When habits don't work

I always thought that if I couldn’t keep to a habit that it mustn’t be for me.

A kind word from a mentor gave me a different perspective.

What if I just took it as a signal that I’m at capacity or I’m depleting a tank?

Habits, after all, are kind of like spiritual exercise.

Like with weight training, we break down muscle and build it back stronger.

Like with weight training, it is easier to try something new if it’s like something we already know (eg. dumbells -> kettle bells) or somewhere we’re already strong (eg. leg press to squats)

And though I’ve trained in many habits, I always forget how hard it is the first time. I couldn’t bench 80kg on my first try no matter how badly I wanted to.

When Habits don't work
Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Another perspective

Potential reasons the habit didn’t work:

  • It’s not for me right now
  • It’s not for me this way
  • It’s not for me ever
  • I’m at capacity
  • I went for the expert level too early
  • I thought what would work for them would work for me
  • I’m running on empty
  • I didn’t even know I had a tank for that
  • I overcommitted
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

I find these reasons a bit more useful than spitting the dummy and exclaiming defeat. They’re also a bit kinder.

And since I’ve been using them, I’ve felt comfortable trying at things long enough to find a way that they can fit nicely into my life.

What you can do

If a habit hasn’t worked for you, here are some things you might try:

  • Make it look more like something you already know
  • Lean on an existing strength
  • Make it way way easier – build the habit of showing up THEN slowly turn up the intensity
  • Adjust your frequency – maybe doing it once a week is enough for now…or maybe you need to do it daily to be able to stick to it.
  • Review your existing commitments and see if there are other activities you’re overinvested in. If you can let go or reduce these, you might feel more space for a new habit
  • Is there another format for what you’re trying to do?
  • Get clear on why you want to do this
  • Have a conversation with your future self – what does it look like a year into this habit? Five years?

If the habit is worth persisting with, figure out what works for you.