If you can’t make a commitment to yourself…

Who can you make one to?

Have you worn out your willpower trying to make changes in your life that just never seem to stick? Do you find old, destructive habits hard to break and have difficulty forming positive habits? If so, you just need a new strategy.

Once you find what it is, I am convinced that you can be more optimistic about your life.

I’m really fortunate that I am a born finisher.  It’s not something that I’ve worked on – it must just be part of my DNA.  If I start something you can pretty much bet on the fact that I will stay with it until either I know it’s time to let it go, it doesn’t work for me anymore, or it’s done and finished.

So, you might ask, how do I know when it’s time?  Well, finished is finite.  It either is or it isn’t.  But the other two above need a decision that is often hard to make, and I do wrestle with guilt and feelings of failure.  I’ll give you two examples of this. 

The first is that since childhood I have wanted to play the piano.  My father was an excellent, part-time musician when I was growing up, and he played until he was well into his seventies.  My mother was a trained soprano singer.  I do not have a musical bone in my body. I have owned 2 pianos and have had lessons at a number of different times in my adult life.  I have practiced diligently.  I can play Fur Elise.

But I have given up trying as I know that the piano and I are never going to be comfortable with each other.

The second thing I have wanted to do is speak French.  I learned in school for a year.  I did two years daily with Duolingo, an online app. I’ve done two semesters of lessons and I have been to France and tried my best on multiple occasions.  I love France so much that I will never give up trying, but I have resigned myself to the fact that I am not linguistically gifted.  I am also convinced that talent in music and languages are related.

What I am getting at here is that I do not want for willpower.  I have it in spades.  I have done all the diets there is to do and had good use out of gym memberships.  But once I get to my goal I see it as finished, and we all know that good eating and exercise is a lifestyle choice that is never finished.

I find it easy to make a commitment to myself, but I know that this is hard for some people  Maybe they are the ones fluent in multiple languages who, after a tough day at work, pour themselves a scotch and sit and play Chopin to relax.

I wanted to share with you a concept that I used years ago to get up in the morning and go for a walk, but had no idea someone decades later would name it. 

So that I could not talk myself into staying in bed in the morning because I couldn’t be bothered finding my exercise gear, I used to put it with my joggers right down beside my bed at night so that in the morning I had to actually step over them and put them away again if I didn’t use them.  It was just easier, and did not waste the effort of getting them out, to actually go for a walk.

Enter the 20-Second Rule. Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” has listed this as a principal to help people become happier and more successful by eliminating bad habits and forming new, productive ones. 

For me, the 20 seconds of effort it would take to get my exercise clothes out in a morning was eliminated, and the 20 seconds it would take to guiltily return them to their drawers if unworn was too much to bear. 

Shawn’s example was playing the guitar.  He knew that he would get good at it if he just practiced, but that meant removing it from a cupboard.  So he decided to stand it in the corner of the room – 20 seconds saved and a new habit forming.

There are many things you can do to change your life by changing your habits.  A quote often attributed to Aristotle is

“To be excellent we cannot just think or feel excellent, we must act excellently.”

Action is the key, but action is often hard.  So the 20-Second Rule can assist in helping you to make a commitment to yourself to act to change your habits.  Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are working on a computer and don’t want distractions – turn off notifications.
  • Want to be more active?  Remove the batteries from the TV remote and force yourself to get up to change the channel.
  • Want to lift weights to get good-looking, summer-ready arms?  Put the weights where you can trip over them.
  • Want to save money by not buying lunch every day? Make up 5 to-go lunch packs on a Sunday.  Also, healthy eating choices are easier if you only shop for healthy food.
  • Always late for work because you can’t decide what to wear in the morning? Lay out your clothes the night before.
  • Can’t get out of bed and go to the gym? You’re going to love this one – sleep in your exercise clothes.
  • Too many choices?  What to wear, what to eat, which exercise to do?  Streamline – eliminate the choices – pick one and act.

It’s like riding a bike, tying your shoelaces, learning to walk.  You couldn’t do it until you tried, failed, tried and then tried again.