We all need a reset now and again. Old habits die hard, if they die at all. The way to kick an old, unhelpful habit is to replace it with one that better helps us meet our needs and desires.TheExceleratedLife.com
Time For A Reset
My TV receiver wouldn’t work. I’m never exactly sure which of the remotes actually controls the TV but it didn’t matter. None of them worked! I pressed button after button; I stomped about; I swore and yelled. Nothing helped. Finally, Rebecca, my tech-savvy wife, came over and calmly unplugged a wire from the back of the modem. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” I yelled. “I’m doing a reset,” she quietly answered. After a few seconds, she plugged the cord back in to the modem. The TV screen lit up and the system went through a few minutes of a start up routine. Then, magically, everything worked perfectly. Well, worked normally – I’m still not sure which remote actually controls the set — but I was able to watch the program I wanted to see. All it took to get everything working again was a reset.
For months, I got up every morning and followed an exercise routine. I enjoyed the routine, I felt great, and my entire day seemed to go better — all the benefits we already know can come from regular exercise. Then, I skipped a morning. A couple of days later, I skipped another one. Soon, I missed a week, then 2 weeks. Just like that, I had fallen out of my exercise routine. What did I do? I decided it was time for a reset.
A reset. Sometimes, you and I need a reset, too. “The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley, ” (often go awry), wrote the beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns. When your plans gang agley, er, go awry, what do you do? Some of us give up immediately, saying it was never meant to be. Some plow ahead, foolishly doing the same thing again and again, thinking they’ll get different results. (In my tech support life, I once had a customer enter the same incorrect password 87 times, thinking, I suppose, that eventually, it would work. As the old saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.) A few people step back, examine the results, examine the causes, and decide to make a change. They do a reset.
A Lapse Is NOT A Relapse
How about you? Have you found yourself actively pursuing a BIG goal or an activity you want to make into a habit, then suddenly, without warning, you’ve stopped making any progress or you’ve dropped the activity? Maybe you’re there now? Maybe you need a reset.
The first step is to realize that a lapse is not a relapse. Abstinence violation effect was first observed in recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who fell off the wagon. It is what happens when someone trying to quit drinking takes a drink (or several) — the guilt and blaming and contempt they feel about themselves makes them more likely to continue drinking in order to cope with these feelings. Eventually, the term was expanded to include any feelings of losing control over one’s behavior as the result of violating a self-imposed rule, which often leads to a demoralizing effect.
It’s Not All-Or-Nothing
The abstinence violation effect is an example of all-or-nothing thinking. This can lead to a belief that one bad day, one bad decision, or one lapse in behavior means that you return to square one, that you have to start again from the beginning. [Foote] But we typically don’t hold ourselves to this rule in other areas. One bad day at work doesn’t mean you’ve lost the skills and relationships you have acquired over time. Failing a mid-term exam doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten everything you learned in the class. [Foote]
Next, set a base line. Even if you have fallen back, it’s unlikely you’ve gone back to square one. As you’ve grown and improved, you’ve likely built a “scaffolding” or a support network that prevents you from falling as low as you once were. I had a client once tell me “my worst day now is better than my best day a few years ago”. Most of us, if we are progressing, developing, and evolving are in the same situation. So a relapse may drop us back, but not nearly to the point where we started.
Use Implementation Intentions
Finally, consider using Implementation Intentions. Implementation intentions specify when, where, and how you will take the actions that lead to goal attainment. They take the form of “When situation x occurs, I will perform response y”. [Gollwitzer] For example, when I see my work gloves on Saturday, I will clean out the garage, or When I see the candy dish on Paula’s desk at work, I will remember the healthy snack I have at my desk. With implementation intentions, you are committing to respond to a given situation in a specific way. [Gollwitzer] Because these steps can have such a powerful effect when they are taken, Gollwitzer calls them “instant habits”. [Miller and Frisch]
Using implementation intentions to decide in advance how you will bounce back from a temporary lapse removes the need to deliberate about what you will do in the moment the opportunity arises. By pre-deciding through implementation intentions, you switch from conscious and effortful control of your behavior to being prompted automatically by pre-determined cues. For instance, you could say “if I accidentally eat a donut in the morning, I will eat a healthful lunch.” One of my implementation intentions is “I will not miss 2 days of walking in a row. If I miss one day, I will find a way to get in a walk the next day.”
We all need a reset now and again. Old habits die hard if they die at all. The way to kick an old, unhelpful habit is to replace it with one that better helps us meet our needs and desires. You must perform the new habit again and again and again so the neurological connections of the new habit become stronger and the connections for the old habit become weaker. When you fall back into the old habit, don’t beat yourself up and certainly don’t give up. You can do this! Remember that a lapse is not a relapse. Realize that you’re still ahead of where you started, even when you fall back a few steps. Then set an implementation intention to get yourself back on track. With a little focused effort, you’ll be in the groove and moving steadily toward your goal again. And that is Excelerating!
Excelerated Habits™ — automating your best behaviors –is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Foote, PhD, Jeff. “Slip, but don’t Fall!” CMC: Center For Motivation And Change. The Center for Motivation and Change, 10 January 2013. Web. 7 October, 2014. http://motivationandchange.com/slip-but-dont-fall/
Gollwitzer, Peter M., “Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects Of Simple Plans,” American Psychologist July 1999: Vol. 54 No. 7 493 – 503.
Miller, MAPP, Caroline Adams and Michael B. Frisch. Creating Your Best Life. New York: Sterling, 2009