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Start a new habit... break an old one

Yesterday I taught about the minimum baseline. Do one thing and do it consistently overtime until that becomes effortless. 

The space between implementing the minimum baseline and it becoming effortless, is the subject of focus today. This is the place where we risk finding ourselves stuck again. As I mentioned in that article, for Holly implementing this minimum baseline workout regimen, she is bound to experience some mental static. 

At first she won’t like the minimum baseline, because it won’t give her this big dopamine rush from imagining her pretend perfect self who keeps the perfect exercise routine...or writing, water habit or diet, as the case may be for you. The minimum baseline is going to seem pointless. Boring for sure. 

In addition to sending her messages that the routine is pointless, she may come up against a strong desire to distract herself rather than focus and remain present. Today, I want to discuss what to do with this urge so to effectively work through it. 

What's cool about this tool is it's something you can use to overcome any urge that you are struggling with. It could be a habitual urge to bite your nails, eat off of your food plan, or lay on the couch instead of workout.

First: the plan.

I know we talked here yesterday about a minimum baseline plan for those that find themselves stuck and unable to take any consistent action. Or who tend to stop doing something if it's not being done perfectly and consistently, they give up all together.

If you have habits to break (or start) around organizing you home, exercising, eating a certain way, sticking to a calendar, drinking, saving or spending, or your relationship, these can be easy to make a plan around. But even compulsive habits like nail biting or hair pulling that you want to quit can, and actually should be be planned. 

Decide what you're doing, how long, at least 24 hours in advance. And write it down. DO NOT RELY ON YOUR BRAIN TO "REMEMBER". Write it down. 

If you are planning food, plan everything you'll put in your mouth - how much, what meal, what it is. Drinking? When, where, what, how much? 

If you are breaking a nail biting habit, right now you do it unconsciously and though out the day, maybe. Make a plan that dictates what time, where will you be, how long will you bite them. Write it down 24 hours in advance.

That may seem counter intuitive to plan something you are trying to stop, but going cold turkey doesn't work because you are thinking in an "all or nothing" way. Also, relying on willpower is not going to work because it will always break down. Or your brain will rebel against this "all or nothing" new rule and you'll end up seeking the dopamine comfort and be back to reinforcing the old habit again. 

Don't skip the plan. If you plan on having 10 drinks. That's fine. Write it down. 

Don't take bites or sips that are off whatever you plan is. Instead of giving into the urges to have the bite, you'll allow the urge to pass...

Allow it, don't act on it.

An urge is just a feeling in your body. It’s the desire to take a certain action, to put food in your mouth, have a glass of wine, or go check emails when it's productivity time. It’s just a strong, urgent feeling desire for a hit of dopamine. That’s really all it boils down to.

If you're in the habit of reacting to the urge - that would be the action of eating, drinking, distracting - that's what your urge will push you to do. One you do it, the urge is "soothed" with the dopamine. 

This is the cycle that you want to break.

So when Holly notices the urge to distract, the thoughts telling her "this routine is bunk..." she needs to allow the urge to distract or not follow through to be there and allow it to pass. 

The same way we allow any emotion without acting on it. Think about wanting to punch someone. You've felt the anger and the desire to react to it might be to punch them. But you don't. That would be reacting to the emotion. You might have resisted the emotion of anger in this case. 

There are four things you can do with your feelings:

  1. Resist: struggle against or push down 
  2. React: take action from it
  3. Avoid: distract, hide from or push away
  4. Allow: Process, acknowledge, let it be there and let it pass

This urge to distract (or eat or whatever) is not any different than any other emotion. When we allow it to be present in the body without a lot of resistance or fighting with it may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it passes and we've sort of minimized it by witnessing it in this way.

We gain power over it instead of letting it be powerful over us.

This isn't trying to white-knuckle it, fight it off or resist it. We also don't want to try to get away from it or ignore it. You just allow it to be there. 

Get curious about how it feels in the body. Where is in the body? Notice how long it lasts. For me it feels super urgent that I act on it at first. It starts off big and demanding in that way and then kind of gets smaller until it's not there anymore. You do not have to answer the urge. Just let it be. You will not die. 

It's all about awareness. Putting attention on it. 

Most only last a few minutes. And then it passes.

It can help to keep a list of the urges you allow to pass without giving into. I recommend focusing on one kind of urge at a time - In this case it might be distraction. If it's diet oriented, write the urges to eat off-plan that you allowed. Keep a list going. Write down when it happened and what the thought and feeling were that made you want to take that action. 

Most of us are unconscious of how we feel and what we are thinking so this will take some practice. But as you bring this awareness to this area of your life, you'll be able to get much more control and peace there.

There is something to this list that starts to give you a little dopamine hit of satisfaction as you add to it and completes the loop so you'll be programing yourself to take the desired action. 

Try for 100 urges.  But don't worry about them being consecutive or like a streak. If you answer the urge here and there, that's fine. You don't go back to zero. After 100 urges your relationship with this habit will be totally different! 

Holly could start an urge list around urges that distract her from the workout, but also urges that distract her from any other planned event or appointment. She's going to become aware of that sensation for distraction as she shows up for the workouts, since that's her plans focus, but also in other places in life. As she starts to work on projects or meetings she has calendared or planned in advance, those will be more apparent because they are planned. She may recognize the urge to distract herself as she's cooks dinner, or in conversation with her partner, but those are much less definitive because there isn't a plan for them she can point to her brain and say "no, this is the event on my plan, this is focus time, so I'm going to allow this urge to pass." She will just be less likely to call herself out where there isn't a plan. Although, those allowed urges can totally count towards 100, she's just not likely going to allow as many of those urges. 

The trick to making this work is you have to do it. You have to 1) make a plan (minimal baseline or otherwise, preferably realistic that levels up over time) and 2) you have to practice allowing urges. 

 Plan to feel your feelings. 

The plan isn't there for its own sake, it's there as an agent for finding out what's going on with you. Don't write a plan and ignore it or do it for a day or two and then stop. Don't stop writing plans because you haven't successfully committed to keeping one yet! Commit to this! Plan, commit, track and pay attention.

No one ever died of an emotion.

You got this! 

If you need some help with this, schedule a 45 minute discovery call here

 

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