Despite the best of intentions, our motivation to stick to our healthier habits tends to steadily decline with time. New Year's resolutions fade away by February, diets don't last beyond a few weeks, and budgets tend to get blown within a month or two of creating them. Resorting back to our old habits can cause us to prematurely abandon our long-term goals.
Just because you're struggling with self-discipline doesn't mean you have to raise the white flag and declare your self-improvement efforts a complete failure. Instead, work to increase the chances that you'll stick to your healthier habits -- even when you don't feel like it. Whether you're experiencing a complete loss of motivation, or you always seem to give into temptation during a moment of weakness, these tricks can help you stick to your good habits over the long haul:
1. Plan ahead to reduce the excuses. When we struggle to keep up our healthy habits, we often look for excuses that can reduce our culpability. If you've ever found yourself saying, "I can't find my gym shoes, so I guess I can't work out today," you know what I mean. Rationalizing our behavior often gives us the temporary justification we need to give up on our good habits.
Proper planning, however, makes it less likely that you'll be able to find excuses to give up. Put your gym shoes next to the bed at night so you'll see them first thing in the morning. Pack your lunch the night before so you can't convince yourself you don't have time. Look for strategies that will decrease your ability to make excuses for ditching your good habits.
2. Make it harder to give into temptation during a moment of weakness. We all have vulnerabilities that can sidetrack us from reaching our goals. Recognize the times when you're most likely to give into temptation and make it harder for a single moment of weakness to sabotage your best efforts.
I know someone who used to put her favorite store credit card in an envelope and freeze it in a big block of ice. Online shopping was her downfall and she didn't want to keep wasting money on her retail therapy indulgences. Making it harder to access her credit card number was quite effective at curbing her bad habits. In fact, whenever she would go get the block of ice out of the freezer and begin trying to thaw her credit card, the absurdity of her situation made her realize she didn't need to buy anything that bad.
Impulse decisions can often be our downfall when it comes to sticking to good habits. Do something to buy yourself some time when you're experiencing those "moments" of weakness and often, the urge will pass. If you keep the cookies in a box in the basement, you might find it's not worth the effort to go get them.
3. Create a list of all the reasons you should keep going. Giving in and giving up are decisions that are often made based on emotion, rather than logic. When you're tired, frustrated, lonely, sad, or angry, you are more likely to talk yourself out of good habits simply because you don't feel like doing them. Reading a list of the reasons why it's important to reach your goals can increase the likelihood that you'll stick to your good habits.
For example, keep a list of the "top 10 reasons I should go to the gym right after work" inside your car. When you're tempted to drive home after a long day at the office, reading the list can boost your motivation. We make our best decisions when we balance emotion and logic. A list that reminds you of the benefits of your good habits can balance out the emotions that impede your motivation.
Create Long-Lasting Change
Sticking to good habits can be hard work and mistakes are part of the process. Don't declare failure simply because you messed up or because you're having trouble reaching your goals. Instead, use your mistakes as opportunities to grow stronger and become better.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success.