It's Good but I Still Hate It
September 29, 2016 7:23 AM   Subscribe

How long do you have to do something before it stops feeling like a chore?

Over the past month or so, my husband and I have been working on making better habits a part of our lives. We're eating well--meat only a day or two in the week, lots of veggies, very little junk food (we usually eat a bag of air-popped popcorn or baked chips split across several days), no soda, we cook our meals from scratch. We exercise--he goes rock climbing twice a week, I do yoga and aerobics 30 min a day, Monday through Friday. We meditate for 10 minutes every morning. We wake up at 6, so we have enough time to get ready without rushing out the door to get to work.

On paper, it's all good. Eating better has made us feel generally better. I'm sure exercising will help in the long run. Waking up earlier has meant that our typically stressful and chaotic mornings are much more even-paced and pleasant.

But even though I am experiencing the tangible benefits of these habits, it still feels like WORK. Waking up at 6 is such a pain. Although we've been waking up at 6 for about two weeks, I still don't feel used to it. It doesn't seem to matter if I go to bed at 10 or at 12, I feel just as tired and cranky when I wake up at 6.

Meditating for even just 10 minutes is so BORING to me--I use Headspace, a guided meditation app, to keep me on track, but I still feel impatient, irritated, and like I'm just waiting for the 10 minutes to be up so I can get on with my morning.

Exercising is also such a chore. I try to make it fun by using the Wii Fit U game and balance board and while that has helped a lot, I still find myself thinking "Do I really HAVE to exercise today? Will skipping a day really matter?" Once I actually get started, I can get through the 30 minutes without a real problem. It's just that there's this terrible inertia I have to overcome before that can happen. I am exercising for a reason--I WANT to feel better, be stronger, look better. It's just that the feeling that exercising is a chore really drags my motivation down.

Intellectually, none of this makes sense. My goal is to live a healthier, less stressful life so I've chosen to achieve that through a better diet, consistent exercise, and better time management. I am seeing some benefits from doing so. So why does my brain still dislike doing these habits? Why do I still feel a huge amount of inertia towards those habits? How can I shift my perspective so that I don't feel so annoyed when my alarm goes off, so that I look forward to exercising, and so that I can have more patience to sit through just 10 minutes of meditation?

posted by galaxypeachtea to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe find a sport you actually enjoy? If you don't like yoga try swimming?

Even elite athletes don't want to get up at 6am. But they still do it and that's how they get gold.

For meditation -sounds like you're still not able to push away distracting thoughts. Try a different one. Meditate on universal love or compassion. If you hate it then all you're doing is meditating on hate. Which is worse than not meditating at all.

You sound like a very mind over matter person which is great. But it's got to come from the heart if it's going to last.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:36 AM on September 29, 2016

Best answer: it still feels like WORK. Waking up at 6 is such a pain.

Hey congrats on the changes! I made a lot of changes in my life along these lines this year--flossing, meditating, better sleep hygiene, eating better--and I feel like this is sort of the obvious next step of this sort of self-improvement stuff. So you meditate and you're probably a little used to the "Hey just observe your feelings, don't feel like you have to DO something about them" and how to apply it to anxiety or whatever you're concerned about. But now you have to apply them to the "I DON'T WANNA" aspect of maintaining habits. It's sort of 202-level work instead of the 101-level work that is just "Start the thing" but now you have to work on your attitude towards the thing, because that is just a feeling too, and one you can decide how highly to prioritize.

So to your question: usually people say that it's 60 days before a habit "sticks" and it's more habit and less dragging yourself to do it. That said, you guys seem like maybe you've taken on a lot at once! And that can be hard. So it might be better to look at whether there are some of these things that have a higher priority right now and focus on those. Also if this is new for you and you're trying also to lose weight, that alone can be super irritating. Your body wants more food and your lizard brain is all I AM HUNGRY. And even people who exercise regularly may get a day off. Do you think you might be better off doing an hour of exercise four times a week instead of 30 min every day? Are there other ways to twiddle the knobs now that you have done it and know that you can do it where you find approaches that are a little better for you personally?
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on September 29, 2016 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Congratulations! Those are big, difficult changes to make. My husband I started a similar path in January. It took about a month before cooking daily meals and waking up earlier (in my case, to assemble our healthy lunches) felt like not-a-chore. I started spending 2 hours on Sundays planning dinners and pre-cooking things. It took about 2 months before that became not-a-chore, and 2 more months before I started really enjoying it. (Thanks to podcasts.)

BUT. I still hate exercise. I am a sofa-loving, book-reading human being, and no matter what type of exercise you foist on me, I will still think it's a chore like scrubbing a toilet or picking up dog poop. Necessary, good to do, but ugh. What may help you is splitting up the exercise. I do 30 minutes of yoga one day, and 30 minutes of strength exercises the other day, with my rest day on Wednesday.

My body is leaner and stronger, and I get to check off a box in my planner every day that I do it, but that's the only enjoyment. You might always hate meditation, and that's okay. Just keep checking off those boxes.
posted by kimberussell at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you drink coffee? The only thing that's ever helped me wake up more easily in the morning was quitting coffee.

The "chore" thing is a tough one. Sometimes if you repeat a task daily for a really long time it gets into this muscle memory zone where part of your habit-addicted mind WANTS to do it because it's what you always do. I had to adapt to having two kids in the last few years and doing a lot of their preschool prep in the evening. It was really hard at first but now I find myself strangely restless if my in-laws help out at night and I DON'T get to do it.

It just takes time, sometimes quite a lot of time. I used to be one of those guys who doesn't do much housework but now I do a lot of it and I think it took about a year to really dig the grooves into my brain. At the same time, things sometimes don't get easier so much as you get used to the difficulty. Or as Greg Lemond said about cycling, "It never gets easier, you just get faster."
posted by selfnoise at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2016

You are tackling an awful lot of things all at once! So don't feel discouraged if it feels like work. Because it is, and you're doing a lot of it. Others may suggest you pare back somewhere, but I think you should keep chugging along. You've already made it two weeks! Keep going.

As for the antsiness during meditation and your workouts, Gah, yeah, that's hard. I don't meditate, but I do workout, and some days it is so hard to let go and get into it. Usually what works for me is to really focus on my form for a few reps. Just try to concentrate as hard as I can on doing the move correctly, at max effort/efficiency. Usually that's enough to break me out of my daystress headspace, and into my workout.

Keep at it. You're doing a lot. Don't be too hard on yourself if you miss a day or a meal. Just get back to it!
posted by notyou at 7:41 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is a lot of changes to be making at once, and I weep a little bit at your treat being baked chips or air-popped popcorn. It's good to be healthy and do things that are good for you. But you can't be virtuous about everything all the time. It's okay to eat some ice cream every now and then.

I do think the earlier wakeup time will get easier; I've recently started getting up much earlier than I used to and, while I still don't love it, after a few months it's my new normal.

In general, though, there's no point to living a long and healthy life if you're making yourself miserable doing it. I worry you're going to burn yourself out sticking to such a rigid routine you don't enjoy. Relax a bit, try different exercise to find something you like better, take a day off now and then to order a pizza.
posted by something something at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2016 [15 favorites]

For one thing, those numbers show you getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep... any chance you're one of the people who actually requires more than 8 hours of sleep per night? Or are getting to a point in your life where that's the case?

As a more general principle in that vein, maybe plan some indulgent things too, as best you can to balance out your admirable success with discipline?
posted by XMLicious at 7:45 AM on September 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

On the 'treat' subject, my daily treat is 5-9 Hershey kisses with my evening coffee, and going out for beer and wings twice a month. I'd be stabby without either.
posted by kimberussell at 7:50 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Getting up early feels like a chore to me even though I've been doing it for at least 14 years (since I had a kid). Exercise just feels like an essential part of my day now, but that is after many years of slowly increasing, trying different types of exercise, etc. There's a range. I think in general, life gets easier as you get older. I personally start to feel that the number of "little" things we're supposed to do to be "healthy" can turn life into a meaningless drudgery of flossing, "mindfulness", gratitude journals and organic smoothies. You're experimenting with different lifestyle changes right now and I think after a few months you might decide as an individual which parts of these you are getting the most out of and focus on those interventions.
posted by latkes at 7:51 AM on September 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think that the virtuous chores become easier when you feel their positive benefits. I hate, hate, hate exercise; but at this point, running improves my mood overall so much that I look forward to it even though I don't enjoy it while it's going on. For many people I know, avoiding sugar feels so much better overall that they can happily stick with a low sugar diet even though they miss sweets. But it has to be true for you, you know? Is it actually true for you to feel like you got a treat when you eat plain popcorn? Do you feel better after you meditate? If not, I can't see how it would ever become a happy part of the routine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

The waking up early thing, I found, is 3 months for me. After I change my sleeping habits for 3 months (in either direction), it just becomes the new normal for me.
posted by xingcat at 8:08 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

My short answer is: 3-4 weeks.

For me, the first week of a new exercise program feels awkward and crappy, the second week feels like a chore, and the third week is when I start feeling good and begin looking forward to workouts. Everybody's different, of course.

Also, for me, the first month of meditation is hard. And, no longer how long I've been meditating, the first 6-10 minutes of each session are a settle-in period where my brain wanders all over the place, so I don't find I can focus on the breath for a significant amount of time unless I'm sitting at least 15 minutes, and ideally 20-25 minutes. You will need to take some time to build up to longer sits, though. The good news is that, even if I don't find the meditation sessions don't feel very pleasant or settled, I still notice benefits throughout my day well before I'm at the stage where I'm meditating 20 minutes.

There's also a phenomenon called extinction burst that you're experiencing right on schedule. Maybe knowing about it can help you get over that hump!

I agree with others, though, that you're doing a whole bunch of things at once, and that might be contributing to your frustration. I never try to create more than one new habit at a time, personally.
posted by BrashTech at 8:09 AM on September 29, 2016

Kimberussell's dog poop reference struck a chord with me as it's a hated chore that never gets enjoyable. You have to focus on the positive side of a negative activity. I love my dog to pieces, so scooping poop is just a necessary part of the deal. For exercise, if you love the feeling of being strong and feeling comfortable in your skin, focus on that rather than dreading what you have to do to get that feeling. You are never going to love doing everything in life you have to do, but you can focus on loving the results.
posted by cecic at 8:28 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

The best strategy in the long run is to start enjoying chores.
posted by michaelh at 8:29 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah don't meditate if you don't like it. Waking up early doesn't make you inherently a better person either. I wonder how many of these are things you want to do vs. things you think you should do, perhaps because they fit into someone else's ideas of How to Live Life Right ™.

Alternatively, michaelh has a great answer, but I don't know if any of us can help you start liking things you don't currently like.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

The book "Well Designed Life" by Kyra Bobinet has some good nuggets that might be helpful for you, if you don't feel strongly enough about something it's hard to find the discipline to stick with new routines.

For the meditation, you should just be noting that you are having thoughts like "this is boring", and urges "I want to get on with my day", and return to the instructions, but without a genuine motivation to meditate it's hard to stick to the practice.

Maybe dial things back and try just the healthy eating every day, yoga twice a week, hit the snooze if you truly feel tired, do a 3 minute meditation and see how it goes. There's no reason you need to do all of those things every day. Can you wake up at 6:30 instead of 6? Prep something before bed and get more sleep in the morning?
posted by lafemma at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe not what you want to hear but for me the answer is never on some of it? I started working out everyday about a year ago and it's still terrible. I do it because I have to, but it's a chore and I really don't look forward to it. It helps that it's part of my routine and part of my routine with my partner, when I get home everyone is on board that I'm going to be busy for a while, so the expectation from someone that I'll be active and working out helps keep me on track. I hope it's different for you, but that's been my experience.
posted by Carillon at 9:51 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't really ever stop disliking doing certain life 'chores,' but after a while I do stop thinking of them as negotiable, and that makes it way easier on my willpower. Like, one of the hardest things about starting a new habit is the daily "Am I really going to do this? Yes, I have to do it! It's good for me! I'm just going to sit down for a second. Ok, I'm doing it even though I'd really rather stay on the couch. Ughhhhh."

Eventually, once the thing truly becomes part of my routine (I agree with others that it takes about a month), that "Uggghh" is often still there but it's so much easier without the whole first part. The brain is like a toddler and likes to test limits, but once it realizes something is a hard limit, it will still get cranky but the tantrums subside. Likewise, as I think some people are saying, once the habit is truly ingrained you realize you can take a day off now and then without jeopardizing the entire habit. Like sometimes when I'm really tired I don't brush my teeth before bed (ew, I know) but that doesn't mean I'm never going to brush them again.

So this kind of goes against some of the other advice, but I wonder if it wouldn't be easier for the first few weeks to just NOT think about ways you can make this easier on yourself, because that leads you down the whole negotiating-with-yourself path. I agree that you're taking on a lot at once, but since you're already started, why not keep going for a few weeks and see which things you can get on autopilot? After that is the time to think about how/when you can occasionally ease up on the throttle (or reassess the habit altogether).
posted by Owl of Athena at 10:10 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding XMLicious - you may not be getting adequate sleep. Most people need between seven and nine hours a night - six is definitely not enough, and you may be one of those people who requires nine. And even if seven or eight is fine for you, if you have consistently shorted yourself on sleep until now, you may be carrying a sleep debt. And, believe me, everything seems like more of a chore on not enough sleep! If I don't get my eight or so hours a night, even fun or neutral stuff is a slog.

Try taking a weekend or mini-vacation where you give your body free reign on sleep. Go to bed early and don't set an alarm. If you're repaying a debt to the "sleep bank," you might spend a night or two sacked out for 10 or more hours - but then you should settle into a time that is adequate. Then, you can set your alarm for 6 AM and go to bed at 9 or 10 or whenever you need to in order to get enough sleep.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:14 AM on September 29, 2016

My wife and I both need a ton of sleep. We're usually to bed sometime between 9 and 10 and up between 6 and 7. It's just something we've adapted to, and it turns out we're way happier with it.

As for exercise, it sounds like you may need to try something else, or maybe multiple something elses. My routine, for example, is a 30 minute walk to and from work every day, and 3-4 sessions per week of surfing or climbing or mountain biking or skiing. None of it seems like work, but then again I'm never doing stuff I don't like to do.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:51 AM on September 29, 2016

The only kind of exercise I can keep up is something that is (1) a game (volleyball, squash) and (2) involves somebody else (social motivation, guilt if I cancel). Maybe you can walk or do yoga a couple times a week and find a tennis buddy for a stiff workout on a weekly basis?
posted by acm at 11:35 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

First of all, I admire your efforts. Seriously. It takes a lot of discipline to do any of that, much less all of it together for a month.

But I'm also wondering how much of it is actually beneficial to you as an individual person if you're still feeling tetchy about it a few weeks in. Waking up early, for example: could you get some of the same benefits by setting out your clothes, packing lunch, etc. the night before, and allowing yourself to sleep a bit later? Early rising isn't inherently better, more moral, or "healthy" on its own.

Or combining your meditation practice with exercise (running is good for this because all your thoughts can get nice and blurry and you're too physically exhausted afterward to be stressed out about some workday nonsense), or just meditating later in the day? Meditation in the morning is always tough for me because I tend to fall back asleep. So I moved it to the afternoon, or I use the Buddhify app to do one during my commute. It all works out pretty well, and I don't feel like I'm suffering.
posted by witchen at 12:18 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I find that I'm not going to like something by doing it and thinking "this sucks" the whole time. The words you say, even to yourself, are reinforcing messages.

When working out I say "I am kicking ass". When eating right I say "I feel good" and "this is pretty tasty". No "but". I find that if I'm doing something and just waiting for it to end then I've already decided that it will end, I'm not going to continue that habit for long.

You may be looking for something from the outside to suddenly appear and make everything fun. It's not going to happen. You'll have to decide you like it.

I also eliminate the self torture of questioning actions every time. If you keep asking "do I need to work out?" the answer will eventually be "no". That's the one you're waiting for, or you wouldn't be asking. Just make it no question. You work out. Every time the question pops in your head kick it back out.
posted by bongo_x at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Meditating for even just 10 minutes is so BORING to me--I use Headspace, a guided meditation app, to keep me on track, but I still feel impatient, irritated, and like I'm just waiting for the 10 minutes to be up so I can get on with my morning. ... How can I shift my perspective so that I can have more patience to sit through just 10 minutes of meditation?

The Zen monks I first trained with -- full-time, shaven-headed Zen lady-monks -- told us to meditate for FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. Every day. Frequency is way more important than length, they said. Once you've got that habit down solid ... SIX minutes. Et cetera. So for the sake of all the million Buddhas, stop knocking your ten minutes. You are not being a wimp. You're trying too hard.

Note: those monks were pretty strict about meditation being an inherently valuable practice, not a means to an end. So they might just encourage you to chuck it.

(Uh, but they would also be ok with you carrying on. They'd think you were a little odd, barbaric, and not ready for ordination -- but that's what they used to say about Hui-neng, so, pfft.)

If you hate it then all you're doing is meditating on hate. Which is worse than not meditating at all.
No no no. Meditating on hate is great. It sounds perfect for you, actually. Notice all your resentment, etc. Figure out where it is in your body: your torso? arms? chin? Are your muscles tense, and if so which ones? Is your skin were twitching? If so, where? Etc. Does it come and go? Does it move around?

the feeling that exercising is a chore really drags my motivation down.

Hmm. Are you saying you think it shouldn't feel like a chore? Pop cognitive psychology has a standard line: 'Activity precedes motivation'. So ... yeah. It's extremely common to hate starting your workout. Don't double your pain by hating yourself for hating it.
posted by feral_goldfish at 3:55 PM on September 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Datapoint: I struggled for YEARS with getting up super early because it was "better."

I was never not miserable. What has allowed me to feel good and be happier and ENJOY working out and all that other stuff is that I got the kind of job that doesn't care what I do as long as I'm in before 10am. I can allow my body to sleep when it wants to sleep and my mornings are not crazy. It's an alternative path to the "peaceful mornings" you reference. Just a thought. I realize it's not possible for everyone but it's had a huge impact on my quality of life.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:09 PM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

For me, it takes about two weeks of getting up at a certain time before I am used to it — and then I wake up ~10 minutes before my alarm no matter what the time. But we get 7-9 hours every night because that is what we need. Do you ever wake up without an alarm?

On the exercise front, I found I needed to stop worrying about doing the Best Job, Every Time. As a former competitive athlete, I remembered how things were when I was in great shape and got super disappointed every time. Now, I am just proud of myself for being there and it seems to make me dread working out less.

This has been my anecdata.
posted by dame at 4:14 PM on September 29, 2016

Others have mentioned focusing on the positives. For me, it helps more to focus on how shitty it feels to not do that thing. When I've been more successful at making flossing a habit, it's been because I start noticing how my teeth feel gross when I don't do it. Same goes for eating well- I can maintain healthy eating habits when I'm really focused on how shitty I feel when I eat like crap.

In the past couple months, I've been able to keep up the habit of cleaning for 15 minutes per day, and it's mainly because 1) I know how much worse I feel when my house starts to get gross and 2) I've only committed to doing 15 minutes, which is well before I start really hating it. And guess what, my house is basically now clean as a whistle most of the time, and I never have to do one of those terrible multi-hour deep cleaning sessions because it gets done in little bits daily.

I've also committed to doing something off of a list of productive/non-work/self-careish activities daily, which has worked so far even though I feel tons of inertia because I've given myself options, they're tiny little things that I can do, and, again, I know how much worse I feel when I sit around all day.

I agree that maybe you've bitten off a lot at once- you've made big changes in a lot of areas. Which ones are the most important to you, and why? If someone was trying to convince you to totally quit doing each, what would you say to them? What are smaller, more manageable steps you would hate less? It'd be better to start small and scale up than to start big and give it all up.

If you were to make a pro/con list for deciding whether to keep doing these things, it strikes me that your "pros" for doing these things are mostly long-term, while your "cons" are mostly short-term. There's also a flip side- what are the long-term pros of NOT doing each thing? And more importantly for your day-to-day motivation, what are the short-term cons of not doing them?
posted by quiet coyote at 9:03 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also- you've given yourself almost no flexibility in how you achieve each of these goals. You HAVE to wake up at 6 to give yourself more time in the morning. You HAVE to do yoga/aerobics for 30 minutes to be fit. You HAVE to meditate to [not sure of your personal goal]. What if you made yourself a list of options to achieve each goal, and picked one per day? To be fit, maybe you could go on a long walk OR do yoga/aerobics OR play tag with your partner OR meet up with a friend to go to the gym, etc. To have more time in the morning, you could choose each day between showering/setting out your clothes/making lunches the night before OR waking up at 6. There are also a lot of mindfulness exercises that you could choose from- mindfulness of touch, taste, sight, thoughts, breathing, etc, or you could do an hour of no phone/internet. I know that there's something to be said for the routine itself, but it makes the task way more salient than the goal, and unnecessarily sets you up for a ton of frustrating days when what you've committed to doing is not what you're up for that day.
posted by quiet coyote at 9:20 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

But even though I am experiencing the tangible benefits of these habits, it still feels like WORK.

It seems like part of what is unpleasant for you about these habits is that they aren't things you find inherently pleasurable, and another part is that you are feeling bad about not finding them pleasurable.

Some people are able to take pleasure in day-to-day habits that others find dull or a chore. Washing dishes, laundry, brushing your teeth -- if these feel like work to you, maybe you are the sort of person who simply finds habits to feel like work. If you are the sort of person who feels thankful you have teeth to brush and floss, you will probably grow to appreciate your habits more.

But there is nothing wrong with being someone who brushes their teeth and feels it's a chore.
posted by yohko at 1:29 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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