The hardest day is always the day after you begin something new. Conventional wisdom, although is that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. Whether or not this is correct is really irrelevant. Creating a new habit takes time, perseverance, and dedication. More often than not, the second day is the most difficult. The first day of a new habit is exciting because it’s new. You’re motivated, and ready to tackle that “thing” you’ve been putting off forever.
Then comes the next day, and the next, and the next.
Soon the new habit loses it’s luster and the excitement wears off.
By Valentine’s Day your new habits and resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Your life returns to the way it was and you resign yourself to the false belief that nothing ever changes.
The best example is starting a new habit of working out. January is the busiest time in any gym around the world. Losing weight and getting fit are consistently in the top 5 resolutions people make every year. So, you gather up the motivation to get to the gym, sign up for a membership, and perhaps even accept that free 30 minute workout/consultation with one of their personal trainers.
You go, meet the trainer, do the workout, and they kick your ass. You go home realizing you’re in worse shape than you thought you were, but that’s not the worst. The next morning you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. There isn’t a muscle in your body that isn’t sore.
The hardest thing to do is get up and work out again. Especially when your body is cursing every move you even think about making.
It’s the same with saving money, quitting smoking, eating healthier..any major life change. Doing it once is great. Continuing to do it is what brings success.
The Three Phases Of Habit Formation
Nobody is an expert at things they do for the first time. It’s also rare to easily pickup a new habit. For the vast majority of people there are three distinct phases of habit formation.
The Honeymoon Phase
This is the phase that everyone loves. The new habit is exciting and you’re full of hope and optimism. It’s also deceptive because of the initial belief that ‘this is easy’. Yet, like pretty much everything, the honeymoon eventually ends and the hardest phase begins.
The Hardest Phase – The Slog
This is the phase when just about everyone quits. You’ve invested time and energy into developing your new habit and it’s just not as fun or easy anymore. The temptations of your old life get stronger and perhaps you’ve slipped a couple times. This creates doubt you can actually do what you set out to do. Here’s three things you must do whenever you feel like giving up.
- RECOGNIZE YOU’RE IN THE FIGHT – Awareness is key. Recognizing you’re in the hardest phase can help you stay motivated to keep moving. Simply say to yourself “I’m in the hardest part and I am strong enough to fight through this!” Giving up when things get tough only makes it easier to quit next time.
- TAP INTO YOUR EMOTIONS – Emotions build stronger connections to hopes, dreams, goals, and memories. Connect positive emotions to your outcome by asking yourself “How will I FEEL when I accomplish _____?” Conversely, attach negative emotions to the question “How will I FEEL if I don’t accomplish _____?” Note the use of the words “when” and “if”. Using declarative words like “when” help anchor what you want while ambiguous words like “if” weaken the bond between thoughts and actions. Stay focused on the positive to keep you motivated during the fight.
- IMAGINE THE FUTURE – Think about your life 6 months, 1 year, 5 years in the future. Create two visions, one where you accomplish your goals and one where you don’t. Make them as real as if you’re living them today. If you can’t stand to see yourself living life as you currently are, keep that future vision at the forefront of your mind during the hardest days.
The Victory Phase
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the fight and now your new habit comes as second nature. Don’t get complacent and take your foot off the gas simply because it’s so much easier now. Positive and healthy habits are built EVERY DAMN DAY! There’s always things out there in the world that can trip up the new you and send you back to the fight.
- DISCOURAGEMENT – Some link this to negative thoughts and, while there is validity to this, a bigger source of discouragement is friends and family. When you change, others will do all they can to sabotage you. Why? Simple. If you change, the nature of your relationships have to change and, as you well know, PEOPLE FUCKING HATE CHANGE! Your changes will cause them to see things in themselves that they don’t like. You’ll unintentionally expose their inner monsters and they’ll do all they can to lock them away. This includes giving you backhanded compliments and nitpicking you every time they see you not keeping up on your new life. Discouragement from those closest to you is the hardest noise to keep out of your mind. If others can’t or won’t support the new you, then perhaps it’s time YOU reevaluated your relationship with them.
- PATTERN INTERRUPTS – Holidays, vacations, family emergencies, and periods of high stress can derail even the most dedicated people. If your new habit hits a speed bump, don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens to the best of us.
- SUCCESS SEDUCTION – When you start thinking things are too easy, it means you’re not working hard enough. Yes, new habits will become second nature in time. Don’t let yourself get seduced by success into thinking changes are easy or even permanent. Positive habits are built daily. Be intentional about being a kickass version of you and never let yourself become complacent.
Choose Your Hard
Living your life as it is now is hard.
Making changes to live the life you want is hard.
You have to choose your hard.