“I feel pretty good, I don’t need to be as strict as I’ve been.”
“I can give myself a break, I’ve been working really hard.”
“Just this one time won’t hurt.”
While these thoughts can be very appealing when we have been working very hard, they can spell the death of your fledgling habit. If you think of your new habit like a seedling—bright, shiny, but ultimately pretty weak—and think of your deeply ingrained habit like a mature tree, it makes sense to think of your new habit as something that needs to be protected and nurtured. The lightest breeze can knock over a little seedling. To uproot a mature tree takes a lot more effort. When a habit is new, a break can very easily become much longer lasting than originally intended.
Does this mean that we have to be rigid and obsessive in all our healthy behaviors? Of course not. As is true in most areas of our lives, we must balance between doing too much and doing too little. If you’ve stuck with your habit for 66 days, which is how long current research suggests it takes to form a new habit, and you feel stretched too thin, instead of giving up your habit altogether, first try scaling back your original habit plan. Is exercising 6 days a week taking up to much of your resources (time, energy, effort, etc)? What if you worked out 4 days a week for the next 66 days instead of working out 0 days a week? The key is to figure out what works for you, for your family, and all our resources. When we drop our new habit completely, whether that be for a day, a month, or a year, it will almost always be harder to pick it back up than it was the first time.
If you are tempted to drop the ball on your habit, try modifying first. If your habit needs tweaking, make necessary edits. Editing is much easier than re-starting after feeling discouraged for any length of time. You are trying to grow healthier habits, not make yourself miserable. Keep your wellness as the priority and willpower can be transformed into automatic.
By: Susana Q Marikle, PsyD