Habit Hacks: Creating new habits when everything is changing

One rule of life we cannot rearrange:
The only thing constant is change.”

Jekyll and Hyde, the musical

In many of my posts, I have written about how important it is to develop habits that will lead you closer to your goals. Habits are how you build that oft-recited lifestyle change. Habits are formed by demanding consistency of yourself.

Unfortunately, real life doesn’t make consistency easy.

I’ve never pretended to have it all figured out. Sometimes, I guess, you just get thrown into a situation where everything you thought was solidly anchored is suddenly being thrown at you and you have to figure out how to hold it all down again.

Life is consistently changing. Things always come up. The metaphorical rug keeps getting pulled out from under us just when we think our footing is firm.

My life right now

I got very good at living within my healthy habits. And then things changed, as things tend to do.

You see, I have a lot of change going on right now. There is the weight loss, of course. I look in the mirror and sometimes don’t recognize the person who is there, which can be a jarring, unsettling feeling to say the least. Not that I am complaining. It just boils down to a strange new feeling.

I got a promotion within my department. Go me! That came with a lot of changes. New hours, new responsibilities, new dress code, new place to eat lunch, coworkers don’t quite know what to do with me and I’m suddenly an outsider in a place that was stable… And along with all the shiny new things, some old insecurities that manage to creep back in. Will I be good enough? What if I fail?

The new dress code sounds fairly easy, until you realize that due to my weight loss I have given away 90% of my clothes (not even an exaggeration.) There is a big difference between doing leisurely clothing shopping and happening upon an item you love and desperately sorting through the racks of every thrift shop to find stuff that works. But that’s my life in this place between my high weight and my goal weight. The Eventually Former Fatty place.

Long story short, I have lots of new business-casual clothes. I thrift like a champion. I thrift to win.

But that is another feeling that throws me a little off-balance: Pretty much all of my clothes are new (to me). It makes me feel utterly unlike myself. I feel like I am playing dress up, or like I am wearing the costume for a character I am playing (because my life is a musical, clearly.)

Thankfully, the character I’m playing is super confident and a rock star. And sometimes she even looks in the mirror and thinks “Damn. I look good.”

All of my changes are overwhelmingly positive. None of them have been easy.

For instance, my new job comes with new hours (consequently, I’m also working some hours in my previous position, so I am working a TON of hours every week.) I didn’t realize the full impact of the new schedule. Coming in at 8 means I need to make the gym earlier. My gym opens at 5:25, and if I want to be there when they open, my alarm goes off at 4:50. That’s a horrifying time for someone who had trouble making the gym by 7. And then I work until 7 p.m. currently, so that means, if I want to get around 8 hours of sleep, (It never happens, but a girl can dream!) I would need to go to bed at about 9. When you get home at 7:30, it is tough to do everything you need to do (cook, eat, don’t be a slob and pick up after yourself) in an hour and a half.

It has really made me assess how I create habits, because right now, I have to be extremely conscious of how I use my time. I have built lots of great habits, and now I have to build them all over again.

How to create those new habits

Here are my tips for building, or rebuilding, new habits.

  • Think through your barriers before you encounter them. Before creating a new habit, assess what has stopped you before and what challenges you face. Most habits are formed because they are the easiest way around a hurdle. Instead of letting these obstacles stop you, think through how you will move past them and compensate for them ahead of time.
  • Focus on making good decisions the easiest decision. Habits are formed as a result of what is convenient. But you can choose what is convenient! If you find yourself always reaching for cookies before bed, and that isn’t something you want, make it harder to obtain cookies. If you are feeling snacky and you have no cookies or chips but you have an apple, chances are you will take the apple that is there before you will leave the house to get cookies.
  • Find the root cause. Your bad habit isn’t the cause, it is the effect of something else. You need to find the cause to fix the effect. Don’t focus on a bad habit, focus on the habit that leads you there. For instance, instead of focusing on healthy eating, focus on healthy grocery shopping. If it doesn’t make it into your cart, it is harder for it to get into your mouth.
  • Just do it, even if it won’t be complete or perfect. If you wake up late and know you will only have 30 minutes at the gym instead of an hour, go anyway. Even though you might not accomplish your workout goal, you will still make progress toward hardwiring that thing you have made a priority into being a habit.
  • Plan to succeed. Plan ahead and prepare. One of my new habits is packing my lunch the night before because my morning schedule is tighter than before. I also keep a squadron of healthy snacks in my desk.
  • So let it be written, so let it be done. I am a sucker for a to-do list. I make a daily to-do list in my planner. If you are building an intentional new habit, write it into your calendar or daily to-do list for the next month. If you aren’t that organized, tape a reminder to your bathroom mirror or put a note on your door knob.
  • Divide to conquer Break each habit down to smaller elements. For instance, if your goal is to stop eatiing fast food for lunch, focus on the habit of planning lunches for the week.
  • Never miss two in a row. Let’s face it. When you are building a new habit or adjusting to a new schedule, you won’t succeed 100% of the time. If I miss the gym on a morning I was planning to go, I make it my mission, come hell or high water, to not miss a second day in a row. This means that new habit won’t go where all those old new-years resolutions went to die: Forgottenland.
  • Set a timer. There was this show on PBS when I was a kid called “The Big, Comfy Couch.” One of their features was the Ten-Second Tidy, where the main character set a timer for ten seconds and cleaned in fast-forward mode for that time. When there is a lot of little stuff to do and I don’t know where to start, I set my timer for 20 minutes and pledge fast-forward levels of productivity during those 20 minutes.
  • Forgive yourself. Sometimes you have a bad day, or even just a few oreos too many. You can’t go back in time (not yet, anyway) so you may as well focus on forward momentum. Forgive yourself when you fail and move forward.

The most important part of that list is the last two words: Move forward. Just keep moving forward one step, one day, one decision at a time.



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Elayne (3 years ago)

Ashley, this is incredible writing.
This is applicable to me in so many ways! I’m planning to read this to my team at our next brief. We ARE ALL going through this right now. Our company is making major changes, our shift sucks and we’re all feeling like we can’t have the things we want in life outside of work because we’re at work all the time. The biggest thing that people complain about is “no time for the gym”.
You have no idea what a role model you are. I love reading your posts.

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