This time of year, you may be making promises to yourself to turn over a new leaf. And yet…
You made a commitment to walk every evening after work, but you can’t remember the last time you did. Work is so stressful, you’ve decided it’s a bad time to quit smoking. Or your New Year’s resolution not to drink during the week has long been forgotten.
No matter how strong your intentions were in the beginning, life’s invariable challenges flare up and make it oh-so-easy to forget your goals and slip back into your old habits. Welcome to the dwindle effect.
So what happened? You were on a roll there for a while with the yoga classes! Well, emotions came up (about you, your weight, your relationship, whatever) and you didn’t handle the sadness, anger, or fear physically and constructively. Instead, you went into survival mode and reverted back to the familiar habit that you swore you were going to change.
How can we fight the dwindle effect? Making a long-term change in life isn’t rocket science. To actualize your goals and good intentions, do these five things.
How To Avoid The Dwindle Effect
1. Free up your emotions.
Your unexpressed emotions are clouding your ability to choose anything new. At those crucial moments when you’re justifying not following through with the new behavior, make a new choice!
Stomp, shiver, or cry to deal with your anger, fear, or sadness. Find a safe place and do it with abandon for just three minutes. I know that sounds radical, but it’s not. Emote, and then remember your goal (see number #2).
2. Challenge your inner critic.
With awareness, changing old habits IS possible and sustainable. First, locate your self-sabotaging thoughts (“I’ve already blown it today; I’ll start tomorrow.”), and then find contradictions that support the “you” you want to become. Remind yourself of the reality when you start to waiver: “I’m doing this for me.”
3. Make success easy.
Make sure your goals are doable, specific, and reasonable. Maybe you can’t become a gym rat five days a week, but you could catch one class two mornings a week fairly easily.
And make sure your goal resonates with what’s true for you. In other words, your goal should be something that feels really right, not contrived or forced.
4. Get by with a little help.
Get a buddy who also wants to make a change and establish a regular daily, weekly, or in-between check-in for support and accountability. Initiate and contact him or her at the appointed time, no matter what.
Each person gets two to five minutes of listening (set your own reasonable amount of time). The first one talks of victories and breakdown, and then specific steps he or she needs to take between now and the next check-in.
Related: The Benefits Of Friendship
Then switch and listen while the other person talks about his or her new behavior. Show each other appreciation.
6. Learn to rebound.
When you go for the old habit today, don’t give up your good intentions altogether. It really is okay to have a lapse now and then, as long as you pay attention to why you did it, and what you might do next time instead. Get up and start again fresh tomorrow. It’s a brand new day.
Remember to deal with whatever emotions are sabotaging your efforts, and keep checking in to make sure your steps to your goals are small, reasonable, and doable. If you keep at it, you’ll conquer the dwindle effect and bask in the new life you’ve created.
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, consultant, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
Photo by kitkat lastimosa