Handling Breakdowns While Forming New Habits

Happy New Year Living-Peace Community! I write this on January 16th, the first new moon of 2018. The new moon marks the beginning of its waxing cycle; day two we can just see a sliver of glowing crescent, day 14 half a pie, until a month has gone by and the full moon lights the night sky in all its graceful glory.

Am I correct in presuming that your New Year resolutions involve creating a new habit or breaking an old one? Like the lunar cycle, habit-forming is cyclical. Forming habits involves breakdowns and breakthroughs, and it’s easy to give up when a breakdown happens.

By the time February comes, a lot of our New Year resolutions are already out the window. I believe this is because a lot of us think we failed and give up if we have a breakdown. Not true! You may start great, going to the gym every day for a whole week! And then before you know it, a whole week has gone by and you didn’t go once. That is okay! This is a breakdown, it happens to everyone, and it’s your opportunity to re-examine your goal and then keep at it. As Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are [a product of] people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. No matter how far off the bandwagon I’ve got since January 1st, I give myself permission to jump back on.

It is said that it takes 21 days to build a habit, 7 days shorter than the lunar cycle! However, this is scientifically inaccurate, with science backing up that on average it takes 66 days to form a habit. And it differs for everyone. Furthermore a study showed breakdowns do not affect the success of forming a habit in the long run. So, practice patience with yourself and anticipate breakdowns – they’re a key step in the process.

Here are three tips on habit-forming and breakdowns:

  • Don’t beat yourself up! Negative self-talk is hugely counter-productive to obtaining your goals, It’s rampant this day and age. Look at professional sports coaching, for example. Coaches don’t motivate athletes by breaking them down anymore, but by coaching them up, working with their strengths and weaknesses. (Well, the most successful coaches do this, at least!). Be your own coach. Whenever you notice yourself thinking a self-criticizing thought, consciously say a compassionate, motivating thought to yourself.
  • Stay positive. Keep reminding yourself of the outcome you desire. If you’re striving to make a new habit to reach your resolution, write out the habit and why you want to create it and post it somewhere you will see often. If you’re striving to un-do a negative habit, write out what you will gain once you break it.
  • To quote Mel Robbins, you’re never going to feel like it. I share this fact not to dishearten you, but to liberate you from the strategy of sticking to a habit by doing it when you feel like it. Find a different strategy. (Check out Mel Robbin’s TED Talk here.)

Thanks for reading!

About Sara Luisa Valverde

Supporting people in organizing, time-management, and simplifying has always come naturally for Sara. She´s had the opportunity to hone this skillset in her professional career, most recently while supporting three (incredibly busy) senior professors at Harvard Business School, and while working within a clinical research team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Since June 2015, she has worked as an independent yoga teacher, specializing in un-learning habitual posture patterns that get in one´s way. Sara honors the act of organizing as both an internal and external process. Her approach is to keep it simple, so you have the mental and physical space for maintaining clarity and peace of mind. She loves that her services in professional organizing bring together two passions: internal and external de-cluttering. She thrives on living a minimalist lifestyle, living as a full-time liveaboard on her beloved sailboat.

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