Learning new habits is often a drag.
It’s often boring. And awkward. And frustrating. Painful, in other words.
Learning new habits is especially painful when we’ve gotten really good at practicing old habits. Even if those old habits are hurting us— hence, why we’re trying to learn new habits— those old habits are habits specifically because they’ve been etched in our nervous systems by being practiced over, and over, and over again.
Our brains don’t like to be told they have to do things in a new way. They prefer old patterns. Old patterns are familiar. They’re overrehearsed. They’re even comfortable, in some ways— even as they are uncomfortable and painful in other ways.
New habits, on the other hand, require much more work, at least up front, than old habits.
They require us to level up our level of awareness— when we’re learning new habits, we don’t have the luxury of going on autopilot like with old habits.
New habits require us to take risks. After all, we know exactly how old habits work out, even if sometimes we’re not crazy about those results. The consequences of new habits are often relatively unknown— and our brains are fairly risk averse most of the time.
Momentum is a powerful thing. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Habits of thought and behavior that are set and rehearsed and overrhearsed, tend to endure.
When we’re starting a new habit, we’re often not good at it. We feel clumsy. We feel inadequate. And, indeed, we often are clumsy and inadequate at our new habit— we haven’t yet had the time and opportunity to refine our new habits. To get good at them.
It’s amazing how feeling like we’re bad at something makes it so easy to give up on it.
So how do we get over that hump, of feeling like we’re bad at a new habit? How do we get past that awkward stage? How do we get ourselves to stick with a new habit long enough so that it stops feeling like so much work, and begins feeling more practiced and natural?
You’re not going to like the answer.
The only way to really cement a habit in your central nervous system is simply to do it. Over, and over, and over again.
Even when it feels awkward.
Even when you feel incompetent.
Even when it feels silly.
Even when that little voice in your brain tells you that this new habit is so much WORK, how much EASIER would it be to just go back to the old habit, I mean come on, you can figure this stuff out LATER, just go back to the old habit TONIGHT, don’t you want to feel less PRESSURE right now?
Keep practicing it. Keep doing it.
Even when you’re angry you have to do it.
Keep doing it.
Even when you’re unconvinced you’ll EVER get the hang of the new habit.
Keep doing it.
Don’t think about it. Just do it.
Let yourself feel inadequate. Let yourself feel awkward. Let yourself feel angry. Let yourself feel silly. Let your nervous system throw its little tantrum that it can’t just plug along in its old, familiar pattern.
Keep doing it. Keep practicing it. Just do it.
The most profound piece of wisdom to ever come out of the Twelve Step tradition of addiction recovery isn’t about a Higher Power. It’s not “live and let live,” or “learning to live life on life’s terms.” It’s not even about getting a sponsor and consistently attending meetings, though all of those things are incredibly helpful.
The most profound piece of wisdom the friends of Bill W. ever gave the world is a succinct, three-word dictum: “Keep coming back.”
That’s the core of human behavior change. Keep coming back. Keep at it. Keep doing it.
The good news is, behavioral change isn’t complicated. It’s relatively simple. Stop doing something for long enough, and that behavior pattern will extinguish and fade away. Do something new over, and over, and over again, and it will become a conditioned behavioral response. Very simple.
Simple, however, does not equal easy.
But easy doesn’t usually equal “worth it.”
it may not be easy, as the saying goes.
It will be worth it.
Keep. At. It.
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