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Several months ago I convinced myself to start taking cold showers. I had read about all the positive benefits to it. I was ready to start. My strategy was to get into a warm shower and then turn down the hot until the shower ran cold. After two or three days of doing this, I loved the wonderful feeling of exhilaration I got when I stepped out of the cold shower and dried off. I raved about how good it made me feel…and then I stopped doing it. The warm shower just felt so relaxing, I didn’t want to go through that temporary discomfort of turning the shower to cold. Months went by and I never took another cold shower.
It got me thinking: why do we stop doing something we know is good for us? Why is it so hard to keep going with our New Year’s resolutions. What stops us from doing the things we want to do to get the results we want to get? Life is complicated, isn’t it? Maybe you are thinking about losing weight this year, or starting an exercise program. What if your doctor gave you some exercises and stretching to do to keep your back healthy and pain free. Whatever your goal, there will be obstacles to keeping it going. Here are some ideas to help you follow through and stay with your goals.
It’s all about making little choices, and each of those choices is a balancing of the benefits against the negative. Or weighing one thing over another. In the example of cold showers, that initial blast of cold is hard to take. The overall benefits are fantastic, but farther away in time. On the other hand, the warm shower feels so good RIGHT NOW. Most of those things we struggle with doing come with some short-term discomfort. Something has to override that discomfort to make us do it anyway.
No need to go all in right off the bat. Start small. Tiny. Instead of a cold shower, go to lukewarm. Instead of stretching until it hurts, just be gentle yet still do it. Instead of exercising an hour, start with just 10 minutes.
Getting in the habit of doing what you want to accomplish is most important part, so make those baby steps habitual. You know those Geico ads, “It’s just what you do”? Thats where you want to take your resolutions. Like brushing your teeth, it’s just what you do. Do you have to think over whether you want to brush your teeth before bed or not? Part of making a routine is deciding in advance when you will do it. And there’s more to it than that. What else is already established in your routine? When you figure out when you want to establish your new activity, tie it to the activities that go around it. The routine activity just before when you want to do your new activity can be a trigger, or reminder to do it. For example: When I come in from working in the barn in the morning, I then take my shower before getting ready for work. Luckily, I don’t have to change much since I am already in the habit of taking a shower. I just need to add the little piece of turning down the hot water in the shower. If you are in the habit of watching a little TV before you go to bed, you can add stretching to the TV watching. That way, the TV can be the reminder to stretch. The whole idea is to make the new habit dovetail into all the other habits of the day that you don’t even have to think about. Keep decision-making out of it. This is especially important around food. So much of our food preparations and shopping are already habitual. You want to establish another food routine (along with having just the right ingredients handy and none of the wrong ones) until you don’t have to make a decision around what to have - it’s just what you do.
Positive reinforcement does no good unless it is during or immediately after the behavior we are trying to reinforce. We know that from housebreaking our dog, right? If we are on a diet, we can’t wait until we look better before getting reinforcement. We need it each time we abstain from eating the wrong food, or when we eat the right things. Of course, on a diet, the reward should be something non-food. I decided to warm my towel before I take a cold shower. That way I get the delicious luxury of toweling off with a nice warm towel. Sometimes the reinforcement could be from other people. Doing your goal with other people gives the reinforcement of a good time with like-minded people. Or you can call a friend to congratulate each other on even the tiniest success!
Most of us walk around with a perpetual thought-stream going on in our heads. It interprets everything we see, and reminds us of our likes, dislikes - everything about who we think we are. A lot of self-talk is about our limitations. And many of us think of the self-talk as our identity! “That’s just the way I am.”
No, it’s not. It’s your self-talk holding on to an identity that is your false self. Do you doubt me? Take some time to listen to your self-talk. I mean really face it and listen to what it is saying. Who is the you that is listening to your self-talk? See what I mean? All of those likes and dislikes, personalities and beliefs are nothing but decisions that were committed to the subconscious at some time in your life. And they can be changed. A good way to break into this is to ask good questions.
What would my life be like if I loved cold showers?
How would my body look and feel if my favorite foods were vegetables?
What inner thoughts would I have if I were neat and organized?
Be the thought police. We all have experienced learning to like something that we hated as a child. Use that as a template to decide to like whatever it is you have decided to to for your resolutions. Maybe you can learn to love broccoli. Maybe someday I will eagerly lie in a tub of ice water just like the football players at the end of a grueling game.
Question all your thoughts. Ask, “Is that really true?”
When you don't feel like doing it, just focus on taking that first step. If your resolution is to run every day, start by putting on your running shoes. Before I get in a cold shower, I go turn on the water to the right temperature. That usually gets me going in the right direction. Don't feel like cooking a healthy meal? Just get some healthy ingredients out of your refrigerator. Every little step you take gets you more and more in the mood to do the rest.