Two weeks ago I took some time off of work to work on my house. I gathered family to help and we spent hours and hours painting, ripping up carpet, and installing new outlets. It was a very productive week but because it was so different from my normal routine, I was not able to maintain my systems and habits around exercise and nutrition.
To make things worse my schedule changed slightly last week and I slightly hurt my back. All of this combined to make it difficult to get back to my routine.
But the benefit to having the right systems and habits in place is that, even if you get off track, you have confidence you won’t be off track for long. The best approach is to stay lenient with yourself and just reduce the minimums. You will be able to raise the minimums much quicker than you probably did to get to this point because the habits are already formed.
Once we form positive habits they become much more ingrained than we might realize. Slipping a day or two isn’t disastrous. It simply means that you have to back up a little and then work your way back up to where you are.
I had a conversation about this with my brother who is also a big systems and habits thinker. We both agree that the habit is the important part. If we get off track in the first month of instituting a new habit it is a big deal. But to get off track on something we have done consistently for years isn’t nearly as big of an issue.
That is why we start with such small, simple steps. By starting small and building slowly over time this grows our confidence. As our confidence buids we are much less likely to let a little slip turn into a negative permanent change.
Here are a couple of examples. If we have built a strong habit of exercising every morning but then go on vacation and instead sleep in, we can get back to that routine much easier when we return than if we hadn’t built that habit. If the habit is strong enough it will actually feel awkward as you go away from the habit and will feel “normal” as you return to it.
If you have changed your grocery store routine to get healthy items but then you start working late hours and pick up fast food on the way home, you won’t completely forget the habits that you built around grocery shopping. Once you get back to the grocery store you will naturally grab the items that you have for months or years rather than suddenly gravitating to the unhealthy choices.
Unfortunately this also works the same with bad habits. If you smoke cigarettes for years and then go camping and forget your cigarettes for a couple of days, you will probably not find it easy to just stop. It may be a good time to try to quit but the natural momentum will be to continue with the ingrained habit. Most likely the habit is so sticky that you have to find a store and buy a pack on your way to the campsite. Ask anyone who has quit smoking and they will tell you that it didn’t happen by accident or because they forgot to buy cigarettes.
The best thing about growing the positive systems and habits in your life is that you start to control the direction of your life. I remember attending a stock trading seminar years ago and the instructor said at one point “the trend is your friend.” He was emphasizing that if the stock is trending in one direction, don’t assume it will suddenly and drastically change. There will always be fluctuations but our emotions tend to make more of the fluctuations than what is there. Usually through the fluctuations you will see trends in the movement of the stock.
While I certainly am not experienced enough in stock trading to know if this is good advice in that environment, I do think this is a great way to look at improvement. If you are improving and moving forward understand that you are trending in the right direction. Embrace it and continue to take steps towards your goal.
However if you are consistently making bad decisions and following bad habits and routines then that trend will also likely continue. The best way to change it is to realize that you have to attack the trend. Do this by making small strides in the right direction and doing them consistently. By doing this you will gain the confidence that, even if you get off-track, you will get back quickly and continue to improve.