I was about 3 minutes into an agonizing 5-minute ab routine, and I was ready to quit. All of a sudden I hear someone say in a stern, yet compassionate voice “You guys are experienced yogis. Let the beginners quit early. Quitting early is not for you.” So I held firm through the last 2 gut-wrenching minutes.
That’s when something interesting happened. The temptation to quit subsided and was gradually replaced with the determination to persist. I found myself even more focused than before on the mechanics of the pose and in maintaining proper form.
I experienced a mental breakthrough in those final 2 minutes, and while the pose was no less physically challenging, I had opened up a whole new realm of freedom that guided me with laser-like focus to the conclusion of the pose.
In both the specific practice of yoga and the general field of habit building, the real challenge lies less in the inherent difficulty of the endeavor itself, but more in the mental struggle that occurs when you launch an assault on your comfort zone.
Yoga uses physical discomfort as a proxy to expel the main culprit, which is mental protest against change. The process comes full circle when you suddenly find yourself becoming fitter and stronger. Funny how that works, huh?
So what about habit building in general? What if there is no physical component to the habit you are trying to build? For example, you might decide that you want to stop browsing Facebook throughout the day.
Although there is nothing physical in not checking Facebook, per se, I do believe you can employ a similar strategy to overcoming the mind’s obstructionism. You can do this by viewing your habit change as containing two distinct challenges.
Using the Facebook example, one challenge is simply the real-world act of not checking Facebook. You will undoubtedly have to use resources like willpower, and you will have very real disturbances in how you go about your day. This can be seen as the “physical” aspect of the challenge.
Just as in yoga, however, the real target of your habit change is the mental obstructionism. This is where you need to recognize the mental chatter telling you just how disturbing your new routine is. It is the part that tries to tell you that you that quitting early is a good idea. It is the part that wants you to remain comfortable in your old routines, rather than have to face a disruptive new reality.
When you view the mental aspect as being the main target of your improvement strategies, you will begin to see a larger purpose behind simple goals like “quitting Facebook” or “doing yoga 3 times per week.”
First, you will be more determined to follow through on your habit change. After all, who wants to let a simple egotistical mind derail their progress? There’s an element of pride involved.
Second, you will be better armed for your next habit challenge. The mental challenge is a common denominator in every new endeavor. When is rears its head in future challenges, you will be incrementally more prepared to deal with it, and consequently you will find that success gets easier and easier.
So, I encourage you to recognize the mental challenge within every new habit you are trying to build. Before long, you will notice a stern, yet compassionate voice telling you “You’re experienced now. Let the beginners quit early. Quitting early is not for you.”