All of my advice so far has been about taking small steps, keeping an even pace and being prepared to start over and over while building your habits.
All of that advice is comes from a combination of science and personal/coaching experience.
The slow and steady approach works most often.
That being said, I have also had some success with starting big – as long as the big start was for a short time frame.
So, if a small start isn’t doing it for you, maybe you might enjoy trying the other extreme and going big at first and slowing down afterwards.
This might look like a 5 day challenge to do something for an hour a day, or it might look like committing to a month of daily journaling, or it might be a long hike every weekend for three weekends in a row.
Because these bigger projects are short term, yoI can probably temporarily rearrange your life to accommodate them.
The key here is to recognize that the point of these short-term-go-big challenges is to give you a jump start, a big win that can set you on the path to developing a more sustainable habit that will work better with your day-to-day.
A short term intense start can give you lots of good information for moving forward. It can show you the parts you like or don’t like about your planned habit. It can give you a sense of immediate accomplishment. It might even give you a few skills or a boost in wellbeing that can help you move towards making activities like this a part of your regular routine.
As long as you recognize that a big start is only intended to be short term, it can really help.
Unless you are person of leisure or a professional athlete, you probably don’t have the capacity to include those huge tasks every day for the long term. And, in fact, people of leisure and professional athletes can probably only do it because they have a team of professionals supporting them in the process.
Basically, most of us will do best with a small start that builds our habit piece by piece but someone of us will enjoy starting with a big splash.
But no matter which approach you choose, you have to be kind to yourself and try have reasonable expectations about your time, your capacity, and your results.
Here’s your gold star for today’s efforts – big or small.
When you are building a habit, you are constantly going back and forth between the big picture (the habit, the system, the goal) and the small picture (the task of the day, the hour, the minute.)
It can be tricky to remember that the task in front of you will add up to the future goal. Conversely, when we are focused on the future goal it can be really frustrating if today’s circumstances require us to change our planned task – it can end up feeling like changing one day’s task will prevent us from ever reaching our goal.
That’s why, today, I’m inviting you to think of the biggest picture, not just the big/small ones.
What’s the biggest picture?
Your sense of wellbeing.
Yep, whether you are doing cardio, yoga, or meditation, whether you are running or writing in your journal, whether you are dancing or taking mindful breaths, the habits you are building are all in service of creating, improving, an expanding your sense of wellbeing.
And that’s good news for every part of your big picture and of your small picture.
It means that the repeated actions that move you toward your goal are part of the biggest picture.
It means that changing today’s task to match today’s circumstances is part of the biggest picture.
It means that anything and everything that improves your sense of well-being can be part of that biggest picture.
You can stick with your plans or you can switch them up and still be moving toward the place you want to go.
Keeping the biggest picture in mind lets you enjoy both today’s victories and the victories that lie ahead.
Recognizing the importance of the biggest picture lets you ‘off the hook’ if your plan was to do some intense HIIT but your body is asking for some yoga.
It also gives you room to be kinder to yourself when you aren’t feeling well. And, with well-being as your ultimate goal, it only makes sense to take a nap to ward off that headache, or to stick to something low-intensity when you have a cold.
Obviously, I believe that habit-building, creating systems, and taking repeated action are useful practices – otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these daily posts.
However, I think it is really important to remember that these practices are not ends in themselves, they are in service of our peace of mind, of strength, of flexibility, AKA – our wellbeing.
So, when it comes to being kind to ourselves in these practices and about the details of these practices, it’s vitally important that we remember the biggest picture and do what we can to stay true to it.
If you are old enough to be reading this, you are standing atop a stack of past victories.
I know, our brains like to remind us of the times things didn’t go so well but we can also consciously choose to remind ourselves of the times that everything worked out just fine.
You have sailed through some things and struggled with others but, more often than not, you have been victorious.
The victories may have been small, they may have been enormous or they may have been anywhere in between, but they are all right there, tucked away in your mind, waiting for you to recall them.
So, today, let’s do that.
Let’s revisit our victories of all sizes.
And literally anything counts.
If it is hard for you to get out of bed but you somehow made yourself do it? That’s a victory!
If getting out of bed wasn’t in the cards today but you texted a friend to commiserate? That’s a victory!
If you were running and kind of wanted to cut things short but you forged ahead a little more? Victory!
Last month, when you had to make those phone calls for work and it took you three days to work up the nerve but you did it? Victory!
When you finally decided to tackle the clutter in your basement and it took you weeks to get rid of it bit by bit, but you persevered? That’s a victory!
When you went to the job interview. When you stood up to that jerk. When you stepped away from the argument. When you studied for the exam. Victory. Victory. Victory. Victory.
It doesn’t matter how long ago these victories were, they still belong to you and the efforts you put into them still matter.
At this point, you might be asking yourself ‘Why is Christine bringing up all of these unrelated things? What does this have to do with the habit I am trying to build?’
Well, Team, like we have said lots of times – habit-building is hard work. It takes perseverance, it takes repeated actions, it takes a willingness to endure the stress of challenging ourselves, it takes a lot of plan-adjusting, a lot of restarting, a lot of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off and diving back in.
And I want you to remember that you have done this before. You have all of those skills and resources and that you applied them in a variety of contexts and were victorious.
By revisiting those past victories, you can see that there have been many, many times when things were challenging but that you were able to pull together the energy, the strength, the persistence, to get the thing done.
Sure, you may be facing different challenges this time, and you may need different help or different resources but you already have the key skills you need for habit-building and you can call on them again.
This isn’t about willpower or any kind of ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ approach, this is about reminding yourself that victory is possible. And that you know it is possible because you have done it many times before.
So, bask in those past victories. Remind yourself how you felt in the process and how you felt when you were done.
Use some of that energy to help carry yourself forward through any challenges you are facing on the way to the victory ahead.
Oh, and please be kind to yourself in the process.
Here’s a very goofy looking gold star to celebrate your efforts, past and present:
Today, I am inviting you to dismiss any comparison that generates negative feelings for you.
If looking at your friend’s progress or some actor’s muscles makes you feel good, if it is inspiring for you or if it motivates you to do things that increase your feeling of well-being, that’s great. Forge ahead!
But if noticing a friend’s progress or comparing yourself to someone in an Instagram post or an actor in a TV show makes you feel deflated or opens the door to self-criticism?
I vote no!
You deserve better things than that.
You deserve kindness, from the world and from yourself.
You are working on a habit that will increase your well-being in one way or another. Some days will be easy and some will be hard. Your results make be visible or they may not. You may move quickly through your plan or you may turtle your way along. Your changes may be huge or they may be small.
You may follow a similar trajectory as someone else did and get similar results or you may get wildly different ones.
The thing is this is about *you* and how you feel and about the things you want to do or learn to do.
What other people do (or have done) and their results have absolutely nothing to do with you.
They aren’t living in your body with your mind in your life with your schedule, your resources, and your challenges. You have no idea what they would/would not accomplish in your situation or what you would/would not accomplish in theirs.
If you can coax yourself into avoiding comparison and into using your own metrics to measure your progress, you will get where you want to go. And you will get there at your own pace and enjoy your own victories.
By daring to NOT compare you are bringing the forces of self-compassion and kindness into the equation and doing that always makes things easier.
Your magical gold star wand for today’s efforts is below.
I wish you ease, my dear Team members. 💚
PS – Speaking of comparisons, don’t even get me started on the fitness and wellness industry! Sure, there are lots of good intentioned and helpful instructors out there but the industry itself? That can be a bit of a racket.
A lot of these companies are making money by making you feel badly about yourself. Cheat them out of that money and beat them at their own game by stubbornly refusing to compare yourself with the people they offer up as examples.
This post is another one of those times when I try to lead by example.
My day took a (positive) turn a few minutes ago and now I have limited time to write this post. So, instead of getting into a story and lots of examples, I am going to take the idea I wanted to communicate and just frame it as a series of questions for you to consider:
How can you make the habit you are building an automatic part of your day?
What is the smallest, most straightforward version of your habit-related tasks?
How can you make that version possible on even your most unexpectedly busy day?
What does an automatic version of your habit-related task look like?
How can you increase the chances of fitting that automatic, streamlined version into every day that you want to fit it into?
There will be lots of days when you will be able to do the extended remix versions of your habit-related tasks too but today, I am inviting you to go full robot and develop the automatic version.
And here is an inspirational robot with your gold star for your efforts to automate.
She’s proud of the self-kindness you are demonstrating with your approach to your habit today.
When you are in the middle of making changes in your life – whether those changes are positive or challenging, you are going to churn up some feelings.
You might be excited and hopeful, you might be sad and frustrated, you might be annoyed, you might be scared.
Your feelings might make perfect sense to you or they might seem utterly bizarre.
You don’t actually have to come up with explanations for your feelings, you don’t have to justify them, and you definitely don’t have to dive into them and swim around.
Usually, it’s better to just let yourself feel your feelings, to accept them as a reaction to the thing that is changing, and to try not to suppress them or push them away.
I don’t mean to suggest that feeling your feelings and accepting them is an easy process – most of us don’t have a lot of training or experience in doing that – but I think it is a worthwhile practice to ease our way into.
Note: I am not a trained mental health professional so my advice is this area is limited. I just want to be clear that I am not suggesting that you start acting out your every feeling. There is a big difference between feeling something and taking action on it and it is important to learn to discern when to share our feelings (and with whom) and what feelings-related actions are appropriate to take. Many times, feelings are something for us to feel and accept – perhaps with trained support – but we can’t automatically assume that everyone around us needs to be involved in accommodating our feelings.
Ok, back to the feelings that pop up when we make changes.
It’s really important to realize that churning up feelings is just part of the process of change. Those feelings aren’t necessarily signs that we are doing the wrong thing (or the right thing), they might have useful information for us or they might be related to an old story or situation we are still carrying around in our heads. And they might only have the tiniest sliver of connection to the changes we are making, feelings get churned up about all kinds of things.
If our feelings are prolonged and overwhelming and creating challenges for us, we will need some sort of professional assistance to meet the needs connected to them.
If they are regular, garden variety feelings, then we need to give ourselves room to feel them and, once the intensity of the feelings have waned a bit, we can figure out if they have any useful information for us.
Maybe you will realize that you have some fear surrounding the changes you are making and you’ll need to find a way to increase your feelings of safety as you move forward.
Perhaps you’ll realize how excited you are about the changes and you want to take things up a notch.
Maybe you find sitting in meditation overwhelming and upsetting but you still feel drawn to the practice – that might mean you would find more ease in walking meditation or in meditative drawing.
Obviously, I can’t guess every possible feeling you might be having and advise you how to proceed but I can suggest, as I always do, that you can be kind to yourself throughout the process.
You are doing the best you can with the resources you have and it is ok to feel any of the feelings you are having related to these changes.
Having feelings, even weird and inexplicable ones, churn up in the process of building a habit is perfectly normal and makes perfect sense.
When you stir something up – your soup, your garden, the stuff in your junk drawer – things get rearranged and you automatically bring new stuff to the surface. The same thing happens when you stir your life up a bit. Please try to be kind to yourself about what arises and get whatever help you need to help you address it.
Whether today is a straightforward day or a tangly one, I’d like to remind you that everything you do in your habit-building practice counts.
Even if the task doesn’t seem like it will add much to your overall goal, it will add to you feeling like this habit is a regular part of your life.
And when something is a regular part of your life, it feels more in reach, more like something you can fit into your busiest days, more like something you can do without having to work up a lot of energy first.
So, if at all possible, I’d like to invite you to do something teeny related to your habit right away – or at least as soon as possible.
If you are trying to move more – do a little movement now. Even getting up out of your chair and sitting back down a couple of times in a row will count.
If you are trying to meditate more – try a few deep mindful breaths or a few minutes of doodling.
If you are still trying to plan your activities for the next while, maybe you could make a list of three things to try over the next few days.
If you are trying to create a journaling habit, maybe you could write down one thing you are hopeful about.
I know that these things may feel ‘too small’ right now. They may not feel like they have anything to do with the goal you are working toward. But, everything and anything you do that helps you to wrap your brain around the tasks and systems related to your goal will help you to feel like ‘the kind of person’ who can create the habits you are seeking to create.
So please, make those small efforts and celebrate every one of them.
Here are some gold stars to help you claim those victories:
So, aside from me, who is on your team for your current habit-building project?
I mean, I assume you know that I am on your team – I’m here with the gold stars and the daily posts and the complete confidence that you will find a way to do the things you want to do.
You may not have thought about it that way, but I have. I didn’t randomly choose ‘Go Team!’ as my series title – I feel that we are all in this together, we’re all on the same team, so we might as well cheer each other on.
Ok, so far, there’s you and me, a formidable team if there ever was one, but who else are we going to recruit?
Let’s think of some roles you might want people to fill. You may not want everyone in every role to be talking at you every day but you want to know who to call on when you need them.
Maybe you need an expert of some sort – a doctor, a trainer, a kinesiologist, a psychologist, a coach – in some cases the expert will be a trained professional in other cases they might just be someone with more experience than you.
You’ll want to choose your expert carefully, of course – you can’t have a hobbyist doctor or a self-trained kinesiologist, that’s not a safe way to proceed. You want an expert you can trust on a personal level and who has skills, training, and experience that you can trust.
Perhaps you’ll want a cheerleader – someone you can turn to when your enthusiasm is waning. This would be someone who believes you can do it, no matter what, and knows what to say to inspire you.
Maybe you’ll need an empathizer – someone who can talk you through the hard bits and knows when to encourage you to take a break. This person will probably also be able to remind that these things take time and that you need to go easier on yourself as you build your habits.
The Tough One
Sometimes, we need empathy and cheerleading, sometimes we need someone to say ‘Enough of this foolishness, go do the thing!‘
Personally, I don’t call on my tough team members very often because ‘just do it!’ is rarely a useful technique for me but it is good to have someone like this to call on when you need them.
This is someone who is trying to do something similar to what you are doing. They are working toward a similar or equivalent goal, they know the struggles, they use a similar vocabulary about it.
This is the person you can work in tandem with – encouraging and supporting each other and letting each other’s momentum pull you both along.
This is a person who will check in with you and make sure you have done the thing.
They will keep track of how often you have done it, how much progress you have made, and they will remind you when you forget.
This person doesn’t have to be an actual accountant, of course, but accountants are very good at keeping track of things so they would be an excellent choice for this role.
Other Ways To Assemble A Team
Like I said above, you don’t need to have someone in each of these roles on your team – I just hope you can (metaphorically) assemble people to give you the support you need and want as you challenge yourself in whichever ways you have chosen to.
And, your team doesn’t have to be people you know in person.
The most obvious answer is that you can ask people you know online to support you in some of these ways. They may be online friends or they may be people who you see in Facebook groups or on Discord or wherever.
You can join accountability/ encouragement groups related to the specific habit you are trying to build.
You can choose different Instagram accounts or websites or YouTube channels to visit depending on which kind of encouragement you need. It might be a good idea to make a list of which places to go for each kind so you don’t have to figure it out in the moment.
You can pick characters from TV shows or books and channel your inner Leslie Knope, your inner Wednesday Addams, your inner Wonder Woman, your inner Harriet the Spy and give yourself what you need today.
You can gather quotes from your favourite personal development books, your favourite novels, your favourite interviews and designate them as your ‘go-to’ for different types of encouragement.
And, of course, you can post in the comments of one of my Go Team! posts and I’ll cheer you on in whichever way you happen to need just then. I’m automatically on your team so it’s ok to reach out when you need me.
Be Kind To Yourself
My point here is that you don’t need to know everything and you don’t need to have every resource in your head at all times.
You can outsource some of your motivation, some of your information, some of your accountability – whatever resources you happen to need in a given moment.
Recognizing and utilizing these outside resources is an excellent way to be kind to yourself in the process of building a new habit.
As always, here’s a team of gold stars for your efforts today whether you are team-building or contentedly working alone at the moment.
Most of the clients I see as a coach have been being hard on themselves for a long time.
They have an idea of what they want to do or how they want things to be but they can’t quite get there. And, since they are the common denominator in every (perceived) ‘failure’, they assume the problem is them.
They assume that since new habits and changing aspects of their lives are so hard for them, they are doing something wrong or they aren’t doing enough.
And if are finding it hard to establish a habit, of you are struggling or having to start over, you might be thinking that it is because you aren’t disciplined or that you aren’t working hard enough.
The reason this stuff is hard is because…
THIS STUFF IS HARD TO DO.
If you need proof about how hard this stuff is, just look at how many books and articles and blog posts and YouTube videos and courses there are on habit building.
If habit change was an easy process, there would be no market for those things.
And if there is a market for it, that means lots of people are seeking this advice.
So, what makes more sense – that you and a bunch of other people are lazy people who don’t work hard enough? Or that habit change is hard work that requires different strategies at different times for different people?
You know what I am going to say here, right?
The problem is NOT YOU.
You may need to change your systems, you may need to change your approach, you may need to change how you are thinking about some things, you may need to gather new resources or get more support, but the problem is not you.
You are doing the best you can with the resources you have.
The fact that you find habit building hard is not a reflection on you or your efforts, it is a reflection on the challenges inherent in the process.
This stuff is hard because it is hard.
Please be kind to yourself about the whole thing – self-compassion will serve you well today and in the long run.
Here is your gold star for today’s efforts – whether you are working on your habit, your plan for your habit, or if you are just working on accepting what I said above (it’s also hard to break the habit of blaming ourselves when things go wrong.)
Here we are 10 days into a new year and I’m wondering what do you know now that you didn’t know on day one?
Maybe you have figured out some things that you like about the tasks involved in the habit you are building.
Perhaps you have figured out a good time of day to establish your practice.
Maybe you have figure out what you don’t like or what time *doesn’t* work for you and you are figuring out some workarounds.
Perhaps you have discovered that you need to take action first and plan later.
Maybe you’ve discovered that your initial idea doesn’t actually interest you all that much or perhaps you’ve realize that it is much more interesting than you anticipated.
Perhaps you want to change a few things or maybe you want to keep them exactly the same.
Sure, 10 days may not be enough time to do a full assessment of your practice so far but it is enough time to gather good information to shape your plans going forward.
10 days is enough time to begin to determine if your reluctance is due to resistance or if you need to change things a little. (Resistance often diminishes with persistence or with creating a low bar for success – if you need to change things up, persistence and a low bar probably don’t help much.)
10 days is enough time to realize that your approach to planning needs some refinement.
10 days is a decent amount of information.
But, please be kind to yourself in how you use that information.
Gathering information of this sort is NOT about judging yourself or finding ‘mistakes’ – it’s about adjusting your approach, your processes, your systems so they are helping you instead of making habit-building harder.
It’s about using that information to celebrate the good and to support yourself in facing the challenges.
For example – if you love the way it feels when you exercise right after work but you have found yourself getting derailed because you are hungry at that point in the day, that’s excellent information. Getting derailed isn’t an indication that you have failed or that it is the wrong time of day to exercise, it’s information that’s telling you to have an energizing snack late in the afternoon or on your way home from work. By making good use of 10 days of information, you can celebrate the victory of finding a good time of day to exercise AND you can address the challenge of getting derailed.
Your victories and your challenges may be more complex than that example but as long as you are kind to yourself about it, the information you have gathered so far (and that you will continue to gather) will help you to find ways to meet your needs and establish your new habits.
So, perhaps you could take a few minutes today to figure out what you know about your practice so far and how you might want to celebrate, enhance, adjust, or change things going forward.