Discipline leads to habits and habits are basically activities that have momentum. But I think where we get misled is that we believe at some point our good, healthy habits will be so effectively on autopilot that we’ll never have to choose. That we’ll always be motivated. We believe there is an end to the choosing. That there is an official arrival.
This came to me while thinking about my niece’s upcoming wedding and how I’d like to kick it into high gear for the next 2.5 months. I heard the conversation in my head and I had to laugh. It’s a conversation I have heard from countless clients. It’s a conversation we have all the time about all manner of things.
It goes something like, if I am super-focused and committed I can achieve the weight loss, complete a marathon, look the way I want for this event, happening, occurrence (fill in the blank with your specific thing).
And so what becomes our carrot is the event. What becomes our master is the event and what we miss is we are unconsciously telling ourselves: I am only going to work this hard until this set deadline. The commitment is to the end date not about the habit forever and always, And we see this play out because what’s the first thing we will do, most of us, come wedding weekend?
Eat like we’ve never eaten before, drink like we’re in college, and do all sorts of crappy behaviors.
And before long it’s a week later and we are way off track, 5 pounds heavier and we are lacking in motivation because the carrot is gone.
And that’s what this Last 90 Days challenge, without the right context, can turn into. What happens on Day 91?
Now here’s the thing that makes it even more complicated.
I believe in living. I believe that you eat the cake on your birthday. I believe you eat it for breakfast if you have the opportunity. I do not believe (anymore) in rigidity of rules all the time because then you become enslaved to being perfect, to doing it right. And that will get you far but it will suck every last ounce of joy out of your life. So if you stay committed to these Five to Thrive forever just so you can say that you did and never missed well that’s also not the best context.
We have to have a plan or we will be back to our old, dehydrated, or couch-potato ways come January 15 and we’ll be somehow surprised. I actually had this reality check with myself a few days ago when I said, I haven’t had a Diet Pepsi for 28 days and still at some point on any given day I crave it.
You can rationalize that all day long but that’s addiction, my friend.
In this 90-day challenge, I have really seen it in such a clear way. It’s actually a bit disturbing how strong the pull is at times. What also is sobering is how hard it is to say, I will never drink Diet Pepsi again. I am a water drinker. I am a former soda drinker; or whatever variation I come up with that day.
Instead of January being my carrot, I am choosing, albeit begrudgingly on days, to say I am done with it. There is zero value for me and it has power over me. The real framework here is that these five healthy habits are about moving the needle toward a better life. It’s not about hitting the mark every day so we can say we did. It’s about creating habits that by doing them make us feel better, allow us to experience life better. It’s not really about the water, the salad, the giving up the unhealthy food. It’s what those things create and how they affect our lives.
I waffled about sharing this next bit because depending on how you look at it, you will either feel vindicated and consoled for all the times you lost your way. Or you’ll feel like you’re at the bottom of a long climb.
But I believe that truth matters and when we’re honest we can anchor ourselves to something that will hold up.
That is, a habit can be formed in 21 days but it’s not fool proof.
In 66 days it’s strong. In 254 days it’s more fully formed but, it’s still a choice. How do I know?
The same way you do. There are things you’ve done most days of your life but on some days you sleep in or don’t. You sometimes skip dinner or don’t. You sometimes skip breakfast or don’t. You sometimes eat lunch or don’t. You eat a doughnut or don’t. For each of us, what side of those sentences we fall on more often than not are our go-tos but on occasion, no matter how strong the habit, we do the opposite. (And if you feel proud saying you never, ever eat a doughnut, I say, live a little)
I have been a runner for years and I am consistent. It’s a strong habit. And I still have to choose it. I choose it by making a place in my day for it. I choose it when I don’t feel like it. I choose it when it’s easier to stay in bed. I have motivation a good percentage of the time but I still have to choose it.
And these new habits that are still getting their legs under them are the same. They are gaining ground. They are getting stronger but each day we have to choose.
The choice gets easier. The choice gets more comfortable but the decision still needs making.
Which brings us back to ourselves. Do you keep promises to yourself?
Yes or no.
And that’s what a habit is really – a promise you keep way more often than you don’t. A promise that will either be your rise or your downfall.
Sunshine & Sarcasm,
Lowi & G