I’ve written about why it’s so hard to maintain new behaviours when you’re trying to make a change (most recently in my articles about going Sober for October and giving up). The pathways in our brains for the old behaviour are so developed that it’s easiest and therefore most compelling to do the same old thing. The old way is familiar and we are creatures that get comfort from things we know. The unknown can be uncomfortable and scary.
So how can you give yourself the best chance of continuing with the new pattern of behaviour? I’ve found that for me sticking to simple rules is really the best way.
I’ll give you examples based on diet and exercise, because that’s where I’ve had the most success and failures – but you can change this theory to fit drinking if you’ve been doing Sober for October or any other change you’ve been making (or want to make.)
Don’t give yourself space to wiggle out of it. I did 100 days in a row at the gym – I said there was no excuse not to go, so even when I felt under the weather, was tired or the mornings were cold and dark I got up and I went to the gym. There were no exceptions. Sure, some days I did less than other days, but I went every day for 100 days. That was probably 2 years ago now and once the challenge had finished I allowed myself rest days, if I fancied another hour in bed instead of the gym I allowed it and now my membership has lapsed and I haven’t stepped foot inside a gym for at least 18 months.
Keep it simple. I ate a Ketogenic diet for over a year, lost a lot of weight and felt great. Whether I was on holiday, it was Christmas, I was eating out or at a party I found something that fitted in with what I was allowed to eat. Then I went on holiday and decided I deserved a break from it. When I got back I decided to start again “on Monday”. I had done so well that I decided I deserved a treat day once a month, which turned into twice a month and then weekly. Weekly cheat days began to start after work the day before (cheat day eve), then if I was going to be having a take away for tea I might as well have a biscuit at break time. Soon every day was cheat day.
Moderation isn’t possible for everyone. Flexibility sounds like a good thing, but also brings the burden of decision. The joy of adulthood is that you get to make up your own rules, but you also have to be the one that makes sure you stick to them.
Going to have a cheat day? Plan it in in advance and make sure it is not moveable.
Committed to regular action? Do not allow exceptions or deviations – as soon as you allow one they’ll multiply.
Slipped up? Forgive yourself and get back on track. If your car got a flat tire you would fix it, not slash the other 3.
I had better go and follow my own advice now, write my rules and start sticking to them.