Why do we give up on our practice?

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Two weeks ago, I committed to my wife to not use my phone anymore in the evening at home. It is such a big cause of distraction, anxiety and all kinds of stuff I don’t want to practice in the evening with my family.

So I committed to put it in a closed drawer once I would be home with the ringer on if people really need to call me…..

Looking back today, I realize I haven’t even managed to do that one night…..And I am a coach!

I realized once again that even if we are motivated, excited and see the tangible benefits at the end of the process, our personalities are hard wired and resistant to change. But I also learned that we can overcome obstacles to our practice.

Here are my top 4 reasons why we ‘throw in the towel’ on a change process and how to address them. These are partly informed by one of my inspirations Marshall Goldsmith. If you haven’t read his last book Triggers, I really recommend it.

If you know the below reasons beforehand, you can anticipate these and develop strategies to overcome these obstacles in time.

Reason 1: “I don’t really want to change”.

I rarely state this directly or hear it from clients in these words, but we often say it non-verbally. Especially when we feel forced into any change or feel others think we should change, our chances of success drop close to zero.

We might say: “I’ll try it for a bit”, but eventually we’ll give up.

How to address it?

Before you commit to a practice really feel into your own buy-in. Your feeling often says more than the words you speak.

Pause before the commitment. Then ask yourself: on a scale from 1-10, how committed am I to making that change? And be candid about it. If it’s less than 8/10 you will either need to change the practice, change your attitude or take more time to make the case for the change.

Reason 2: “I thought this would be easier…”.

Many of us display an optimism bias. Ask my wife and colleagues and they will tell you I am the master of optimism bias. It is a cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are at a lesser risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

It’s a useful trait at times as I don’t get too caught up in everything that could go wrong. However, it can create disappointment and discouragement because I am often unrealistic.

Most of us also have a natural tendency to underestimate the time required to make a change or reach targets (you consultants know what I mean).

How to address it?

When you are taking on an ambitious personal change process, be positive, but stay realistic. Know that to truly change habits or behavioural patterns, we need at least 3-6 months to reinforce the new more effective behaviours. Start with moderate commitments and enjoy those small wins first.

And do a reality-check of your practice with somebody that knows you. Spouses or colleagues are great for this!

Reason 3: “I have too much going on”.

The reality is that most of us are getting busier every year. Things will pop up unexpectedly in your work and life that will pull you away from your intentions. The question is not whether some form of crisis or major distraction will happen, but when.

If you don’t have a game plan for a changing environment or upcoming crisis, you’re going to revert to your normal auto-pilot behaviour

How to address it?

Anticipate the crisis, the distraction and the avoidance beforehand. Then think ahead how you will respond before your auto-pilot kicks in. For example when you want to change your exercise regime and you’re going to travel, have a strategy ready to keep exercising in a new environment. Else it simply won’t happen. (I am writing this in a hotel room in Singapore after 4 days of no exercise….time for a game plan!)

Reason 4: “I hate this or don’t like this”.

Change is a process, not a state. It often requires ongoing effort for a long period of time. Therefore, better make it fun!

Any significant change process involves giving up or adapting an earlier behaviour. Now that old behaviour has been programmed because you are getting some form of payoff from it. It can be a feeling of control, feeling right, validating yourself or avoiding something you fear etc.

So it will naturally create discomfort to change such a pattern. At the moment your change process becomes an internal battle, you already lost. Willpower can only bring you that far…

How to address it?

Bring in lightness and ease into the process. Be committed, but don’t be overly serious and self-judgmental around the effort. This doesn’t mean you let yourself off the hook! Just  use other motivational strategies instead of self-criticism.

For example, feel into the positive impact it could have for you, your family or colleagues. Connect with somebody that inspires you around this practice. Or see if you can smile with fascination to your resistant personality and our human condition, instead of being frustrated by it.

Hope this helps. If you have a reason to give up and solution to add that worked for you, let me know!

Have a great practice and a mindful day!

Mindful regards,

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