The Two-Ingredient Recipe to Form Long-Lasting Habits
Some of us start a new year with a sense of excitement. Calendars might be a simple human invention but there is definitely a powerful meaning attached to them. Whether you're the kind of person that makes resolutions or not, a new year feels like a fresh start. That's why so many people enter January with a vision, something we wish to see unfold for the next twelve months, some kind of improvement in our life. Perhaps you're determined to become healthier or you want to give momentum to your career or you've decided this is the year you're going to put yourself out there and find a meaningful relationship. But then February comes and that excited energy starts to wane.
How many times have you decided to change something in your life and form a new habit? And how many times did you stick to that decision? It happens to all of us. We start with the best intentions but the excitement inevitably falls apart... and we give up. Why, though? Well, it seems it's the reason behind the change that determines whether we'll stick to it or give up eventually. We need a big why, a reason so powerful that it makes that decision easy rather than hard work.
Often that big why is propelled by pain. That's the first ingredient of this recipe. We change our diet not when we feel a few unpleasant symptoms, but after having a big health scare. We work on our relationship skills after having our hearts broken repeatedly. We look for another job when the situation at our current job is so unbearable that it starts affecting every other area in our life. When we get to that point, change becomes a matter of survival.
We don't need to reach rock bottom to change our habits but let's face it, we tend to wait until that happens. That's just how we are. When life is bearable, we go through the motions. Things are not too bad. The struggle of changing seems bigger than the struggle of staying where we are. There isn't a strong motivation behind that change, even though we know it would be good for us. Someday, perhaps... Someday.
People often tell me it must take a lot of willpower to stick to a plant-based diet. Not at all. The reason why I've been eating like this for nine years is the strength of my values. Once I made the decision, I knew there was no going back because I was doing it for the animals who were affected by my everyday choices. If your convictions are strong, you don't need willpower. It becomes the easiest decision you'll ever make. The secret here is very simple: Whenever I see animal products, I don't see food. I see the animals being exploited and killed. Again, my change is motivated by pain. Others' pain, sure, but their pain becomes mine because I strongly empathise with them.
But wait, pain is not enough to make us change. Sometimes pain simply crushes us and we see no way out. How can we move forward when it's pitch black out there?
We find something we can be passionate about. That's the second ingredient. And if you think you can't, just do this for me: Write down exactly what it is that you don't want in your life. Be descriptive. Then describe the exact opposite. This will give you clues. Follow the breadcrumbs one step at a time.
I believe the most effective decisions we make are born out of a mixture of pain and passion. We're moving away from something that is causing us some form of pain, but we also need to move towards a vision we feel passionate about. The best thing is, we don't have to wait until the pain is so unbearable there's nothing left to do but change. We can recreate that pain here and now in our own minds.
I've been trying to eat healthier lately: I'll have a green juice in the morning, avoid eating too many nuts and oils, choose bananas and dates as a snack when I'm craving something sweet, eat less bread overall... These choices are much easier when I visualise the specific effects a less healthy alternative will have on my body, and then I replace those thoughts with a vision of how the healthy foods will benefit me. Pain and passion. A vision that hurts followed by a vision that fills me with joy.
Think about decisions you've made in your life. What is one thing you've changed in the past and really stuck with it? What motivated you to change?
Now think about something you're unhappy about right now, something you can actually change. Perhaps it's a relationship or a job you hate or a habit that affects your health negatively. Fast forward a few years in your mind. Travel to a future where the pain has grown and affected more than your body, more than your mind. It has taken root in every area of your life. See how it affects those you love. Is it worth it? Is it really worth it?
Then do the opposite. Visualise how changing this will benefit you, your loved ones, your whole life. Choose a vision that excites you, something that fills you with a sense of purpose. Remember: You are not alone. Your pain and your passion have ripple effects. Trust me on this.
Whatever it is you want to change, ask yourself why. Why do you want to avoid this pain? Why are you passionate about this change? If the why is not powerful enough, keep asking why. When you find the real reason, you will feel it in your body.
For some of these changes, we will need strategies and perhaps outside help. That's okay. Do the research you need. Ask for help. Find a community of people who are trying to improve the same issue. Like trees, we grow better together. But let that big reason propel you. Keep it alive in your mind, mixing those two ingredients one day at a time.