Cultivating New Habits

Cultivating New Habits

Now that you've mapped out your goals for 2023 (you did, right?? Circle back to last weeks goal setting blog first if you missed it), it's time to set the tone for cultivating those new habits. The word "cultivate" is so perfectly representative of the first (and ongoing) steps to executing on a vision, as it deals with our environment. The most difficult to control, and therefore a frequently cited reason for why we fail to stick with the plan, when external pressures start to run interference with our internal tactics, things can start to unravel a bit.

Maybe you've been there before? You've got your plan of attack, and you've been doing pretty well at following through. Grocery shop on Saturday, meal prep on Sunday, gym Monday, Wednesday, Friday, journaling at night, drinking water first thing in the morning, quality time with the kids and in bed by 10p and you're doing good! You feel good, you're locked into your routine. Until, you aren't. Your best friends wedding, your sister's baby shower, the never ending carousel of birthday party, Holiday party, work party, friend's in town, work trip, vacation, it's raining on a Tuesday, you're sick, everyone's sick, the game's on, your dog ate a whole bag of candy and now you're off to the emergency vet, and so on...

When your adherence to the plan is contingent on having complete control over your external environment, then one thing is guaranteed... things will come up, and you will not stick to the plan. Besides, how realistic is a plan that only works if it's the only thing you do? You may try to bargain with yourself and say "I'm just going to do it this way for this month", but even if you make the conscious choice to say "no" to social gatherings for a month, you still never really have full control over what comes up. Also, what do you think you're going to do after that month is over? It depends on you and the plan obviously, but odds are if you've given up ALL of the things that bring you joy for a full month, you'll be eager to get back to them, maybe double down and lose a bit of control that you might've had otherwise. 1 step forward, 2 steps back. If you follow this plan for a full year, you'll be 6 steps behind where you started, despite the best of intentions (and a lot of hard work). 

So how do we cultivate our environment for growth? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we do this when things come up that challenge this environment? 

Initial cultivation. Upon embarking on any new habits, routines, diet and lifestyle changes, we need to set ourselves up for success. Take a look at your goals, and walk back from there. Assuming you followed the SMART method, you have a few goals in front of you that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Now, stick with me here, imagine your goal is a seed. Depending on what you're growing, you'll need to follow specific guidelines to ensure it's growth. These steps are quite simple, but not impossible to mess up (anyone who has gardened without some planning, or killed a houseplant knows what I'm talking about). Before you start, prepare the soil. Know how much water you need to give it and when, how much sunlight it needs, and decide where it's going to go in your home so it can have what it needs. Give this little seed every opportunity to succeed by researching and preparing it's environment BEFORE you plant it. I know you're excited to get it started, but taking the time to properly prepare the aspects of the environment that you DO have control over will help to ensure its success once the ball gets rolling, and your confidence in your own ability to give it what it needs.

Ongoing cultivation. You've stuck to the plan in the initial phases of growth. You weren't tempted to overwater, or impatiently move the seed without giving it a chance to grow in its own time, and now you've got a sprout. It's time to take a look at the initial plan, and evaluate what needs to stay the same and what needs to change in order to adapt to this new stage of growth. What worked for the seed might be too much or not enough for the sprout. Regularly check-in with different stages of growth and adjust the plan to fit current needs. There is a sweet spot here, you don't want to change things up too frequently or rapidly at the detriment of previous phases of growth, nor do you want to randomly try something completely different just because you saw someone else grow a plant 3x as big and as fast on Instagram (have we taken the plant analogy too far yet?)

When the environment is challenged. Not so secret option number 3: let's say you were taking great care during the seed phase, but your cat knocks the pot down one day, it shatters, the dirt spills out and the roots were too delicate to sustain the blow. What do you do? Maybe take a moment to be pissed and upset, sure. But then what? Do you give up on trying to grow plants from seeds and never try it again? Go back to your old ways, beat yourself up for even trying? Of course not. You know that 1. your cat knocking down the pot has nothing to do with your ability to take care of it and was completely out of your control and 2. it only takes one to two weeks for a seed to germinate. You can do it again. You had the secret to success and one thing outside of your control happened, but... you can do it again. So you do it again. And this brings us back to the initial cultivation, where maybe you reevaluate the environment given the new information you have, and set your growth up for success by moving the pot to an area the cat can't reach. 

If the seed/plant analogy wasn't completely lost on you, you've gathered the following principles to take with you as you cultivate new habits.

  1. Set yourself up for success by laying out the groundwork first. If your goal involves following an 80% whole foods diet, you'll remove processed foods from your pantry first, dedicate some time to finding whole foods recipes you're excited to try, put together a grocery list, and stock your pantry and fridge with easily accessible foods that allow you to follow through. 
  2. Keep track of your progress in whatever way makes the most sense for you and your goal- sticking with the 80% whole foods diet, maybe you track your progress with an app that allows you to enter ingredients and look at nutrients, calories and macros, or maybe you simply keep a log going in your phone, or on paper. Journal how you feel, and find a metric that feels aligned for your goals that you can use to check back in. Use this information as feedback to help guide your next steps. Keep what's working and build on it once it's a well-formed habit. If something flat out is not working or no longer working for you, don't be afraid to deviate, but do make sure you have a plan in place for where you're going next. (80% whole foods was unrealistic given ______. I'm going to commit to 4 days a week, and focus on portions/getting enough protein the other 3 days). 
  3. When things happen outside of your control, turn inward. You do always have choice in how you respond to the stressors in your life. Acknowledge that you get to choose to say yes or no to certain outings, and you have a choice in what you eat and drink or don't eat and drink, and how much, always. And, if you choose to eat the extra slice of pizza, really say yes to it, and then move on. Resist the temptation to pile on ("well I already 'broke the rules' so might as well go crazy") or to beat yourself up about it. Be kind, enjoy it, take it in, and then reset. Cultivate an internal environment that feels safe and supportive, that nurtures your growth and your big picture goals, so you can live your life in alignment with your highest self. 

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