The Windy Road to Habit Change

Expect short-term pain, long-term gain, and some relapse too

We often hear that long-term pleasure and satisfaction means short-term pain and struggle. This is generally true. But only for a period of time. Once a new habit, at first difficult, is engrained and solidified, it often becomes pleasurable.

A few examples:

  • Healthier eating.
  • Recovery from addictive substances.
  • Exercise.
  • Meditation.
  • Not checking your phone a million times a day.
  • Reading instead of watching TV.
  • Doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing.
  • Flossing.

So many of these struggle -> pain -> freedom behavior changes have a somewhat predictable path to progress:

Lots of motivation to change; lots of pain and struggle; a period of “getting it” and starting to feel good; relapse to the old way of doing things; repeating that cycle a few more times; and finally, whatever new behavior that was once so hard starts to feel easy and good.

Habit change is a process and it’s hard. Being real about this stuff is helpful. It’s not inspirational but it’s true. Inspiration feels good. Truth is good.

Anyways, it’s important to acknowledge that yes, certain behavior changes have the potential to make you feel so much better. But it can also be really freaking hard to get from here to there. Understanding and accepting this is freeing. When you mess up, you won’t be distraught and despairing, or at least not as distraught and despairing as you might have been. Instead you’ll think, “Oh, I’ve failed. Fuck. But of course I did — because change is hard.”

Habit change is a process and it’s hard. Being real about this stuff is helpful. It’s not inspirational but it’s true. Inspiration feels good. Truth is good.

Also, it’s helpful to have community to pull you along the way. Support groups are helpful for everything, from alcoholism to exercise to meditation to being more vulnerable to writing.

Any kind of community goes a long way. In-person community almost always goes the longest. So make time for it. If you think you’re too busy for in-person community that probably means you need it most. And if there aren’t any that appeal to you build one.

Change is hard, especially at first.

You’ll probably fail at least a few times.

That’s fine. Keep at it and eventually you can get there. And remember: undertaking change with the support of others increases the likelihood you’ll succeed.

Thanks for reading! If you found this valuable, please follow me on Twitter (@Bstulberg) where I share tips and ideas like this one regularly.

Brad Stulberg writes Outside Magazine’s Do It Better column and is the author of the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.

Bestselling author of Peak Performance and The Passion Paradox. Co-Creator of The Growth Equation. Coach to executives, entrepreneurs, and MDs.

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