Updated: Jan 28, 2022
You know, that part of you that wants you to keep doing what you do because it feels familiar even though it isn’t aligned with how you really want to live your life? The part you grapple with, force away, feel like you're beating and then it sneaks up behind you, bites you in the butt and somehow you find yourself back doing the same old same old? … and it’s not even February!
Ok so I’m being a little dramatic but it helps to shine a light on this intrinsic part of our nature. After all it has the very important job of making sure you survive, so if it’s not on board with your plans then you have little chance of success.
When creating a new habit, behaviour or regime the type of language you use from the outset and the rewards you give yourself along the way can serve to keep your old mindset and ways of doing things firmly intact:
You tell yourself that …
Your wheat free sugar free diet has been going really well, you’ve been really good, resisted temptation and stuck with it. After a month of this you reward yourself with a chocolate cake,
Or: You have been making yourself get up early, forcing yourself into your running shoes or on to your yoga mat with the promise that at the weekend you can lie in as long as you like.
Although the promise of an external reward can help push you forward to that feel good dopamine hit as you near the finishing line and keep you focused on reaching your goal, it can also serve to keep you in an old mindset which will more than likely lead to you either slipping or snapping back into the old, well established habits .
Eating chocolate cake and a having lie in may be hugely pleasurable and beneficial in the right context. However, when used as rewards they are suggesting that your new habit isn’t that pleasant, it’s just something to get through so you can finally do something else – something enjoyable! If this is the case how likely do you think it is that this new regime will become a permanent part of your life?
Mind Your Language!
In the examples above I’ve used the language I often hear when clients talk about their progress: ‘I’ve been really good’ ‘I make/force myself’, ‘I’ve stuck to it'
This language is suggesting that there is a battle to be won from the onset, it's most likely going to be difficult and you are fighting for something that is so intrinsically unrewarding, you have to force yourself to do it. In other words life from now on will be a list of got to’s have to’s and must do’s. Does it sound fun? Inspiring? Something you would like to do forever? I doubt it.
Discipline vs willpower
Discipline does have a place when changing a habit and there is a difference between willpower and discipline:
Willpower feels difficult, it is the sense that you are going against yourself. Having to keep your guard up because you don’t quite trust that you will turn up for yourself. Although you may get things done joy, fulfilment and satisfaction are short lived if felt at all.
Discipline is a firm and honest friend that will keep you on track, it will help you create realistic promises to yourself and support you in keeping them in an honest, kind and considerate way. There are many ways to turn willpower into discipline:
Have to or choosing to?
Taking time to set up a positive attitude towards your new habit pays dividends. Be clear of why you want to do this in the first place; change your diet or start a new morning routine because you are choosing to enjoy the benefits of feeling lighter, healthier, more peaceful. Instead of telling yourself that you must/have to/got to, remind yourself that you are ‘choosing to do this because...' Remembering why you are doing this in the first place puts you in the driving seat. It diminishes that feeling that there is some sort of strict parent or sergeant major in charge of your life.
Intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards
Your new habit may take a bit of discipline and may feel uncomfortable sometimes however, if you make doable promises to yourself and build the new habit slowly then the discomfort can be acknowledged and dealt with. This keeps your survival system calm as abrupt change arouses the alarm system and encourages you to stay with what you know. Having discipline will feel good and build your self esteem as you grow in confidence knowing that you will turn up for yourself.
In summary, when making changes is your life:
Take note and reinforce the intrinsic rewards you are gaining on a daily basis. If you are feeling miserable and having to force yourself through then maybe you are doing too much too soon or you are going along with what you think you should do rather than doing something you really want to do. Take time to explore what is going on, re frame your approach, remind yourself why you are doing this and call on discipline to help you with the next small step. Small steps lead to big change.
Celebrate rather than reward yourself - guilty pleasures just don't figure
Enjoy a piece of chocolate cake because you love food, be present and savour it so it is truly satisfying, luxuriate in a lie in because that morning of deep rest feels so good for your body.
Find different ways to celebrate: A long walk in nature, a luxurious soak in the bath, a night out with friends, bake, cook, sew, paint.
The way you do something or label something makes all the difference as it reflects your mindset and having a mindset that supports your dreams is paramount to living a life that is aligned with your values, aspirations and dreams.
P.S If you enjoyed this blog and would like more tips and tools to keep you on track to Handpicking your life, check out our free course Tapping Into Natures Rhythms. A five part blueprint including life coaching exercises and somatic practices, helping you to align your mind and body to keep you on track with whatever it is you wish to create or enrich in your life.