We’ve all been there. We make a resolution at the start of the year to change our behavior and current ways of doing things. Perhaps, we decide to exercise more, to stop smoking, or to become an unclutterer. And, we start seeing the results of our efforts, of our commitment to our new goals … then it happens. We backslide. We somehow fall off course, even though we may have earnestly given our new routine our best try.
Though you may feel disappointed and frustrated by this bump in the road, all is not lost. This is an opportunity in disguise, a chance to look back at what worked and what adjustments can be made. In other words, don’t give up. Instead, refine your plan so you have a greater chance of success when you begin again. Take some time to:
Investigate what happened
So, things didn’t work out. You could just accept that and wait for your disappointment to wear off. Or, you could try to figure out the reasons why things didn’t go as you intended.
When you look with an investigative eye, you focus on facts and less on how you (currently) feel. Ask yourself questions to drill down to the reasons that made it hard to stick to your new plan.
- Did you take on too much at once?
- Did you need more support?
- Was your new routine too complex?
- Were you feeling particularly stressed (or other emotion)?
By looking closely at the events that took place before the difficulties arose, you’ll have a better idea of the changes that you can make before trying again.
Consider that you may need more time
You might have heard that it typically takes at least 21 days for a new habit to stick. While there is some data that supports the theory that you can successfully make adjustments in about a month, the reality is that it takes most people 12 weeks or more. When you’ve been used to doing things a certain way for a while, changing that behavior probably will not happen quickly. Consider that you might need to give yourself more time to let your new routine become a natural part of your everyday life.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, in a recent interview with NPR, explained that “there’s a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.” This happens after you’ve become used to the new habit. While practice may not exactly make perfect, repetitive actions do increase your comfort level, so much so, that you won’t have to think about what you’re doing. The new behavior will become more instinctive, like brushing your teeth. With this in mind, give your attention to the new routine as often as is reasonable and for as long as you need to.
Redouble your efforts
Dust off your previous plans and analyze them and the process you used to integrate the new habit a bit more closely. To increase your chances of success this time around, here are a six points to think about:
- Disadvantages of the “bad” habit. Looking at the negative effects of your current behavior will remind you of why you wanted to make a change.
- Benefits of the new change. Thinking about the positive outcomes can be very motivating and will solidify why you made the decision to adjust your behavior.
- Complexity of the change. Keep things simple and focus on just one aspect of your life that you’d like to improve. Making realistic goals will prevent you from taking on too much and getting overwhelmed.
- Ups and downs of the process. Hiccups will happen. That’s unavoidable, particularly until your comfort level with the new habit increases. Expect that things may be a bit tricky, especially in the beginning, but don’t let this discourage you.
- Strategies you’ll use. Continue using tactics that worked and remove the ones that didn’t. Instead of looking for significant change after 21 days, use that timeframe as a “pausing point” to assess where you are and check that you’re still on the right path.
- Visualize what success looks like. How will you know when you’ve made it over the hump? What will that look and feel like? Write out or sketch your success picture. Post it somewhere visible to inspire and remind you of what you’re working toward.
As I mentioned before, there is no one way to make improvements that will work for every personality. You will find some things helpful and others not. You may discover that you need more or less structure. Maybe you need someone to motivate you to continue on. Perhaps being in a different environment would be helpful. Writing down your thoughts might have a positive effect. As you go through this process of change, be mindful of how you’re feeling and be aware of what seems to work best for you. Keep things simple and use setbacks as opportunities to refine your system so that you can find a routine that works for you.