“I don’t feel like doing any of it!” – How to make life easier by leveraging habits

Although we may be building a certain skillset and acceptance around operating in various levels of lockdown to support community management of Covid19, it doesn’t mean it is pleasant, easy, or how we would choose to do things. (Though of course working from home suits many down to a tea).

I have noticed this week a heaviness, reluctance and lack of motivation to do, well, much at all.

In my morning yoga practice, I’m noticing thoughts like “This is hard”, “I don’t have the energy”, and quite simply “I don’t want to do this”.

For a range of reasons many people can struggle with mood and motivation when routines change. Tasks that aren’t part of our usual routine aren’t embedded or automatic so they require more cognitive effort to execute. We continue to feel concern about personal and collective health, wellbeing and economic security and that’s exhausting. We can struggle against the loss of autonomy and freedom as we comply with requests to stay in our neighbourhood. We are exposed to situations, behaviours and relationships in our households that are out of our ordinary. (I don’t usually check in with progress in schoolwork during my lunch break which means at the moment I’m not really getting a break). We all know now that online meetings are more cognitively taxing. And so on.

So how can we kickstart ourselves into action when motivation is lacking?

One set of strategies can help by reducing the barriers to action when our motivation is low. By creating new habits we can go more on auto-pilot which consequently reduces the effort required to initiate them. And we can all do with conserving a bit of cognitive energy!

Here are 5 steps to help build new behaviours into a habit.

Reminders are external triggers that help initiate the behaviour before it is embedded or automatic. Don’t underestimate the power of cues. Cues in our environment are powerful in influencing our behaviour and many are out of our conscious awareness. They can act against you but you can leverage environmental cues or stimuli to your advantage. Think of ways to set reminders for the behaviour you wish to do. When I started building my regular yoga practice, I put my yoga mat by my bed so that I saw it first thing.

Routine also helps embed or automate a behaviour so that you eventually don’t need to try so hard to remember or make yourself do it. Do the task in a sequence of other behaviours rather than at a particular time of day. If you attach it to an existing routine it will be much easier to remember and do. I do my yoga consistently because I do it in the same order in a routine each weekday. If I mess with the order it easy to miss my yoga. But with the sequence in place it doesn’t matter exactly what time it is – it will happen.

A lot of the problem with creating new habits is that we just forget to do it. We plan to, we intend to, and then each day slips by and we’ve forgotten it – again. Creating a ritual supports a routine which supports successful habit formation. Do the task in the same way each time. I do yoga in the same place each time, with the same visual cues and equipment, and with the same routine. Easy.

There is no habit if there is no repetition. So, keep doing it until it is. This doesn’t mean you don’t have resistance or never feel like not doing it. You will still have times that you need to unhook from the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that show up, push you around and get in the way of you doing what you set out to do. Remember, the more you do it the easier it gets to start it. There are plenty of times I don’t feel like doing my yoga but at least it’s a well-practiced, repeated behaviour. When I make room for my unpleasant, unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and sensations I can just get on with it.

It can help to identify the benefits you gain from the behaviour and pause to acknowledge them, or even give yourself a reward at the end. Here is when you can connect to the values you most want to express in this situation, what matters to you most, and your overarching goals in life. What I connect to to help me on resistant days is the importance of being able to move freely when I’m in my 70s. If I don’t move now, I can’t expect to move freely in 30 years. That vision quickly engages my ‘why’.

Whatever the new behaviour is that you need or want to do, do yourself a service, make it easier on yourself, and save energy, by turning it into a habit.

What are your success stories for building a new habit?

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1 comment

  1. Valuable tips in this blog on how to build new behaviours into a habit, thank you for sharing. 👍

    Similarly to your reminder suggestion, I’ve been trying to drink more water recently, so I’ve gotten into the habit of putting my water bottle next to my bed. It’s the first thing I see in the morning, so I automatically reach for it. Its a small change, but extremely beneficial.

    Writing down reminders in my planner also helps create a new positive habit, as it keeps me on track.


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