Ever had one of those days, when you’re trying to start (or maintain) a habit, and you just fall off the wagon?
Whether you didn’t wake up early enough, you obsessively checked your e-mail all day, or you ate that piece of birthday cake at your friend’s party, we’ve all been there. I know I’ve been there plenty of times. I’ve recently been unable to hold my habit of eating healthily – I ate a cheat food once per day every day for the past couple of weeks, excluding today! And this is from a guy who made it over 6 weeks without cheating during the winter!
And, you know what I told myself after eating that delicious black raspberry chocolate chip ice cream on Saturday – or every other day I cheated?
“This is the last time I’ll cheat! No more cheat foods!”
Of course, the tiramisu at the restaurant we went to was too appealing, so I went for it. Then, I told myself that it would be the last time as well, and so far (after one day!) I’ve done well at keeping the promise.
The problem that I’ve run into is whenever I acted human and didn’t do what I knew was right because I gave into temptation (eating incredibly healthily is the habit that’s the hardest to keep consistent over a long period of time; of course, “incredibly healthily” means no cheat foods whatsoever), I’d get this awful feeling of guilt. It would choke my creativity and self-esteem, because I felt like I wasn’t being strong enough in maintaining a habit that I knew was essential to my life. This goes for other habits that I’ve tried to form – reading a certain amount of pages daily, spending less time consuming and more time creating, going to sleep and waking up at certain times, and meditating, to name a few – and it would stifle me in ways that you wouldn’t believe. I was so focused on cementing these habits into my life (sorry, Leo – I’m still working on the habits from Zen to Do, even after 6 months) that, if I failed, I felt like a failure myself.
Everyone’s felt like that at some point. If you haven’t, then you’ve either never tried to change your lifestyle in a significant way, or you have some ridiculously strong willpower that you should probably consider bottling and selling (you’d make an amazing profit off of it). The struggle of making lasting changes is so ubiquitous to humans because we’re not perfect. We make mistakes. We break promises to ourselves, even when we say it in the mirror. We have an addiction to our ingrained habits, and will return again and again to them unless we act like we’re stronger than them. Sometimes, old habits beat the new ones. It’s okay.
And yet, even though I knew that it was okay and these things happen, even to the best of us, I still felt immensely guilty whenever I ‘failed’ myself. In the darkest depths of my mind, I still kick myself for being too haphazard and not having very good focusing skills. To be honest, I’m pretty scatterbrained – I do work for 5-10 minutes, then space out for a bit, then return to work, and repeat ad infinitum. I’ve been working hard on developing laser-like focusing skills, but I’ve failed miserably every time. I will get it someday, I tell you!
Want to know why?
Because, I may have lost the battles, but I will win the war.
That’s what you can say whenever you trip and fall on your path to cementing a habit as a permanent part of your lifestyle. It’s a beautiful thing, because it:
- Dissolves guilt: We feel guilty because we think that, by failing just once, we’re ruining our chances of ever making the habit a reality. This assures that our current mistakes won’t influence our future.
- Shows you have other chances: If this time is only a ‘battle’, surely there will be more battles – or opportunities to practice the habit – ahead. It’s like that quote from Vanilla Sky – “Every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around.”
- Makes success a reality: By saying you will win the war, you are telling yourself that you will make the habit a habit. You’re setting up the best kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Of course, saying this to yourself is nothing unless you also get fired up to win the next battle. Make it your mission to win the war by winning every battle afterward. Affirmations like this are all well and good, but they are only effective if they are backed up by action! This is just a way to set you free from the destructive tendencies we engage in whenever we do happen to ‘lose a battle’, as they usually do more harm than good. I’m a believer in treating yourself (and everyone, of course) with respect and care, and this is a way to do it.
So, the next time you ‘lose a battle’, remind yourself that you’re going to win the war! Lick your wounds, forget your past, and start with a clean slate your next go around.
As always, your input’s greatly appreciated!