When you fall off the wagon, just start over. That is the answer, but where is the motivation to do that? Motivation is a fleeting emotion. It starts off very high and then gradually reduces in potency until we start to wonder why we even bothered in the first place. I’ve seen this many times in my life, especially when trying to pick up a new habit. Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’ve missed a day or two or ten, it’s no use, I should just give up; What’s the point if I keep messing up?; I’ll never get the new habit to stick.” It’s a whirlwind of negative thoughts that can stop us before we even start. Forming the habit is simple enough, each time we fall off the wagon we start over. If you fell off the wagon on day 15 and missed day 16, 17, and 18, you can start over on day 19- now it is day 1 again. If you have to start over 100 times, you are reinforcing the behavior 100 times. The problem is not “how” to form the new habit, the problem is “why continue to try?” The real question is, “How do I stay motivated enough to start over?”
Anchor yourself to your motivation.
Initially we are motivated by the positive thoughts associated with creating the new habit. You might think to yourself, “If I exercise daily, I will be healthier, happier, more attractive; If I meditate daily I will be calmer; If I budget, I will have more money for me.” To stay motivated, you should make sure your reasons for wanting to develop the habit are strongly grounded in the ideal version of yourself and your values. In this way, your reasons will serve as an anchor to keep moving forward when things feel as if they are falling apart. We need to consistently remind ourselves of the reasons why we started. Before you give up, give yourself a review of the pros and the cons of quitting. Why did you start in the first place? What was your anchor? What will quitting accomplish? How can you turn this around so you can start over again? Do you really want to quit or is that just the easy way out? Asking these types of questions will steer you away from making an emotionally charged decision towards making an intentional decision.
You are in control.
Even with a strong foundation, we may lose sight of the reasons why we started and become overpowered by the negative thoughts. We tell ourselves, “Ahhh I broke the chain, I messed up, I’m just going to give up.” And it serves us to give up because of the beliefs we hold. For example, you might believe giving up will be easier than developing the new habit. You might believe it will take much less time, effort and resources to simply give up. Or you might believe you cannot develop the habit because of a fault in you— you aren’t smart enough, capable, disciplined, etc. Without realizing it, the negative beliefs drain all the motivation right out of you. So how do we get rid of them? First you should adhere to this stoic truth: We cannot control anything beyond ourselves. Otherwise stated as, the only thing we can control is ourselves— our thoughts, our perceptions, or actions. This means we assign meaning to our actions, they do not have meaning in and of themselves. We are the ones telling ourselves that we failed to create the habit because of BLANK. We create the narrative. And if we create the narrative, then we can re-write it.
Try these re-writes when you start to feel discouraged.
- I’ll never get the hang of it.
- I just can’t keep up with it.
- Why even bother?
- I lack the discipline to master this.
- Never say never. I can keep trying.
- I can start over as many times as necessary.
- I started because of BLANK, and that’s why I’ll keep going.
- Discipline is a learned skill, I can learn it.
Rebuild your motivation with positive reinforcement.
The psychologist Ivan Pavlov, introduced us to classical conditioning where something stimulating is paired with something neutral to produce an automatic response. For example, I associate the smell of sunscreen to going to the beach because they have been paired so many times together. Now whenever I smell sunscreen I get a small urge to be laying on the beach. The psychologist B.F Skinner, took it one step further and introduced the term positive reinforcement into the study of behavior. Positive reinforcement is a reward system where you take a desired action and then reward yourself for taking the action. You can use the same concepts of classical conditioning and positive reinforcement to develop your habit. For example, if you want to develop a reading habit, you might pair reading with your morning coffee (assuming you enjoy your morning coffee!). To make it a positive reinforcement, you can only drink your coffee once you read. Overtime, you reinforce the reading habit by rewarding yourself with coffee each time. This is something I use with my coaching clients— we pre-plan how they will celebrate after completing an action step towards their goal.
Forming a new habit only requires repetition. When you brake the chain of repetition, you can always start anew. Keep yourself motivated with a constant reminder of why you started in the first place. Help yourself break out of negative thoughts by re-writing the narrative in your head telling you that you should quit. Turn it into an automatic response by pairing the habit with a reward. And finally, if you need support, look to friends, family and loved ones to help you move forward.
Cat Marte is a Career and Success Coach who helps success driven people advance their careers and launch and grow their online businesses. Book your free introductory coaching call today.