3 Problems When Establishing Habits

My parents bought me a guitar about four years ago. It was a standard acoustic. The strings were tight and difficult to hold down. I struggled for a week to get the basic chords down. I couldn’t practice for too long because my fingers would get sore after five or so minutes. The pain was my signal to stop.

After two weeks, I had the basic chords down and my fingers had callused enough for me to play beyond five minutes without pain.

It was exciting. I thought I was going to rock out and learn all my favorite songs within the month. But then something happened.

I stopped practicing. I stopped even picking up my guitar. I moved on. I wouldn’t pick it up again for another year.

I stopped playing because I established a routine of practicing until my fingers hurt. In the beginning this routine was manageable – five minutes a day was nothing. I could do that; however my fingertips progressed quicker than my discipline. I could not will myself to play for fifteen minutes or longer a day. I could do five. But since I set the standard in my mind to play until my fingers hurt, I created an unrealistic expectation for myself, and as a result, stopped playing the guitar.

Physical vs. Mental Strength

With every new habit there are different physical and mental demands. For someone trying to establish a daily push-up routine, they may be able to do twenty push ups on day one with no problem and would have no problem struggling through twenty more the next day, if their body felt the same way it did on day one, but that is not the case. The physical demand changes from day one to day two.

The physical and mental stamina it takes to establish a new habit are rarely (if ever) equal; therefore it is important to start small and build slowly when establishing a new habit.

Typical Problems

  1. Too much too soon. I have tried numerous times to establish a push-up routine. Each time I have failed because I was too sore to continue. Sometimes I would be too sore after day one, other times I would be too sore three weeks in. I didn’t progress slow enough for my body to catch up. With writing I would do more than I was mentally disciplined to handle on a day-to-day basis. The task of writing 1000 words a day was too much for me in the beginning, so I would not at all most days.
  2. Too many little things too soon. When I wasn’t doing too much too soon, I was trying to establish too many habits the right way at the same time. Thus I was doing too much too soon again but in a different way. I would plan on establishing a push-up routine, writing routine, running routine and a healthy eating routing all in one day. I figured since I was doing each of these habits the right way, I would be fine. I was not. I ended up establishing none of the above habits, even though I followed what I thought were the basic habit rules.
  3. Impatience. So finally I understood the basic structure for making habit changes — choose one habit, start small and build slow. As long as I followed this basic structure I would be fine. But I wasn’t. I would write for five minutes a day for a two weeks and had nothing to show for it. I didn’t have any blog posts written or anything, so I quit. I wanted results right away. I was impatient. When establishing new habits, there may not be any sort of significant change for a while. The first few weeks or so are all about establishing the behavior into your routine, the results are down the road and happen slowly. Most of time without even being aware. So feel accomplished each day for simply building your habit. Feel good about it. And let the results down the road be the icing on the cake.