I thought it might be helpful to write about one of the most important skills I’ve learned – how to do what I promised myself I’d do, when I promised myself I’d do it.
Staying consistent used to be a HUGE struggle for me. I was always on Pinterest trying to figure out how to ‘stay motivated’ enough to eat healthy, workout and stick to my morning routine (among many, many other things). I still haven’t figured out how to stay motivated, but I’ve finally got a handle on how to follow through with my plans regardless of whether or not I ‘feel like it’!
I’ll be honest – I’m not perfect and there are still times I feel completely helpless to my own actions. But most of the time, I do what I promised myself I’d do, when I promised myself I’d do it. I honour my commitments to myself, even when no one’s watching. And when my integrity slips, I know how to catch myself and get back on track – a skill I once only dreamed of having!
I know how horrible it is to feel like you’re acting against your own will, so I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me stop abandoning healthy habits. I hope you find it helpful!
MY GREATEST TEACHERS
Some people call it willpower, others call it self-discipline and lately, I like to call it integrity. But whatever you want to call it – it’s literally life-changing! And there are two people who have taught me everything I know about how to stick to a plan.
The first is my boyfriend, Steve!
He is insanely good at acting on his decisions regardless of whether or not he ‘feels like it’ and has the most willpower of anyone I know – he’s the kind of guy that leaves open bags of his favourite lollies and chocolates lying around the house just so he can practice resisting them (which, to me, is insane).
I’ve admired his ability to do this since I met him when I was 16 (it’s our 10 year anniversary next week – eeeee!) and I’ve learned so much by his example.
The second person is Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School Podcast!
I swear it must sound like I get paid to talk about her, I do it that much (and even made this Youtube video). But I really just love Brooke’s podcasts and I’ve learned so much from what she has shared on her podcast about honouring the commitments we make to ourselves.
Just so you know, I’m going to be using the words willpower, discipline and integrity interchangeably. To me, they’re the same thing – doing what I promised yourself I’d do, when I promised myself I’d do it. Following through with my plans. Finishing what I start.
And there are really just two steps to it:
- Deciding what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it
- Doing it
So that’s what I’m going to be getting into in this blog post! I also filmed a YouTube video on this topic, which has some extra tips and advice, so make sure you watch it at the bottom of this blog post or by going here (don’t forget to subscribe to my channel too!).
STEP 1 – DECIDE WHAT TO DO AND WHEN TO DO IT
The first step is making strong, specific decisions about what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. And to be committed to those decisions which means making sure they’re musts, not shoulds.
At this point, I think it might be helpful to tell you about some of the challenges I’ve run into when it comes to planning and decision-making, just in case you can relate!
CHALLENGE 1 – VAGUE PLANS
The first kind of challenge I’ve had with planning has been thinking I’ve made strong, specific decisions when I actually haven’t really made any decisions at all. This can look one of two ways – long to-do lists with no priorities or goals so vague I could never do anything with them.
Now that I know more about perfectionism and self-sabotage, I can see why I did this (and still find myself doing it every now and again). Basically, by keeping my to-do lists long and my goals vague, I couldn’t do anything because I had no idea where to start. And not starting protected me from my fear of failure, judgement and disapproval from others. Funnily enough, the end result is the same. I still fail and end up judging and disapproving of myself. But somehow it felt better because it was within my control. And I could hold onto the hope that, one day, when I finally did start trying, I would succeed.
CHALLENGE 2 – SUPERHUMAN PLANS
The second kind of challenge was making plans as though I was superhuman.
You might know what I’m talking about. Every second of the day planned and accounted for. No time for rest and absolutely no consideration for the fact that I do not have limitless amounts of energy (which I still struggle to get my head around).
Now that I know more about perfectionism, I can see why this happened (and still sometimes happens). I thought setting insanely high standards for myself would help me do more, be more and achieve more. Which would then get me approval from others (which I desperately wanted because I didn’t approve of myself). But the impact of those insanely high standards was not that I achieved more, but that I achieved nothing. Those standards were so overwhelming that I usually procrastinated, too scared to get started because I was certain I’d fail. And if I did actually start, I’d abandon my habit as soon as I slipped up and it was no longer perfect – too scared to be seen to be struggling because of what ‘other people would think’.
The two types of planning I’ve described above (vague planning or superhuman planning) are two ends of the spectrum. And I’ve found I achieve the most when I’m operating somewhere in the middle – making clear, prioritised decisions that take into account the fact that I’m human and will slip up every now and again.
This is the kind of planning I teach in my online course, Dream Habit: A 28-Day Habit Bootcamp For Perfectionists, but I’ll share as much advice as I can here. So if you find yourself doing either of those types of planning, here’s what’s helped me:
1. BE SPECIFIC
It’s always easy to stay consistent when I change my goal from something like ‘I’m going to try to workout three times per week’ to ‘I’m committed to going to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4pm to do a full body strength workout’. You can already tell which is more likely to happen!
The first goal still leaves lots of decision-making on the table. Decisions require energy and are an amazing opportunity for excuses to creep in, so I always find that the more decisions I can make ahead of time the better!
2. USE EMPOWERING LANGUAGE
When I was inconsistent with habits, I used to say things like ‘I hope I can’, ‘I’ll try’, ‘I’ll see how I feel’, ‘fingers crossed’. I didn’t realise it at the time but using language like this was not doing me any favours – right from the beginning, I was telling myself that it probably wouldn’t happen.
Once I started using empowering language like ‘I can’, ‘I will’, ‘I must’ and ‘I’m committed’, I finally started following through with my plans. It might just sound like it’s just semantics, but it’s not. It has a huge impact!
Our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings create our actions and our actions create our results. If I think that a habit is a nice-to-have, rather than a must-have, I don’t feel committed. This means I only take action when I ‘feel like it’, which of course means I don’t stay consistent because I rarely ‘feel like’ doing anything that’s uncomfortable or requires a lot of energy and effort (and almost all habits do).
If I think that a habit is a must, I feel committed. And when I feel committed, I take action whether or not I feel like it (more on this shortly!) and I get what I want – a consistent, healthy habit.
It all starts with our thoughts and beliefs, which makes the language we use extremely powerful! As Tony Robbins says – we get our musts, not our shoulds.
STEP 2 – DO IT
There are quite a few things that have seriously helped me stick to habits (which I go through step-by-step in Dream Habit) but the biggest thing that helped was to stop asking myself whether I ‘feel like it’.
In the past, I thought I had to feel motivated to be able to stick to a habit – that I needed to ‘feel like it’ all the time. So I always asked myself whether or not I ‘felt like it’.
I didn’t do this in an obvious way. I didn’t literally say ‘do I feel like this?’.
Instead, I just let myself make the decision about whether or not I’d do something in the moment it came to do it. And to make that decision I would check in with what I felt like doing, what my other options were, what everyone else was doing. So surprise surprise, I usually didn’t end up doing it!
In my experience, the best way to stop relying on motivation is to make strong decisions ahead of time (like I‘ve already talked about) and to practice following through with my plans. To do this I start small and make decisions about things I’m already guaranteed to do, like making a specific time to shower or brush my teeth. It might sound a little too simple, but it works!
Everything I’ve talked about in this blog post takes practice! Willpower is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets – so it won’t always be hard I promise!