Dear Earth Therapeutics:
My problem is that I’m incorrigibly a seat-of-the-pantser and not a planner. In fact, whenever I plan something or stick to a new workout or anything that would be good for me, I last for about two days. In other words, planning to be good sets me up for a guaranteed fall.
I’m in my early 40’s so maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m pretty resigned to my inner rebelliousness or maybe it’s just laziness. Then it occurred to me that I could work with this part of me instead of going against my nature.
Do you have any advice for a seat-of-the-pantser like me on how to be good to myself? Some sort of predictably unpredictable way of self-care?
Looking for a Game Plan
Hi Game Plan,
That’s a great question and perfect timing since September is Self-improvement Month: a time to improve yourself, set new goals, and eliminate the negative things in your life that are holding you back. We love synergy.
Creating new habits means change, and real change is uncomfortable and a little scary.
When challenged, we tend to put up our guard or create narratives explaining why accomplishing a certain goal is impossible. These are called limiting beliefs and this sort of self-sabotage is sneaky and relentless and the biggest blockade on the road to Goalstown.
The best way to combat limiting beliefs is to challenge them. You mentioned that at 40 you’re resigned to your status quo. But how did you come to this conclusion? Is this how you really feel or are you internalizing messages from our youth-obsessed culture?
I’m here to tell you there is absolutely no age when it becomes impossible to shake up your life. And that’s on period from someone who radically altered their life and career in their 40s. Listen, it’s cliche for a reason, but age really is just a number and you actually can train senior dogs new tricks.
The challenge with getting into new routines as an adult is that our lives are a lot more complicated, busy, and stressful than when we were school kids. Patterns carve paths into our daily routines and over time those paths become canyon-sized. Suddenly switching streams is going to feel icky, strange, and yeah, really uncomfortable.
The two things you absolutely need to create good habits is time and patience.
You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 to 28 days to form a new habit. It will actually take at least two or three times that long. Part of the reason is neurological: you’re literally rewiring your brain. The other reason is practical: you’ve got to clear out the excuses and distractions and carve out the time and space for the new habit to take hold.
“Phillippa Lally, PhD, a senior researcher at University College London, published a study that found it actually takes an average of 66 days — more than two months – to form a habit. Lally also reported that the amount of time before a new behavior feels automatic can range between 18 and 254 days.” (source)
That feels like forever, doesn’t it? We’re so used to immediate gratification, pretty much 24/7, that our patience is thin and time drags. We want results now! But like all good things, you’re going to have to put in the work and that includes doing the time.
Don’t get discouraged – there’s plenty of support and help out there from online groups to habit-tracking apps to help you stay motivated and accountable. Here’s a few that I’ve found tremendously useful when I’ve tried to kick a bad habit or start a good one:
The Buddy System: grab a friend who’s also trying to get into a routine. When I wanted to start a daily meditation and journaling routine, I roped in a friend with a similar goal. We text at the same time every day and if we miss a day or two, one of us will get us back on track, no questions asked.
Habit-tracking Apps: you have a buffet of apps from which to choose to help set up a routine and keep you accountable. Pop-up reminders reinforce patterns and some include a reward system with gold stars or badges at incremental achievements for that juicy hit of serotonin.
Lo-Fi Habit-tracking: speaking of gold-stars, if you’re nostalgic for classroom charts and completion stickers (or if mobile apps are not your thing), create your own updated homework chart with your new habits and hang it in a place you see everyday for a birds-eye view of your progress.
Group Love: lock-down normalized connecting with people over Zoom and that can be a great thing. No matter your goal or interest, there’s probably a few someones like you out there. Writing groups, meditation circles, support groups – there’s probably even groups dedicated to creating new habits. Start with your Facebook friends or take an online class. It may take a couple tries, but you’ll find your people.
If my goal is to have healthy teeth when I’m 90, then I better make sure I’m flossing and brushing every day. If this sounds like a weird, mundane example, consider that brushing your teeth is a habit you learned as a kiddo and is like second nature as an adult. You don’t even think about it anymore. Easy, normal, routine.
Just to sum up, Game Plan, you’re never too old to try new things and anyone can level-up their life with patience, persistence, and time. You got this!