Learning a new habit isn’t easy. It takes time, and various stages. The goal of any new habit is to get to the “maintenance” phase. That’s the point where everything is clicking. It’s become second nature.
Most people this this is where the journey ends, that this is the goal, the stopping point.
When I was in grad school I had a professor say this to us: at some point in your life, each and every one of your healthy habits will be challenged and you will likely relapse into old patterns.
I was pretty shocked. Every habit will relapse at some point? But she was convincing — the research suggests that any new health habit you acquire is temporary, and at some point, it will fail.
It may be after 5 minutes (like trying to quit smoking), 5 days (a crash diet), 5 months (an exercise program), or 5 years.
It may be after 30 years.
But no habit is safe.
Why is this? Why can we never rest on our newly found laurels? We’ve just spent months or years learning these new habits. We’ve got systems in place. We rely on our routines. Life is good, everything is on autopilot.
That’s the thing about life. It is inherently unpredictable, uncertain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or a hermit that never leaves the house.
Life changes, all the time. You move. A relationship starts or ends. Jobs, kids, the economy — it all changes.
That’s not to say you can’t get back to maintenance. That process will likely be easier the second time around — you have a history with this habit, and you can probably find your way back. But you will experience a period where it falters and your old habits reemerge.
For me, I find it very hard to believe that my vegan/plant-based diet will ever change. This feels more than just a habit. But maybe even that isn’t 100% safe. I shouldn’t show such hubris.
One habit that is in flux right now, at the moment, is meditation. I have been trying to build this habit for nearly 3 years now.
For a good year or more I was meditating every morning when I awoke and every night before bed, along with some light yoga.
It was a great habit, and lead to some profound personal growth and discovery. It made me a better, happier person.
But even though the research suggests benefit even with as little as five minutes a day, there is something so challenging about…just…stopping. It’s so antithetical to our western, fast paced culture. With the internet always on, we can be always on.
Taking a break to just sit there quietly with your breath and noticing your thoughts, who’s got the time for that?!
Well I did — off and on for 3 years.
But life happens.
For the past few weeks I have been in transition mode, between apartments and possibly moving cities for a new opportunity. While everything that is happening is both exciting and challenging, the uncertainty is stressful.
Of course, this would be likely the most important time for me to be meditating regularly.
Yet the mind goes elsewhere, old habits come back in. Novel life stress causes relapse in habits, and getting lost in Netflix all of a sudden is way more appealing. I spend all day consumed by the anxiety of my thoughts, why would I want to devote 5-10 minutes a day to listening to them even more intently??
So I have not been meditating. I have relapsed. Relapsed into old patterns, old stress-relievers, etc.
I still carry the lessons I learned from when I was in maintenance of this meditation habit. It still has made me a million times better at coping with this life stress. Those lessons are with me.
I share this story not to scare you but to simply share the reality — no habit is safe from relapse. Instead of having that scare you I hope it helps you feel OK when it does happen. It’s normal. Be gentle with yourself when it happens, dust yourself off, and figure out what you need to do to get back to it.
For me, it starts tomorrow!
….wait. I said that I learned the lessons of meditation.
It starts NOW! (Off to meditate!)
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