Habit change: baby steps or major leaps?Asha Dornfest
Habit change scares me. I never realized how attached I was to some of my habits until I decided to tweak a few of them…and a scream of resistance emanated from my gut.
Nooo! It’s too much effort! Your mind is already crammed with details to remember: why add another? It’s too hard! It’s too scary! You can’t do it! You don’t wan’t to do it! You don’t have to do it! You’ll mess up! You’ll flake out! You’ll forget!
You get the picture.
It didn’t matter if the habit had to do with domestic chores, self-care, time management, or work, or if the habit was little or big, the resistance is futile script played long and loud in my head.
I’ve made headway in the last year with the help of my calendar and to-do list, both of which live on my iPhone. I had no choice; when we made the decision to homeschool our son, I knew that winging it was no longer an option. If I was going to take on his education PLUS continue working, have some semblance of order at home, and stay sane, I had to get organized.
The reason that’s relevant for this conversation about habits: I trained myself to break tasks into baby steps, put them in logical order in my to-do list, and then do them. This skill didn’t come naturally. I had to learn how to think more systematically. It took a long time, but I’m finally able to apply it elsewhere in my life. The habit of thinking through tasks and organizing them in my to-do list and calendar is now at the foundation of everything I do. Especially now, with both of my kids back in public school, I can see what a huge difference this has made in my life.
As you know if you’ve been following along here for the last few weeks, I’ve been chronicling my experience participating in Adventure Boot Camp. I’ve shared my rationale for joining such a challenging class in earlier posts, but here’s what’s interesting when it comes to the topic of habit change: it’s the exact opposite of baby steps. It’s sudden, complete behavior change. It’s not like I worked up to this: one week, my “fitness plan” consisted of strolling around the neighborhood every morning with my dog. The next week, I was pushing myself to my physical limits for an hour every day. Boom. Just like that.
I didn’t know such a massive shift in my daily life was possible. Let me rephrase: I didn’t think I was capable of pulling off such a massive shift. But here I am, having completed Week 3. I’m as amazed as anyone.
To be fair, taking a class for a month doesn’t equal “habit change.” It’s too early to say at this point if fitness is a daily habit. I go to class, I work my butt off, I go home. On the two days I missed class due to schedule conflicts, I felt the loss, but I didn’t do an alternate workout.
But here’s what I have learned so far: while baby steps are usually the easiest way to change a habit, it’s possible, and sometimes easier, to lose a bad habit (or start a good one) in an instant.
The key in this case, for me, is the support and structure provided by a class — an incredibly fun class taught by a dynamic instructor with women I enjoy seeing every day. But I’m starting to poke around in other areas of my life looking for habits to quit (or begin) cold turkey. To at least consider quitting/beginning. It’s intimidating, but at least I know it’s doable.
What about you? Do you prefer changing your habits in small steps or in single, major leaps?