What human has not experienced the following scenario:
You’re so excited to start doing the thing:
You’re going to go to the gym every single day
You’re never going to eat sugar again
You’re going to go on that super strict diet and eat perfectly forever
You’re going to get on that meditation cushion every day until you’re so enlightened you’re going to have to lead your own spiritual movement
You’re going to watch less TV/ spend less time starting at your phone and more time reading/ interacting with other humans
Yes! Yes! You’re so excited.
Then you start. Maybe you put off that day for a while because it’s almost New Years/ your birthday was coming up/ you had travel plans/ it was Mercury retrograde but dammit, today is the day. You start your new habit.
The first few days you are still riding that wave of your body’s natural happy hormones so this period of time is usually exhilarating.
The difficulty comes a few days or weeks later when the happy hormones retreat and the brain is no longer loopy on them. At that point you are left with nothing but your raw willpower and there are a few challenges to operating from this place. Willpower resides in the conscious mind, the thinking part of our brain that we are aware of. The fact is that our unconscious mind, the more primitive parts of our brain that do not respond to the commands of our thoughts, is much more powerful.
This primitive part of your brain seeks only to protect you and the fact is that it resists change. It doesn’t understand that vegetables are healthier or that yoga is good for you or your burning desire to write a novel. It only knows that changes to your life and environment usually mean danger to your physical body.
That is why as soon as those happy hormones disappear, your new habit starts to feel like a bit of a drag. You might start skipping or cheating a little bit. Eventually you might slip exactly into your old habits again. The exact timeline will vary on how stubborn you are as an individual and some are truly stubborn enough to get through this period of panic as the subconscious mind slowly realizes that everything is fine. However, the fact is that these people are a minority.
The good news is that no matter what your natural amount of stubbornness is, there are ways to speak to your subconscious mind and it is ALWAYS easier to bring this part of your mind on board to help than to stubborn your way through the process of change. Full disclosure; I am a recovering Queen of Procrastination and Early Abandoner of Good Habits. If I can fix this problem, so can you. Here are some of my favorite tips and tricks that I’ve used to make better habits and a more satisfying life.
- Realize that your past failures have simply been due to the fact that you didn’t know what was actually going on in your brain. Just this change is perspective alone can be life changing.
- Recognize that post euphoria phase for what it is; growing pains. Your cells are renewing under the influence of these new habits while at the same time your primitive brain and nervous system are screaming in panic. When you get that feeling of your new habit feeling like walking through water, say to yourself “this is a physiological response to my new habit. I embrace it as proof that I am changing. This will pass soon”. Reframing your thoughts is so simple and so effective.
- Visit this page for a list of methods I’ve compiled to help you speak to your primitive brain in a way that it understands. These are often deceptively simple but repeating them will aid your nervous system in the process of realizing that this change you’re making is safe.
- Focus on adding positive rather than banning things from your life. If you have kids you understand that forbidding something is usually the fastest way to make sure they want it even more. Your subconscious mind is childlike and operates similarly! Here’s an example: instead of saying “ I will never eat French fries again” try “I’m going to find ways to add healthier foods into my diet”. Find ways to add the thing you want in positive ways. Learn to cook vegetables better. Find exercises that are fun ways to move your body. Again, reframing is powerful.
- Try five element acupuncture! I am uniquely trained in techniques that bridge the mind/ body gap so that your subconscious mind can feel safe in a way that’s far more powerful than doing the work completely on your own. Give it a try! Most people aren’t aware that this type of work can be done with acupuncture.
- If you’re not ready for needles yet, at least grab the free meditation below.