Why We Fail To Stick To Our Habits — And How To Fix It

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It is never a singular moment.

There is no before and after, no point in time you can specify, not a single event.

As someone that I can’t quite remember once said:

“Everything was going fine, I was reading books, meditating, being healthy, and then, somehow, I got back into doing cocaine.”

Quite a weird quote to kick the article off but I promise it improves from here on out.

Because even though it may seem out of context, this same feeling is usually present when we notice we’ve slacked off on our healthy habits. It is never a conscious decision to let go, but instead, a slow downward spiral that is only noticeable when it is already too late.

It’s the moment you get on the scale and realize you’ve gained 10 pounds. The panic when you feel the deadline getting closer and all the work is still left to do. In the worst of cases, it is the sudden burst of regret after a lifetime of delaying our dreams and aspirations.

In all these scenarios, we can effectively say that we got played by ourselves. We allowed for “Resistance” (explained below) to slowly wear us down.

A trap that I fell into not so long ago.

My Own Descent

A few months ago, I was consistent with putting out articles, similar to this, always writing 500 words as the first thing I did in the morning.

I can’t remember exactly for how long, but I would say that 3 months went by with this being the norm.

Wake up, shower, meditate, make coffee, write. No matter what happened next or how many problems may have been present, this was always the staple.

However, as the novelty of writing wore off, I decided to dedicate more time and effort to my youtube channel. The problem that soon became clear was, I severely undercalculated how much time it was actually needed to put out good content regularly.

Between writing, researching, recording, and editing the videos, I found myself cutting out more time from the articles.

In my mind, I was able to justify it by saying that “I’m still writing, just not articles. This counts, right?”, I felt like the format changed but the practice remained.

Well, I was wrong.

Soon enough I started writing less and less, relying more and more on bullet points of the general ideas, winging the video as I went along.

Slow and steady, my habit disappeared.

Looking back, there was no single moment when it started going down. It wasn’t a conscious decision to start writing less and less, to start making bullet points, to even stop publishing articles. Nonetheless, here we are.

Now, before we get to the solution I’ve found to personally work the best in avoiding these slip-ups, let us get back to the “Resistance”.

An (Almost) Unstoppable Force

“Resistance”, as Steven Pressfield describes it:

“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

Essentially, it is the inner itch to run away from what we “need” to do, towards some sort of distraction loud enough to make us forget, for a brief moment, of said responsibility.

In a way, “Resistance” is what you could call the major force behind procrastination.

Every project delayed until the deadline, every tough conversation avoided, and every pursuit left as a daydream, are all victims to the power of Resistance.

The same power that slowly got me to stop writing.

The same one that has and will keep stopping you if left to itself.

Luckily for me, if you are reading this right now, then it means I’ve beat Resistance and got back on track. For the moment I’ve been able to control the inner voice that can feel so overwhelming at times.

If that is the case, this is how I did it.

The Best Medicine Never Tastes Good

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Contrary to the marketing that seems to be more and more prevalent nowadays, I strongly believe there isn’t a magic pill to solve all your self-discipline/focus problems.

With so many promises ranging from “earn 6 figures in 6 months” to “6 minute 6 pack”, to “Attract the girl of your dreams with these 6 powerful secrets” it becomes increasingly easier to believe that the reason we haven’t reached the landmarks we hope for is due to the fact that we are missing some form of a secret formula involving the number 6.

“If only I knew the right way I would achieve it!” — you may have thought to yourself when contemplating why success hasn’t knocked on your door yet.

In reality, however, it probably isn’t that you’re missing on “the right way” to do it (even though that is very important), it is that you are missing on consistency and adaptation.

For example, in 1991, Michael Jordan won his 1st NBA Championship, the start of the Chicago Bulls dynasty. However, in the 2 previous years, they failed to even go to the finals after losing to the Detroit Pistons.

Losses that were defined by the “outmuscling” from the Pistons, a team that was able to throw the bulls around based on their strength in the court.

Understanding this, the whole team of the Bulls, and especially Michael Jordan, started seriously dedicating themselves to weightlifting, putting on pounds of muscle. Simultaneously to this, they had been perfecting their new style of offense for the past 2 seasons.

All of this finally culminated in the Championship the following year and 5 more in the 7 years that followed.

Looking back though, in those 2 years when they lost, Michael Jordan was still the top scorer and the series MVP. From a personal standpoint, there wasn’t much more he could do.

However, when analyzing everything, he and Phil Jackson realized that to win a championship more was needed. They would have to use the team to the best of their abilities, to enable every player, and not to use every player to enable MJ.

Looking back at the Chicago Bull legacy, it’s easy to assume that Jordan carried every game, effortlessly winning. What we fail to realize though, is that this took place over YEARS of practice and improvement. This wasn’t “6 months to win 6 rings” (which isn’t even possible, I know), not even close.

With all of that in mind, knowing that one of the keys lies in analyzing what we did, the losses and the failures, and have the courage to improve from them, how do we apply this to our own lives?

The 4 Steps

Assuming that you know where you are aiming at, a goal of some sort, then it will boil down to (and I know I’m simplifying here) prioritizing, planning, executing, and adjusting.

Giving more context behind all of those, this is how I’ve been applying these concepts for the past few years, and how they helped me get back on track:

#1 — Prioritizing

In my experience, to achieve whatever goals we have, it will boil down to how good we are with the most efficient habits to reach it, and how consistent we are with them.

If those habits aren’t the ones that give you the clearest way to your goal, then you will be dragged back, despite how well you execute and how consistent you are.

That said, in my experience, the first step becomes identifying these habits and prioritizing them in the right way.

For example, if you were planning to run a marathon but dedicated all your time to running and not enough to resting properly, in the long-term you would never be able to recover in a way that would allow you to practice efficiently. You would burn-out.

Whether an intellectual pursuit, physical, or a spiritual one, you can always start by, at the very least, defining the most important habits you want and have to implement.

With that in mind, will this be as easy and simple as I’m writing it out to be?

Well, it depends.

The more familiar and experienced you are with the habits you have to implement, the easier it will be to skim through the unnecessary and get to the core of what matters. On the opposite side, if you are just starting out, it will be much harder to do so. That’s why if that is your case I recommend you go to a professional of the area you are trying to improve on and get your directions from them.

Nonetheless, whether you’ve been trying for 20 years or you’re about to start, the steps below are what I’d recommend you do to prioritize:

  1. Make sure you have a clear goal of where you’re going;
  2. Breakdown all the main areas that need to be attacked to achieve your goal (e.g. if your goal is “Run a marathon” the areas would be: train, rest, diet)
  3. Once you have these areas, get specific in what which one entails (e.g. “Train”: Find best train plan, run 4x/week, weightlifting 2x/week, etc.)
  4. For each of these main areas, assemble the tasks in order of priority.

After you’re done, you can move on to the next step…

#2 — Planning

Before anything, let me make this clear:

The tools are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

There are a million and one strategies, methods, apps, and other ways where and to plan your day/week, and even though I’m not saying they are not useful, I’m a big fan of keeping it simple.

This means that before you plan your priorities pick something that you can work with and easy to access for you. Personally, I use a document on google sheets to track and plan everything I need.

After you decide on that, the method to use is to simply place the tasks across that document. For me, it works best to overload the first couple of days of the week since I tend to be more focused and productive.

However, that may not be the right way for you. This will require time and energy to find your groove so keep that in mind if it doesn’t click immediately.

#3 — Executing

What all of the steps culminating to, the actual following through with the planning.

Without this step, nothing will ever move forward, here also lies the hardest challenge.

It’s easy to start motivated and excited, only to see those same emotions vanish after a couple of weeks of putting effort in and seeing no results.

We are continually disappointed when real life doesn’t match the motivational videos that got us excited in the first place.

In essence, our expectations never quite match what reality presents.

This alone, not even accounting for the best practices to develop your focus/productivity, is in my opinion the biggest factor that hinders consistency.

Failure to meet our expectations and keep going is something very few of us can do. Honestly, it’s not sustainable.

A much better way, as I see it, is to set those expectations according to reality and not to what we wish reality was. If you are looking to get a 6-pack, most likely it won’t happen for the next 2–3 years. And guess what? That’s ok.

Because even if it seems too long to wait, what else will you do? Waste those years never getting fit and healthy?

Time will pass whether you want it or not, what you do with though, is fully under your control.

For a detailed method on how to implement new habits, I can’t recommend enough the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. For free content detailing this a bit more, feel free to check my other articles.

#4 — Adjusting

One of the most underrated and forgotten aspects of progress, however, one of the most fundamentals to progress.

This is the part where you review your day/week/month and use that information to improve moving forward. To plan and execute better.

These changes will feel insignificant at first. Results-wise, everything will be the same, however, over time, as these tiny changes compound forward, so do your results. Meaning, even if you start a complete mess, you have the potential for massive improvement.

On the other side, if you fail to track and use that same data to improve, even in the slightest, stagnation will be inevitable.

With stagnations will come a lack of motivation, which will lead to a lack of proper execution, which will lead to a lack of consistency, which will ultimately lead to a lack of results.

Now It’s In Your Hands

You can decide to do things differently. You don’t need to keep falling for the trap of “hustle culture” working yourself to burn-out, hoping for some quick results.

I urge you to take some time to develop the proper habits, to do things right with the necessary time and dedication they require, because even though we are constantly bombarded with people supposedly reaching extreme success at unseen pace, the ones we remember and hold as our idols, the motivating figures that make us want to be better, all of them took their time.

I beg you to take yours.

Written by

Stoicism & Philosophy | Building @pathsofmeaning

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