Keeping good habits
November 15, 2017 12:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm struggling with keeping a few good habits that are essential for my life. No snowflakes here, just the regular stuff: exercising, eating well, meditating, limiting alcohol and caffeine.

I've being able in the past to maintain these habits well. It doesn't seem that hard when I do it. My exercise routine is fine and sometimes even enjoyable. Meditating comes almost naturally and even when it's boring I don't mind and feel the positive effects. Eating well is fun! I love cooking and shopping for groceries, I love vegetables and fruit, and I don't care for sugar.

So getting into a routine takes a little work but once I'm there it's great. More energy, more focus, the works. Except that I tend to fall off the wagon pretty easily (like right now). The factors that cause this are:

1) Fatigue - I have a chronic disease (thus the "essential for my life" above) and whenever I go through a flare up I lose my discipline, normally by skipping exercise.

2) Stress/overwork - It's being crazy busy lately, I have no control over this. It happens once in a while.

So whenever one or both of those things happen, I indulge and next thing there's a domino effect and I'm out of the tracks. Let's say, I'll have a drink and since I feel weak and "deserving" I'll have a second, and then instead of going to bed I'll watch TV or waste time online til late, next morning I'm exhausted and skip meditation, my focus is wrecked and I take more time to finish work, thus drink more coffee and skip exercising, so why not have a drink tonight? Rinse, repeat.

The process starts at any point in that continuum but invariably ends up affecting all the others.

I need tips to stop derailing my good habits in any of those points. Ideally not starting to fuck up but if I do something "wrong," I want to be able to not let it go to shit by giving it all up! Meditation in itself had been useful for that but when the pressure raises I tend to give up, then when the pressure is down I have to start over. Weeks of feeling physically bad is the price I pay.

So do you or did you face this same challenge and was able to conquer it? Do you have tips, mantras, techniques, witchery that will work or help?
More interested in quick tips or article-size techniques, but I'll read a book if it's amazing.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I sort of go through life like you but I frame it differently. I don't think of the cocktail and tv or the cupcakes or chocolate or no yoga or exercise as falling off the wagon; they're just part of my life.

Sometimes after a stressful work day, I order greasy take out and watch 6 episodes of "Toddlers and Tiaras" instead of taking the dog for a run and eating my prepped salad. Then I eat a pint of chocolate coconut ice cream. It's fine.*

I don't chide myself or feel badly. Not every day is the same. Sometimes I feel better, sometimes I feel worse and not to sound trite but it is what it is. Acknowledge the choice and move on; everything is fluid and it's okay to mix things up.

Maybe if you accept that some days will be different, less-healthy habits, they can be easier to accept.

*Except the next morning I'm super bloated and feel like shit, but I knew that was the price I'd pay and it's fine.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:38 AM on November 15, 2017 [20 favorites]

I'm just learning about the importance of sleeping (there's been some new actual research about that, can't find the reference now, it's one of my wife's audiobooks, someplace...). Everything else that goes well or goes wrong in one's life seems to hinge on getting enough sleep, or not getting it.

The reason for my interest is that I've had a crappy last year with not enough rest, and a lot of new work stress and also, I haven't been as healthy as I usually am, so something needed to be done. Anyway:

While I am testing to get my 8 hours at night and take (whenever possible) a nap in the early afternoon, I'm noticing that many of the other things simply fall into place; especially in the indulging department.

So I would test getting sleep times under control. One routine to rule them all and in the darkness etc. Get enough sleep, see what it does to the rest of your life.
posted by Namlit at 2:39 AM on November 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

I struggle also with maintaining good habits but one rather good tip I picked up (possibly here on Metafilter, where I have picked up a lot of my useful life knowledge) is - don't frame it to yourself in terms of a constant struggle. Say, you work out for 3 weeks really consistently but stuff happens in week#4 and you don't work out at all that week. The trick is to tell yourself that you're still a person who works out and that it's no big deal that it didn't happen this one week. The idea is to shift your perception of yourself from a person who struggles to maintain good habits to a person who by default, in general, has good habits. It's easier to get back on the wagon if you don't think of it as getting back on the wagon but just as resetting to default. Your default is not the person who makes poor choices. Your default is the person who makes good choices.

An example - A couple of months ago I had a bad life-incident and as a result of feeling terrible and unable to face the world I stopped going to yoga for a while. I did feel a bit guilty about this, but I didn't really frame it to myself as... crap, I have reverted to my default state of laziness. It was more like... Yeah I do yoga but right now I don't have the time, energy and headspace and I will return soon. And now I have re-started my yoga practice. It was easier to get back into it even after a long break, because I didn't really think of it as getting back on the wagon but as resetting to default.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:03 AM on November 15, 2017 [20 favorites]

(there's been some new actual research about that, can't find the reference now, it's one of my wife's audiobooks, someplace...).
Here is a concise review covering the main points for a recent (I believe authoritative) book.
posted by rongorongo at 3:04 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

hi anonymous, a great question and looking forward to hearing other answers to this.

I have read lots over the years from Rudolf Steiner on will exercises, often en relationship to meditation and other areas of personal development.

One exercise which I have found very useful is somewhat indirect but then has broader implications. The idea is to do something at some point every day. Doesn't make a difference what it is or when you do it. Could be to touch your nose at 12pm.

What I do is to recite a poem that I memorize every day at 9am. I often forget and by the time I realize it is 11 or 12 but I do it then. The goal though is to get better and better at remembering and doing.

This may seem like a silly and minor thing but I have found that it really helps my will on a broader scale. Especially if you feel like you fall off the wagon it might be worth trying this.
posted by BigBrownBear at 3:31 AM on November 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Free days. Plan in advance the means and ways in which you will go hog. Say 1 day a month. When the time comes, rampage! Knowing you have an outlet can help you keep your commitments when times are tough; simply add what you *want to do* to the (mental or paper) list of Awful Badsky Future Indulgences. It steels you against slippage. Remember to have both an entry and exit point. For example, you might have (two!) coffees and (all the crap food!) and (blow!) your afternoon watching TV, but you still gotta be in bed by 11 for work tomorrow– Feast Has Ended.

The first few times you're gonna make yourself sick, but as you learn to associate feeling terrible with these activities, rather than general stress, you'll find yourself scaling back naturally and reasonably. Enjoy!
posted by fritillary at 3:39 AM on November 15, 2017

I saw a lecture recently about work-life balance and self care, and it made the point that binge watching bad TV while eating ice cream is not self care but self numbing. Maybe this is obvious to some, but it really helped shift my mindset from "I know this isn't productive, but I deserve this because I've been working so hard" to "I know I think I want to do this, but I won't feel better afterward."

As for exercising, I go in the morning before work. I know of no better way to stick to that particular habit. I keep "luxurious" bath products in my locker at the gym so I look forward to going to the gym and showering there. I used to fall into the trap of skipping the gym in the morning because I felt I hadn't slept enough and that more sleep was "better" for me than exercise, but, for me, waking up every day at the same time is a much healthier habit than trying to get as much sleep as possible every single night.
posted by telegraph at 3:47 AM on November 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

[just to confirm: rongorongo's link. A Must Read]
posted by Namlit at 4:05 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Part of your plan for your routine should be what you will do when you fall off the wagon or aren't able to follow through with your normal routine for whatever reason.

For example, if you normally prefer to run outside but find that rainy weather kills your motivation, you could have an alternative routine planned of jumping jacks and pushups in your living room for those specific days. If you're so fatigued that exercise seems completely impossible, maybe it's helpful to say "I'll just do 5 minutes of easy yoga and if I want to stop after that, I can." Or to ask yourself "What went wrong today? How can I set myself up to get back on the wagon tomorrow?"

It helps me to have a group of friends on FB to share goals, successes and misfires.

It's also helpful to look at this sort of thing as a science experiment and less of a gauge of your value as a human.
posted by bunderful at 5:36 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have all or nothing thinking coupled with perfectionism. Here is what works for me:

I don't worry or stress about how I'll be able to go to the gym every day. I just focus on going today. It is almost like the AA "one day at a time." Tomorrow I tell myself "just go today." I have also mentally framed the gym as a place that helps me eliminate stress and think of it as a "fun" place. That helps. If I think of it as a place to dread, I won't go.

I think that the reason people fail with all of this stuff is that they don't set realistic goals. I would start small. Make a reasonable exercise plan and stick to it. As far as diet, maybe start as small as adding a fruit or vegetable to every meal. Eating a lot of crappy snacks? Perhaps start by eating half the amount you normally would and substituting something healthy for the rest. It is easy to gradually change things.

Don't try to change everything at once!!!!

One other thing: Don't beat yourself up if you slip. Just try to get back on the wagon

Good Luck!!!!!
posted by kbbbo at 7:03 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Funny, I recently started reading a book called "The Four Tendencies" because of my own infractions against myself. Just reading the book caused me to be more mindful of my follow through- and this is the plan that works for me.

Beginning of each month- I look at the month ahead of me- trips/work obligations/other commitments. I then write down my plan for my workouts and days I may not follow my diet. I also build in a couple of goals (like starting my unlimited yoga groupon that's going to expire, or returning some shoes)

Beginning of each week- I reflect on the week behind me. Look at the positives and the misses and how to continue my progress in the week forward. I then look at the week going forward and if any other commitments have come up. I adjust my week as necessary. Look at the goals I wrote out for the month and assess if I can make any happen. For instance, my extra goals this week: start yoga, attend meeting to meet new people.

Beginning of each day- Look at the day ahead of me and take inventory of my day and mentally think about how every task I would like to complete for myself.

And you know what- SOME DAYS I CAN'T DO IT ALL. SOME DAYS I CAN'T DO ANY. But I try my best to figure out how I can do SOME.

For example- I woke up on Monday felt fine, but by 2 pm I was DRAGGING. Instead of not going to my bootcamp class that night and guzzling wine, I decided I needed to get a power nap, because that would help me finish a goal.

Another example- yoga groupon isn't going to happen this week, but that just means I'm more determined to attend this other thing, so I need to readjust my workout schedule that day.

I know that's a lot. So here it is in a nutshell.
1. Reflect
2. Plan
3. Reflect Again
4. Replan
5. Reflect Again
6. Replan Again
7. Follow thru the best you can in those 24 hours

Also, as a side note, this has taught me to be more mindful, more flexible, and give myself more high fives.

Everyone's different , you'll figure it out. Good Luck!!
posted by Hoosierbebe at 9:20 AM on November 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

This has worked for me with making exercise a habit: I told myself I owed X minutes a day of cardio. I'm not allowed to bank minutes ahead of time but I'm allowed to make them up. I started with just 20 minutes. If I missed a day, I knew the next day I'd owe 40 minutes. Under the weather for 3 days? I'd owe 80 when I finally got back to it but that wasn't impossible to make up. I could take as long as I needed to make it up and to me, cardio was cardio. I could run 30 minutes and sit on the recumbent bike and pedal hard but also get school reading done to do the rest if I needed. One time I missed something like 8 days because of travel and life craziness..I think at the time I was doing 30 minutes a day so instead of 30 min a day, I just did 40/45 and slowly wore down what I "owed". I don't know why, but this has really worked well for me - unlike the million of other things I have tried. I use the Habitbull app to track it.
posted by adorap0621 at 11:39 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hoosierbebe mentioned the book “The Four Tendancies.” The author, Gretchen Rubin, has another book called “Better than Before” which is more specifically focused on habit change. It covers a lot of the recommendations made in this thread, but also helps you find your own personal weak spots for habit maintenance and offers solutions backed by science.
posted by bluloo at 8:41 PM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

First, remember we're all human. Lots of folks fall out of habits, and that's not the end of the world.

I have three recurring entries on my calendar, monthly.

1. Today is the day to pay bills.
2. Today is the day to consider how things are going. Work? Home? Other stuff?
3. Today is the day to restart the habit you fell out of.

Most months, #3 is meaningless, and I skip it. But if I got the flu and then stopped working out, which happens at least once a year, it's a reminder from past me to get back on the wagon, or to actively decide I want to jump on a different wagon; it forces an *active* choice.
posted by talldean at 9:04 PM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I can relate!! Suggestions:

- Perspective shift? Remember that even for body builders and super-disciplined people, life is trial and error and remind yourself that it's normal to fall off the wagon, the important part is that you start again as many times as it takes

- Be compassionate with yourself? I think a lot of the times I skip exercise or procrastinate because I'm exhausted and my body is trying to protect me from stress buildup. It's not 'bad' to let your body take the wheel sometimes - our emotions and instincts were evolved to protect you! Also maybe realism-check your habit goals. If I were a robot, I would be able to exercise 60 minutes at 7 a.m. every morning and then meditate. But I'm human, so I exercise 30 minutes 4 times a week in the evenings and only meditate occasionally. Another thing that helps me make the most out of my slip-ups is that I aim for say 70% compliance rather than perfection - that way when I mess up I can skip the feeling guilty part and have more energy to (hopefully) do better the next day.

- There are also some more self-improvement-psych techniques like If-Then planning (mentally practising what you will do next time in situations where you normally slip up e.g. if I am offered a glass of wine, I will say "I'm on antibiotics" and ask for water instead), and Habit Stacking (tying new habits to old ones e.g. scheduling in meditating when you are waiting for your laundry to be ready for the dryer... Or meal prepping when you watch your favourite TV show)

Hope that helps. Good luck! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 1:48 AM on November 22, 2017

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