Staying with Change

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It is easy to begin something new, especially when it is self-motivated. What is less easy is keeping at it when challenges come up that make keeping to our new resolution hard.

In truth, starting something new and bumping along the road a little to start is completely normal. Trying to instil a new habit takes time, focus and effort whereas reverting to old habits is easy. The thing that makes a new habit an old habit is practice. What I have noticed, with adults particularly, is that we often expect ourselves to know how to do something, even if we haven’t actually done it before. And when we can’t do it as easily as we expected a negative and critical inner voice tends to emerge. It will look and sound different depending on your interior state. It comes in the forms of excuses, blame or self-criticism. Our levels of personal responsibility affect how we react to ourselves in these circumstances. Some will blame the external environment for their inability to make a new habit stick and some turn their blame inwards. Their inner conversation is critical and judgmental of themselves. What is interesting about this behaviour is that is distracts us from what we are actually trying to do, learn and keep a new habit.

When we fall, and we will, the key is to work out how to get back up. We know that blaming the environment and criticizing others or ourselves is not the real truth or particularly helpful.

When putting new behaviour into action you will get feedback from yourself. You will be able to tell if you are getting closer to your goal or not because you will feel different. You might be thinking more creatively, feeling healthier in your body or happier in your relationships. When you slip back into an old pattern you will also get feedback from that behaviour. Slipping is not the place to get stuck. We are human and we all have days and moments when it is hard to keep the promises we make to ourselves. The skill that matters here is getting back on the track of building a new habit.

How do you bring yourself back to where you would like to be? Pema Chodron recommends the combination of honesty and kindness. She says that, ‘unconditional joy comes about when we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness.’ So when you slip, be honest with yourself about what caused you to slip, and with tremendous kindness to your struggling self get back on your new track.