Day 1. Riding my bike to work this morning was a dream. Cool breeze, the rush of speeding down hills, and I made it to work in half the time of my usual commute. This just might be the new favorite part of my day. I found myself telling anyone who would listen – “This is the best thing ever…Couldn’t imagine my life without it.”
Day 60. Okay. A little less fun now. I’m sleepy, I’m wearing gloves, and I am now bargaining with myself: do I work harder so I go faster, or do I slow down so there is less wind resistance? I still love riding my bike to work, but it’s definitely lost that luster and shiny new feeling that caused a surge of adrenaline every time I rode.
Day 1 was totally the honeymoon phase. The new joy of riding sustained me through sore legs, sweltering afternoons, and car-dodging that is a part of any active commute. By Day 60, me and my bike have a comfortable routine. He’s good to me, and I to him. I still fill up my tires with care, give him an appreciative pat when we arrive at our destination safely, but I’m not energized and excited to get on the bike every morning.
This transition from the honeymoon phase of excitement to the normal day-to-day is the case with most things in life because our brains are wired to like new. New things are more stimulating for our brains and produce a bigger response – for good or bad. Over time, our body becomes used to what we are doing, and we lose some of that excitement and motivation to keep on going.
It’s so important to stick with health habits and routines through this lull in the relationship though, because after the lull comes the true signs of a sustainable and lasting relationship. After the lull, these habits become so ingrained that they become our default, and thus, take a lot less energy and motivation to actually do day after day, week after week. So how do you stay motivated to stick with your health routines and habits as you leave the honeymoon phase?
I stay motivated to keep biking to work every day and stick with my healthy habits by shifting my reference frame. I alternate bringing my focus to the past, present, and future. It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds – to see your experience in the here and now as all that there is. But by looking at past, present, and future, we see the situation in a more holistic view that is not as reliant on our current feelings about the situation. For the example of riding my bike to work, frame shifting makes it easier to commit to riding my bike, to enjoy my ride while I’m doing it, and appreciate my ride once I’m through. This frame shifting can be used for all sorts of healthy habits to help you stay motivated.
The Happy Healthy Human Frame-Shifting Technique to Stay Motivated in your Health Routines:
1. Remind yourself of the past.
Particularly if your activity did have a pretty sweet honeymoon phase, remind yourself of how it felt when you first did the activity or or how you felt afterwards. Remember how clean your teeth felt the first time you flossed? How about that adrenaline on your first bike ride or first run?
I love this technique when I am trying to convince myself to actually do the healthy habit that I am trying to implement. Remembering the past primes your body to have the same response again. Just like you will start salivating before you take a bite of ice cream, make your body and mind crave that feeling of the fast bike ride or clean teeth. Remember that the activity can produce that response, and might just do so again.
Remembering the past teaches me that just like I used to love or crave the action, and now am less than impressed, so too might my indifference to the activity fade away. It is possible for me to get back to that feeling of awesomeness again, and the first step is to remember that the activity is in fact capable of making me feel great.
2. Commit to your present moment.
This is the tactic to use when you’re in the middle of your run and ready to quit. Use this to prevent your mind from wandering to the negative places or telling you that you shouldn’t in fact be actively commuting, meditating, or taking a walk to clear your head.
Instead of thinking of the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s….all the things you could be doing with your time, but you’re choosing not to…decide to commit to your present instead. Once you’ve started eating your salad or flossing your teeth, be there and enjoy it.
I use this tactic a lot for my meditation practice. It can be really difficult to sit in silence and stillness for 10, 15, or 20 minutes. So I tell myself that even if I lollygag as I get ready to take my seat, once I’ve set my timer – I’ve set it. I’ve committed those minutes to my meditation practice, I’m not going to get up halfway through, and so I might as well sit there and enjoy the moment for what it is.
Being present takes commitment, and yes, during these activities my mind wanders, and often. But that full commitment to actually complete the action you set out to do is what keeps you moving towards your goal even in the difficult moments.
3. Know where you’re going.
Why are you flossing every day? Why do you go on your 3 mile run/walks, even though it’s difficult? Know your why and remind yourself of it often.
For my bike example – I bike to work because I get to work faster, and because I get to strengthen up my leg muscles, and because I am supporting a culture of active commuters that eventually could make way for better bike infrastructure and options around my community. So there are personal reasons, practical reasons, values, and immediate and long-term goals that in total make up the reasons I get on my bike every morning. That bundle of reasons is a heck of a lot stronger than a minor complaint about a cold morning or a sore muscle.
Similarly, make a list in your head or on paper about why you’re doing what you’re doing. And be creative! Think of reasons for you to do the action on multiple domains, so there are a multitude of reasons for you to stick with your goals.
Everyone’s priorities and goals are different, but try to think of some reasons in the following categories:
- short term -What’s your immediate gratification?
- long term – What’s your end game?
- personal – What’s in it for you?
- interpersonal – How can you doing this action actually help others?
- societal – How does this activity support your wider values?
Remind yourself of this list on a regular basis, and particularly any time that you need a boost of motivation or you’re allotting time for the activity. Time is a precious commodity, but if you have a great list of reasons for why this activity deserves your time and attention, you are so much more likely to actually stick with it. Having trouble coming up with reasons to stick with the healthy habit? It might be a sign that you don’t really need that in your life anyway.
These three frames of reference are all important for keeping you on track with your health goals. Though they all come into play at different times, they work best when used together because they touch on multiple domains. For me, the combination of past, present, and future thinking is a sure-fire way to get me back in the saddle (ha).
What are the “whys” that keep you engaged with your healthy behaviors? The best teaching happens in discussion. Please share in the comments below!