or a few stretches. It might look like doing Yoga Nidra. You are the only one who can determine what you need right now but if you can’t figure it out, text your kindest friend and ask them what you should do. If they aren’t available, give yourself the advice you would give a tired person who asked you for help.
So, if today is one of those ‘don’t feel like it’ days, remember that it happens to everyone and that it is ok to feel that way. Please be kind to yourself about the feeling and try not to read too much into it. All feelings are valid but they aren’t all profound. They aren’t all signs of something important.
If you are bothered by that ‘don’t feel like it’ feeling, I invite you to take a few minutes and use the ideas above to explore what might be behind it. Maybe, like me, you just need a sweater!
If exploring feels too hard, then I invite you to rest.
As always, here is your gold star for today’s efforts – your efforts in your practice, your efforts to figure out your ‘don’t feel like it’, your efforts to make space to rest, any efforts at all.
You work harder than you realize, and this star celebrates that effort.
*For the record, I’m not claiming that my Dad made up this expression, it’s just where I heard it from.
**Personally, unless you are prefacing it with the adjective ‘delightfully’, I would like to banish the word lazy from our collective vocabularies. It’s too often used in a harsh and mean way that serves no one. That goes double when we use it to describe ourselves.
For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.