Going Beyond the Pain of Starting – how to make new habits stick

I love the process of setting out for a run. The night before I get out my clothes and start to plan my route in my head.  I remember previous runs that I’ve enjoyed and look forward to the adventure ahead. I love running at the start of the day so as soon as I wake, trying not to disturb my husband too much, I get up and dressed and head out.
I set off with a warm up walk before breaking into a slow jog.  This is the moment I’ve been looking forward to. I’m moving.  As my feet start pounding the pavement my thoughts start drifting and I’m in my happy place.
And then it hits…
My breathing becomes laboured and my legs feel heavy.  I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to run?  Did I drink enough water the day before? How much sleep did I actually get last night? I look at the side roads and consider adjusting my route so I can head home early. Maybe I should just give up now? Not every run can be great…
But I keep going.  Sometimes slower, sometimes walking, but I keep moving forward.
I’ve learnt that this is part of the process. My body is switching from an anaerobic status to an aerobic one. As I increase my demand for oxygen, my body switches gear and starts using different fuel sources.  As I persevere, my breath falls into a new rhythm and I know this is going to be a good run after all, I just had to get through the pain of starting.
This is the same process we go through as we start a new habit, learn a new skill or develop a new understanding.  Full of enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, we plan and we prepare, we imagine the end result and off we go! But the initial excitement wears off as things begin to get hard.  We wonder if we can sustain it and before we know what’s happened the new habit has been forgotten, and we find ourselves back where we started.
Just like pushing past the start of a run, there are 4 things you can do to help you stay the course and establish new habits.
Plan ahead.
Whenever I set out running with no particular route in mind, it becomes really easy to take a short cut and head home early.  However when I plan my route in advance I’m more likely to keep going.  As it gets tough I can talk myself into just going to the next planned corner and then seeing how I feel.  As you build changes into your life, plan when and how you’re going to do them.  Anticipate in advance where you’re going to find it hard and how you’re going to deal with it. That way you’ve already got a strategy in place for when feelings aren’t enough to keep you motivated.
Build up Speed.
Real change is a marathon and not a sprint, so set out slowly and allow yourself time to settle into your new routine.  Doing something for 5 minutes a day, or 20 minutes three times a week, will bring about more sustainable change than dedicating full days to it and then becoming tired and overwhelmed.  As the changes start to become second nature you’ll notice your pace pick up.
Enlist Cheerleaders.
Often when we set new goals it’s tempting to keep them a secret.  We wait until we’ve mastered it so we can do a big reveal, or rather we don’t want any of our potential failures to be revealed.  So we hide. However, when you’re the only one who knows the goal, you believe your own excuses about why you need to abandon it. Enlist the help and support of one or two others, so have people who will cheer you on and hold you accountable.  The simply act of telling my husband in advance when I plan to run makes me more compelled to follow through. It also means I have someone to share my small successes with along the way!
Never Miss Twice.
And finally, there will be times when it doesn’t go to plan.  There are runs never started, and runs where I have turned back early.  There are habits I’ve missed, and changes I’ve forgotten, but go again.  As James Clear says “If I miss a day, I try to get back on track as quickly as possible.  My general rule is Never Miss Twice.”.  Just because you missed it once doesn’t mean to say you have to give up completely.  It just means you missed it once.
So put on your trainers and go again!

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