Do you find that your good intentions to walk every day, plan & prepare healthy foods, incorporate new healthy habits into your life, start out well, but fizzle out too soon, before they become ingrained into your routine? You know what you need to do or what you want to do, you realize you can probably fit it into your day (instead of playing that mindless game on your smartphone) but do you find yourself eventually “blowing it off” or giving up & quitting? Does it feel like a failure? Well, I hear you. Been there, done that. But let’s take a step back before you feel bad about “yet another failed attempt.”
Life is about trial and error and success. Let’s recognize it’s about intentions, learning, forgiving and then adapting. Practice self-compassion. When you develop your capacity for self-compassion, you will have the courage to try something new, to work at it, reflect on the feedback and ultimately to adapt and grow. You develop your capacity for success in the area of your new focus – whether it is a new project, new hobby, new healthy lifestyle habit, new company, new goal. Here are the 4 steps to using reflection to develop your self compassion.
1. Intentions. Reflect on your intentions and appreciate your good intentions. It’s really a good thing…you want to be healthier. You want to incorporate new healthy habits. These are good things. Celebrate that you have good intentions for yourself! You may do a little research, figure out what you will improve, make plans, organize your schedule & your life to make it happen & you start out eager to get going with it.
BUT, life happens. That means there is change. Many changes. Whether it is the season, your routine, your body, the people around you, your surroundings. Here is how this looks…
It’s a new school year for the kids, summer is over. Everyone’s getting back on a “routine.” I am going to wake up earlier 30 minutes, 5 days a week so that I can introduce some gentle exercises before I hop in the shower & get the kids off to school & then head off to work. GREAT!
The first 2 weeks go great. I’m waking up earlier like I planned & I’m working out. Great. I’m into week 3 & my schedule changes…I have a school open house, team sports have picked up & clubs have started…they keep my kids & me busy & adjusting to a new schedule. It takes effort to keep it all straight.
To top it off, the kids can’t seem to get much done before I get home from work, and I’m running late. I am trying to get my kids to do their homework & at least get them into bed at a reasonable hour, but it somehow ends up close to 11 or 12 at night before they are in bed. I have some work that needs to be attended to & those regular monthly bills & the school forms that the kids have brought home that require signing & sending in more money…I’m just trying to catch up & it’s already midnight.
As I crawl into bed, WIPED out, I set my alarm for the “planned time” that will allow me to exercise for 30 minutes in the morning. I have the best intentions, but alas, when the alarm blares, my semi-conscious mind starts making irrational suggestions that sound good – “I will have a better day if I hit snooze 5 times & skip the workout. I will do my “make up” day on one of the days I was NOT planning to work out…” And there it goes.
Do I feel better after 30 minutes with the alarm going off every 6 minutes, pretending I am sleeping? NO. I know this…and yet that knowledge is missing so early in the morning after a 4 hour night of sleep. OR, someone gets sick OR there is a day I have to go into work earlier OR my week’s schedule is somehow altered & my entire “newly created healthy schedule” is thrown off.
Sometimes, my day has just been so hectic, I have to find a mindless activity that allows me to stop getting new input into my brain…I need “time off.” Getting back into the previously planned healthy “early morning” schedule no longer seems to be appealing. The momentum is gone. Now, it feels like another failure.
BUT, here’s the good news! It’s ok. You get to revise & improve your goals and plans. You have shown yourself that you have good intentions to get healthier & have just provided yourself with a new experience to learn from & you can always get a fresh start.
2. Learning. Reflect on what works (that you can control) & what could be improved (that you can control). This is where to put your focus. These are valuable learning opportunities. Learn various contingency plans. Reconsider what happened & create the back up plan for similar future events. Each time you create a new “health kick plan” you are learning new ways to be healthy – maybe a new workout plan, maybe some new foods, maybe some new ways to be healthy like meditating. In fact, you are constantly learning. You are fine tuning your resiliency to things that act to push you away from your healthy intention. You are strengthening your drive to be healthy.
Life is constantly changing & we are constantly learning how to respond to what is happening in our lives. The act of responding takes extra activation energy and can cause some chaos with our plans to be healthy. In other words, the energy that you need to respond to changes in your environment might at times in your life, make it hard to ALSO be creating new habits or may require extra time in our day to process, so taking time away from our planned healthy activity. However, we CAN respond to those changes & we can at any time, reintroduce more or different healthy habits into our life. This is learning.
In the above example, it would be helpful to have a back up exercise routine for the afternoon on days that the morning workout didn’t happen. For example, walking outside after dinner or doing the 7 minute workout. If you find you can’t get yourself to do that, it means your mind is on overload & you will need to give yourself 10 minutes of just being with yourself processing your day. This is the “default plan.” This can be as meditation, journalling, talking to someone or just playing a mindless solitaire game. Some people find it helps to organize & plan the areas of our life that we have more control over. Clearing off your desk top, organizing all the things you are carrying in you head, etc. This COUNTS as a healthy activity also. It can recharge you so that you are ready to get going again tomorrow.
3. Forgiveness. Remind yourself, “I am doing the best that I can, right now.” Because life is constantly changing & we are human, we can forgive ourselves when we are not being “perfect.” So you miss your workout today or you ate that food you didn’t want to eat…if it is now in the past, you can forgive & move on. Later, identify what caused the problem & think of ways to prevent or respond to a similar challenge in the future. That is the learning. Allow yourself to be human and accept yourself. Often, this again, means that you need to sit with yourself & process your day, your recent events, your experiences. But you can let go of your disappointment and instead, show yourself self- compassion. Nobody is perfect. Our goal is to learn and keep moving forward.
4. Adapting. Self compassion allows us to appreciate that change requires adaptation and adaptation takes time and may require some trial and error. Unless we practice self compassion, we can become rigid, stuck in negative self-talk when we make a mistake, become unable to tolerate change. This lack of self compassion limits our ability to fully adapt. With self compassion, fear of failure diminishes. This allows us to try something new, take on a challenge. Then, this whole process results in allowing our natural adaptive process to develop and get better with time. This is personal growth. This is how we get better with age, incorporate new healthy habits into our lives. We continue to strive towards improving our health, trying new things, fine-tuning and reworking previous things we liked until eventually, something sticks and becomes routine.
Here’s an example:
Intention: You want to consistently include exercise as part of your healthy lifestyle. You may try 10 different workout routines over several years, but the new workout routine falls off around week 3-4. Write out your intention as a specific statement and as if it is already true. “Exercise 5 days per week is consistently part of my healthy lifestyle.”
Learning: Figure out what exactly is happening so you can identify the problem. What isn’t true about your intention statement right now and why?
You start strong, working out 5 days per week for 2 weeks, then work gets busy or you travel or you drink coffee before bedtime one evening and end up unable to sleep that night or you have some change to your desired routine and you stay up late and miss out on your sleep. By the 3rd week, you may exercise 1-2 times and then being disappointed for not sticking to the plan, you stop working out. What isn’t true: you aren’t working out 5 days per week consistently.
- What is meant by “consistently”? What happens if you exercise 5 days weekly every 2 out of 3 weeks? What if some weeks you don’t exercise 5 days? Could you be ok with that? Would missing a day “ruin” your healthy lifestyle? During your busiest times, would it be better to know you will exercise when you can and you will be ok if you miss a day?
- What you do mean by “exercise”? What counts as exercise? If you perform 15 lunges, 15 squats, 10 push ups, 50 crunches and a minute of plank pose, would those 5 minutes count? Can you squeeze that in when you first wake up or before bedtime on days you missed your planned workout?
- Do you recognize any patterns when you deviate from your plan? For example, you start falling off your plan around 3-4 weeks into any workout plan, or if your sleep schedule gets disrupted and you feel sleep deprived? Can you plan for those times? Maybe you need a new workout routine every 2 weeks so you stay interested or you can find a “back up” workout plan for when you need more time for catching up on sleep. This might be alternative body weight exercise that can be completed in a shorter time period without going to the gym or taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator?
The good stuff: you also notice you really like doing crunches and you feel like it really helps your body.
Forgiveness: Remind yourself that you are only human and practice self compassion.
Each time, something happens that derails your good intentions to exercise 5 days weekly and you are disappointed in yourself. You may even tell yourself, “I always fail, I just can’t stick to anything.” This is not helpful. In fact, if you wanted to start up again, you might hear yourself saying, “I will start next month when I can really focus. Right now, I can’t exercise 5 days weekly.” This is negative self-talk. This makes it harder to commit to exercise because there is the fear of (maybe even a belief of) failure…again.
When you take practice self compassion, you take this opportunity to forgive yourself and remind yourself you are only human. Life happens. You are getting wiser. You can continually learn from your experiences and be better prepared next time. Tell yourself, “I am doing the best that I can, right now. This is the best I can do right now.” Repeat it until you phase out the negative self-talk.
Adapting: Each time you reintroduce exercise into your life, you add crunches and walking into your routine. You decide that you will even do crunches at some down times even when you didn’t fit in your workout for the day. You like crunches, you feel good after doing it, & it becomes easier to continue to do it. This is adaptation & those healthy efforts that stick, are valuable & add up over a lifetime.
Over time, you may find yourself choosing additional workouts that include crunches because you enjoy them. You may have more flexible options for working out so it is easier to complete 5 exercise sessions per week. You may recognize that skipping a day or two or even a week, may happen from time to time but the key is to do the best you can, right now. You can always jump back in. You are free of the fear of failure and negative self talk.
Without the fear of failure, you will continue to add new workout activities you like. This will give you variety and also allow you to cross train. You will develop a larger pool of options to move you forward towards better health. It may be crunches and walking on the treadmill and working out to a favorite workout video. It could be kickboxing. It could be a new app for body weight exercises.
So jump in & enjoy each time you make an effort to start a new healthy habit, no matter how long it lasts. With self compassion, you are free to explore, try something new or try again. Each experience can be an opportunity to learn and fine tune your process until you succeed in achieving your goal. Practice self compassion regularly. Be the best you, right now.
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash