Raise your hand if you’ve ever decided you’re going to start a new hobby, habit, or make any kind of change in your life… Only to give up after a few weeks and never come back to it.
(You can’t see me right now, but my hand shot up so high I think I dislocated my arm)
We’ve all been there. After committing to a new habit, we do it day in and day out; up until the first obstacle throws us off. A thanksgiving long weekend interrupts thirty-five days of our diet, going from clean and consistent eating, to tearing a whole turkey dinner to shreds and drinking the entire jug of gravy (I’m banking on one of you having done that before).
Hey, it sucks. Our impulses got the best of us, and then we think we’re back at square one, that we’ve ruined the “streak” of healthier habits. We feel like we’ve failed, so we just give up. Not only do we give up, but we end up justifying it too: “I didn’t feel any different anyways”, “this isn’t really for me”, “I wasn’t enjoying it”. Or worse; we think we legitimately can’t do what we set out to do. Like we’re doomed to fail.
But why do we just give up at the first setback? Why, after one weekend of partying, do we go back to drinking three beers every night? Why do we stop working out after we catch a cold?
A common,although not always acknowledged, perspective is that a new habit has to be a streak. It has to be done every day, and if you miss a day,or several, then you lose out on valuable time, and all your work goes out the window.
But that doesn’t make sense when we acknowledge it. Building a new habit,or scrapping old ones, while requiring consistent effort, doesn’t go away as soon as you miss a period of time. Our goal to kick our drinking habit isn’t rendered void because we binge drink for a weekend. We don’t become “unfit” again if we miss a few workouts in a week. Our mind doesn’t unravel if we miss a week of meditating. So how come we give up so quickly?
And if we do start again, our mentality is always the same. We’re “starting over” or “back at square one.” But what happened to all that work you put into yourself before? Did it just disappear?
It didn’t. It’s still there (within reason of course; not working out for a month sets you back a bit, although you still have an understanding of the exercises, expectations, feelings, and other details). You can still return to it. It just requires looking at things a bit differently. When you return to your task, don’t look at it as a lost streak, or starting at square one. Look at it as picking up where you left off. As starting back, not starting over. As getting back on the horse from where you fell, and moving forward.
This isn’t encouraging complacency, or taking breaks whenever you feel inconvenienced. It means when life gets in the way, you don’t take that as the end, or get down on yourself for breaking the habit.
If we view improvement as something we build, forgetting to do the task doesn’t mean what we’re building suddenly disappears. If we leave it for a while it may decay or lose its integrity, but it’s not all gone. You just figure out when you can start back, what point you will be at, and get back to work.
That’s the art behind it really. The art of restarting. When you don’t complete your task one day, you just simply do it the next time. And the next time. And the next time. And when life inevitably throws you for a loop and you miss another day, you do the same thing. You just get back to it.
I know that doesn’t really seem like an “art”. There’s no fancy tips and tricks, no hacks to avoiding missing a day or a week, no big process to learning the skill faster than anyone else and cementing it in your life. But that’s the funny thing about art. Sometimes, it’s the simple ideas.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to do my French lesson tonight (because I haven’t done those in a week).
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all know that…. But Rome also didn’t fall apart overnight either. It took hundreds of years for Rome to reach its peak but it also took time, hundreds of years for Rome to decay and fall apart. That is representative of life. You don’t achieve worthwhile goals quickly or easily. They take time, they take struggle. They take relentless pursuit, day-in and day-out. That’s what it takes. But also, things don’t usually fall apart quickly either… at least at first. It’s a slow process. A little slip here, a little set-back over there; a slow wearing down of discipline and will over time.” — Jocko Willink