Why is the start always the hardest when it comes to building new habits?
The reason why the start is always a challenge is because that’s the time when there seems to be lot’s of resistance.
We tend to focus on the bigger picture rather than just focus on the small actions. We think about doing it everyday over a long period of time and this can appear to be scary and overwhelming, so this naturally brings resistance.
What can we do to overcome this resistance?
Instead of us focusing on the bigger picture, we can just focus on carrying out the behaviour of the habit we want to adopt for just a week.
Think about it, what sounds more overwhelming: “I will focus on this everyday for just a week?” or “I will focus on this every day for the whole year?”… Just writing the latter makes me feel overwhelmed and disheartened.
This is why it’s so important to start really small by breaking the big picture down into smaller pieces. You bring this same small and easy mentality to the next week and every week. From experience, it’s much easier to get through the tough beginning by breaking it down rather than allowing ourselves to get all intimidated by the result we want to accomplish.
I liken it to swimming. If we can’t swim, we don’t just jump straight into the deep end. Well we could do this but we’d probably drown. So we adapt ourselves to the water by starting in shallow waters. When we feel comfortable and ready, we can push ourselves a little further by going a little deeper.
The same applies to anything in life. Usually when we say screw it and jump straight into deep waters, we usually struggle to keep our heads above water until we sink. This approach just isn’t sustainable in the long run.
As James Clear said: “The typical approach is to dive into the deep end as soon as you get a dose of motivation, only to fail quickly and wish you had more willpower as your new habit drowns.”
This approach usually happens when we’ve summoned up enough willpower or motivation to achieve something. However, we completely neglect the fact that it takes patience, consistency, steadiness and perseverance to make lasting change.
I think it’s more true to say we overlook the fact that little things done repeatedly overtime move the biggest mountains. And we just assume with the help of our impatient, want-it-now culture that we can just start in the deep end and attain what we’ve set out to do.
Don’t get me wrong, jumping straight into the deep end works for some people, not for me though as I tend to get burnt out very quickly. So like the people who make things happen by jumping straight in, the one’s (like me) who struggle with this approach have great news! We can still get to where we want to go just like the other’s do with a different approach.
“The new approach is to wade into the shallow water, slowly going deeper until you reach the point where you can swim whether you’re motivated or not.” – James Clear
What we can do to make the start easier – Here is one great example!
To make the start go more smoothly, there are certain things we can do. One great example is to set up the correct environment which naturally makes it easier to carry out the habit we want to adopt. If we want to read more each day, we can place the book on our kitchen table so we will see it when we come home from work or every time we walk through the kitchen. If we want to eat more fruit, we can buy a fruit bowl and place it in the middle of our kitchen table, making it almost effortless to eat more fruit.
If we want to make exercise a daily habit, we can leave our running/workout gear on a chair in our bedrooms. I’ve created a habit of working out on a daily basis using resistance bands. I place this piece of exercise equipment in the area I workout as a way of reminding myself to carry out this behaviour.
Setting up our environment to encourage healthy habits
Setting up the right environment is crucial when it comes to building habits because our environments really do have an impact on our behaviours.
It’s Easter time as I’m writing this and I have a few Easter eggs lying around. They are currently placed in the lounge and whenever I’m in the lounge, I have a tendency to munch on some chocolate.
However when I’ in a different room, not once do I think about eating Easter eggs. It’s only when I come into the environment of there being any eggs that I start to unconsciously open the packaging and start eating them. My senses detect the eggs, and I automatically respond by eating these eggs without conscious thought. All because they are just there.
Basically it’s much easier to act on something that is already in our environment. If a plate of chocolate cookies were sitting on your kitchen table, do you think it would take a lot of effort to stop yourself from having one? You’d more than likely eat one just because that’s how we naturally respond to our environments.
There is nothing in the way between you and the cookies. They are already accessible to you right there and then. On the other hand, there are many more steps between you and the cookies when it comes to buying them. You have to perform lot’s of tiny actions before you arrive at a food shop, purchase them and ultimately eat them.
The more steps which need to be taken, the harder it is to actually do the behaviour. To a reasonable extent, we can set up our environment to make the behaviours we want to adopt easier to do by default. And make the unhealthy and unproductive behaviours harder to do by default.
Let’s use our diet as an example. If we’re serious about making a positive change in our diet, we can remove unhealthy foods from our cupboards, and stop buying them into our household.
This will make it that much harder to eat unhealthy foods. We will have to take more steps to eat unhealthily again. All of this is achieved simple by setting up the correct environment!
Another habit which I wanted to drop was using my phone less often. After failing and trying to think about all the different ways I could go about this, I finally arrived at the conclusion that I just had to remove it from my sight. So I decided to hide it in a draw which is located a few rooms away from where I write. Out of sight and out of mind!
So in summary, it’s about making the healthy habits easier to do by setting up reminders in our environments which then makes it almost effortless to do. And it’s about making it harder to carry out unhealthy habits by putting more steps in the way. Naturally we tend to resist doing things when the process is longer and do things more easily when there are fewer steps involved.
I will definitely be writing more articles on how to make habits easier to adopt.
For a more detailed version of this, I highly recommended reading this article: https://jamesclear.com/environment-design-organ-donation
Where I got the information from