When we try to change any habit, we almost always run into resistance from ourselves and have to learn to outsmart the resistance if we want to succeed.
The reality is that you and I have two sides to us and these two sides are usually jockeying for control of what we do and what we focus on. When we set out to change, one side is game for the change and the other is not so sure. The side that’s unsure can go so far as to try and sabotage our efforts, not because we’re stupid or don’t want success but usually out of fear. Change can feel like a loss… a loss of autonomy, a loss of structure, a loss of your free time and other precious resources. That (very human) side of ourselves want to protect us from potential loss or just might not be ready to get up off that couch or give up a habit that’s doing you no favors.
Resistance is a natural part of the change process but you can outsmart that side of yourself to beat your resistance and help yourself get the job done.
How it works
Before I switched to a 5:30 wake-up time in January, I had to overcome resistance. It took me a while from thinking about getting up early to actually doing it. Once I tried this little mind trick though, it was surprisingly easy to go for it.
What’s the trick I used to get myself to start waking up so early even though I didn’t want to? And how can you use it to game your life?
- Gently, tell yourself to “Just try” now.
- Commit to doing your new habit for a short time (like 2 weeks) only.
- Leave the long-term decision open.
Let me walk you through the steps:
1. Do it now!
Try right when the impulse hits you. By waiting you lose the momentum and give yourself time to come up with excuses. By doing it (whatever your “it” is) now, you’ll get zero or no resistance and won’t have enough time to psyche yourself out.
Keep telling yourself (gently), “Just try.” This self-talk delivers an encouraging message that will lower your guard/resistance.
2. Commit to a short time only
The fear that we’re giving up control or will lose something if we change is virtually eliminated when we commit to only a short time. Control is restored! What you’re saying yes to now feels more like a game when the time is short and because games have an element of fun to them, you’ll move past resistance quicker. You may even start looking forward to “the challenge.”
3. Leave the long-term decision open
It’s hard to commit to something long-term when you don’t know whether you love/need/want it. By leaving the long-term decision open, you’re saying to yourself, “Let’s see how it goes before I decide.” You’ll likely make one of three decisions at the end of your test period:
- NO. If you don’t see encouraging results or see it benefiting your life.
- MAYBE. If you like the goal but genuinely don’t have time for it now, you’ll put it on your future goals list.
- YES! Because you can’t argue with results, if what you’re doing is paying off AND benefits your life now, you’ll want to stick with it.
How to game the system and use the trick to work for you
Let Future-You motivate you
The “leveling up” concept in gaming is a great metaphor for personal development. Leveling up is used to describe progressions your video game character makes as you get better at the game.
At new levels, you unlock new abilities, skills, get access to new tools and get to experience a new area of the game. With this gaming metaphor in mind, it can make changing any habit easier. How? Think of future you often. Let that vision of yourself performing better motivate you.
All of us have higher levels we can reach… And all of us are playing our own video game.
As I wrote back in January, at the end of the 2-week test (my self-imposed challenge), I didn’t want to go back to my old schedule. Here I was getting more accomplished in a day, feeling like a boss, and running my life better. I felt like I was operating on a different level so obviously, I wanted to continue on.
But a few months later, my enthusiasm was heading south. I began to struggle with getting up earlier and wanted to chuck it; benefits be damned!
Luckily, I recognized this as the “Relapse” phase in the change cycle. Because I’m trained for this and have a virtual Ph.D. in changing any habit, I knew what to do. Most people don’t and it’s one of the reasons they fail at achievable goals.
Because I know that when we’re improving our lives and operating at new levels, life likes to throw a wrench into our plans, knew how to deal. So, that’s the first thing you can do to help yourself do better with Relapse: Expect it!
Relapse or thoughts of giving up will almost always happen—even when you love what you’re doing. Expect that you’ll run into conflict with the practical demands of your life. You may question whether you can afford the time or money you’re spending on yourself. You may question whether you should put your needs above that of someone you’re responsible for. Or, you might think you’re being selfish if you do. And you might do something to sabotage yourself. Changing any habit becomes easier with just the knowledge of the change process.
Reasonable excuses will come up.
Manage the inevitable Relapse
Choose YOU. Bet on yourself. Take the thing that’s working for you OFF the table!
Focus on finding ways to handle, outsource and work out the other stuff instead. If, for example, your goal is taking time away from you caring for a child or elderly parent, get creative.
- Could you do it WITH your child/parent? That’s how Mommy and Me Yoga started, BTW.
- Can they help you with your workout or business if you rearrange the living room or other space?
- Is there an app or device that can help you to be in two places?
- Can you trade caretaking with someone else or rotate chores?
- Can you afford help—sitters, tutors, etc.?
Think of the other stuff that’s causing a conflict (obligations, distractions, even hardship, and self-sabotage) as obstacles in your video game. With practice, you’re going to eventually master these obstacles, but not if you take yourself off the board.
Stay on the new level because that’s how you will get to higher levels where you know you belong.
Christine is a lifestyle coach living in Los Angeles. Using systems, routines, and some psychological trickery, she can help almost anyone hack their mind and life for greater productivity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out if she's available for one-on-one work.