One of the most frequent issues I and my clients are confronted with in therapy is how to develop new habits. It's pretty clear that many of our problems can be addressed by developing new and more adaptive routines. Establishing a new habit is hard. We all know how challenging it can be to develop a new, healthy routine. You may have the desire but life gets in your way. The kids, the internet, work, willfulness. Whatever your excuse, we've all had them.
Further exacerbating the issue of developing a new habit is our tendency to split our attention. We think that getting more than one thing done at once is the best way to approach our increasingly hectic lives and the art of balancing ten things at once is the much-sought-after and never quite attained grail of productivity. The problem is that once we split our attention, we miss out on the opportunity to learn what we're doing.
While mindfulness meditation started as an Eastern spiritual practice, it doesn't have to be associated with any particular faith or tradition (in fact, nearly every culture has some sort of contemplative practice). In my work with clients, we often come back to the notion that controlling where one's mind is focused can have significant benefits to functioning and processing. The thing is, multi-tasking is a way of life even if it is extremely detrimental to our effectiveness.
And then when you finally get yourself to the gym, you can't find parking or the machines are broken or all being used. There's nothing more frustrating than that, is there? I mean you've committed to getting a workout in and then you have even more obstacles in your way. If you're like most people, you might trudge on and get that workout in, but you are probably more reluctant the next time. As these little things pile up, your goal and motivation tend to get bogged down.
While there are any number of ways to develop and cultivate a new habit, they basically boil down to a few things:
- Practice doing the activity
- Make getting into it as easy as possible
- Make the activity itself as enjoyable as possible
- Give yourself credit for doing it, even if just a little
- Attach it to a more frequently done activity
- Repeat regularly
This isn't to say that all of these steps are required; they're not even steps in the usual way we think about them. They are, however, incremental improvements to any new activity and the more of them you do, the more likely it will be that you develop a new habit.