Not All Habits Become Habits

Clients come to me because they want new habits. And almost always, we start with lowering expectations. Well, not exactly lowering them. Maybe “re-framing” is a better word.

When I ask new clients, “What have you already tried?” It’s surprising to me how many have already taken the exact actions I would advise. The problem was, they never gave them a proper chance. They expected to see way too much progress, way too soon.

When I talk about lowered expectations, I don’t mean accepting lower standards for yourself. I just mean re-framing your ideas about how long things will take, and what progress will look like. I like to watch overall trend lines, and I don’t think of success as an all or nothing proposition. The Kaizen notion of continuous improvement is much more realistic.

Just a side note about lowering standards–there may be some tasks where it would be fine to let go of some quality. Some things just have to get done. They don’t have to be done particularly well. Put your energy where it counts.

Okay, so what do lowered expectations have to do with habits? Often, the expectation of a habit is that a task becomes automated–something that almost does itself. It is possible to have some habits that seem effortless, but I think the overall expectation of that happening is where we set our sights too high.

There are some “habits” that will never get to the fully automated phase, yet it is possible to develop such a sustainable practice, that we can have confidence in our ability to continue doing those activities. For example, I exercise daily. I never just get up and go exercise without having to stir up some willpower and remind myself why I do it. It’s definitely not automated! But nevertheless, I have done it long enough that I trust myself to follow through. I believe I am accurate when I say that I have developed a habit of regular exercise.

If we let go of the expectation of not having to put any effort into something, it becomes much easier to tolerate and sustain the small amount of effort that is usually needed.