Stop Doing This One Thing If You Want to Create New Habits

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Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash

You don’t need me to tell you that creating habits is hard. We’ve all been there. Whether we’ve tried to start a writing practice, get into shape, or wake up earlier, we all know what it feels like to fail to achieve something we want.

We hate failure almost as much as we hate being stuck where we are. But, what can we do about it?

Change, like most things, is a skill. Nobody is born good at changing. It’s learned.

If it seems like someone you know changed easily, I’d be suspicious of their motives. Most people use the power of self-hatred to propel themselves forward. This might work for a time, but it’s not sustainable. Be warned: self-hate doesn’t suddenly turn into self-love once you’ve achieved your goals. Self-hate ends up consuming you, and it will inevitably make you miserable.

The problem is, we’re taught to be super hard on ourselves. As we grew up, we watched our parents do it, our siblings do it, our friends do it. Virtually every human who has ever made a mistake in front of us has berated themselves for it. All these experiences solidified this terrible strategy in our minds.

This old-school perspective has got to go.

To create a change mindset, we need to adjust our expectations. So that when we inevitably make mistakes and fall off the bandwagon, we don’t need to lie in the mud for days, weeks, and months cursing at ourselves. Instead, we can simply pick ourselves up and get right back on.

Expectations are everything

When we want to create a new habit, we often set specific goals for ourselves. For example, we might want to write for 60 minutes a day, go to the gym three times a week, or wake up an hour earlier. Then, we set the expectation that we’re going to follow through on it.

Each day we accomplish this task, we put an ‘X’ on our calendar. We mark it with pride. And why not? Change is hard. We should celebrate small victories.

But, what happens when we fall short of our expectations? What happens if we only write for 30 minutes? What happens if we only go to the gym twice this week? What if we sleep in?

We look at our perfect record and throw it out the window. It’s been sullied. Tainted. Damaged beyond repair. And that streak we had going for us feels like it’s been lost, perhaps forever. So, we feel angry, frustrated, sad, annoyed. We feel like we’ve lost our momentum and need to start over from scratch.

But, do we need to feel this way? What if, instead of expecting perfection, we expected mistakes, hiccups, and obstacles? What if, at the very beginning, we acknowledged that, at some point, we are going to err and we’ll need to deal with the consequences?

Wouldn’t this change things? Wouldn’t this ease our pain when things don’t go according to plan?

Besides, is sticking to the plan really more important than doing the work?

Isn’t writing for 30 minutes more important than writing for zero minutes? Isn’t going to the gym twice this week better than not going at all? Isn’t waking up earlier 4 times this week better than none?

The work is what matters. Our fixation with mistakes is the mistake.

Ultimately, you don’t make mistakes because you lack discipline, willpower, or a desire to improve your life. You make mistakes because you’re human. They’re inevitable. You cannot avoid them. No one can. Which is why you need to build this knowledge into your expectations right from the start.

Change your expectations and change your life

The pain and misery we cause by beating ourselves up for unavoidable and inevitable mistakes is heart-breaking. It’s so pointless and so unnecessary.

This is why starting anything new with the expectation of making mistakes is critical, not just for your mental health but also for your ability to recover quickly and keep making progress. Your negative thoughts are only going to keep you mired in the past. If you want to move beyond the past, which all of us do, you need to bypass the negativity by shifting your expectations.

This is a form of cognitive reappraisal and it will build your resilience.

So, stop putting so much importance on streaks. Stop wishing for perfection. Instead, change your expectations. Recognize the inevitability of mistakes and welcome this knowledge into your heart. Allow it to sink in.

If you do, your mistakes will finally stop preventing you from reaching your goals.

Thanks for reading!

Written by

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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