Monday, April 29, 2013

Creating Your 'New' Normal

Change is tough.  We know how difficult it is to change our habits... eat less sugar, exercise more, get up earlier... whatever our particular need.  However, perhaps we're making it harder than it need be.

Most changes that we try to introduce into our lives tend to be made in an 'all or nothing' framework.  We want to exercise more so we join a gym and plan on going 3 times a week.  We want to eat less sugar so we cut out all sugar from our diets.  We want to eliminate caffeine so we stop drinking coffee.  Period.

These typically prove to be big challenges for us.  Perhaps too big.  We feel the loss.  We struggle and... we typically quit.  It proves too big and painful a shift for us to make and we therefore revert to our old ways, our comfortable habit patterns.  Perhaps though, it is not the goal that is wrong but the path we've chosen to get us there.

Think of your existing habit pattern as your current 'Normal'.  Think of this like a point you've set on a thermostat.  If you decided you wanted to reduce energy use in your house by dropping the preset temperature by 5 degrees, from the 73F you are comfortable with to a desired 68F... you would walk around wearing sweaters or toting a blanket complaining about the cold.  Instead, reduce it by 1 degree.  Try it for a week.  It will likely prove to be a minor adjustment that you acclimatize to fairly quickly.  In week two, drop it another degree.  Your ultimate goal is to get it down to 68 degrees.  Don't make it all about having to get there all at once.

Leo Babuta, of 'Zen Habits' fame (see below for a link to his book if you haven't read this yet!) speaks about the need to create a 'New' Normal for ourselves.  When he decided to eliminate sugar from his coffee (and he took a lot of sugar!) he didn't do it all at once.  Instead, he reduced his sugar by half a teaspoon for the first week.  At first it didn't taste as good to him, but then it started to taste 'normal'.  At that point, he then reduced it by another half teaspoon.  He continued this pattern until, ultimately, he learned to love his coffee with no sugar.

Don't make change harder than it needs to be.  Introduce incremental changes that move you closer toward your ultimate goal.  If your current normal is to sleep in until the last possible second before you race off to work, but you would like to have more time in the mornings, whether to have a more relaxed start to your day, to fit in a little exercise or meditation, or to just read quietly for half an hour before heading off to work...  start small.  Instead of waking up an hour earlier, start with 10 minutes.  Make that your new set point, your new normal.  When those 10 minutes are comfortable for you, they feel natural and normal... reset your clock adding in another 10 minutes.  Eventually... you will have your hour and, perhaps more importantly, you will have your hour without feeling the loss or sacrifice of sleep had you tried for the full hour all at once.

Creating a New Normal for yourself is perhaps the easiest way to create a new habit.  Who said that breaking habits or introducing new desirable habits had to be a struggle?
Our minds tend to adjust over time.  That's my change process - I gradually adjust what's normal to me      ... Leo Babuta


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