Question: I have a problem in that I find it very difficult to stick to anything. I need to lose weight so I start a new diet/personal trainer and then before long the novelty wears off. It is the same with hobbies. I joined a tennis club at massive expense and then quit within months. Part of it had to do with some snobby members who were rude to me, but I still walked away from the investment. I am starting to see the same trait in one of my kids and I am worried it will affect their chances at a career. I am lucky in that my husband pays all our bills. Is it possible to learn staying power at this stage of my life? I am in my mid 40s?
Answer: How do you get habits to stick or improve your staying power? Forget everything that you think will get you there and know this: you do have willpower, but very little. It is a limited resource and becomes depleted easily and quickly.
So, before the motivation mongers start shouting at us in January, let’s get real about motivation or the lack thereof.
Motivation is a drive that you — and only you — are in control of. This is an inside job and the work that is needed comes from intrinsic motivation and creating an implementation intention.
Of course, the novelty wears off. The quick-fix diets and exercise mentality is not only dangerous but counter-productive in so many ways. What I hear in your words is a lack of confidence in belief in your own abilities, which is self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is so important to help you organise and become as consistent as possible with whatever goal you want to achieve. If you don’t believe you can do it, it is going to be near impossible to achieve. What can help bring this into a reality is to create your own specific implementation intention.
You will need some paper to figure out what goals or things you want to do, and a calendar. No amount of external motivation will create the sticking power you are looking for. As you know, there can be a good buzz when you first commit to a new course of action, but unfortunately it isn’t and won’t be enough.
Only action will get you to where you want to be.
Ask yourself, what specifically do you want to achieve and why? These questions are delving into your ‘why’ as this is what will get you up, out and dressed when it is cold, dark and wet outside when all you will want to do is stay in your lovely warm bed.
Here’s the reality check, by writing down in your diary when you are going to do whatever you have committed to, the sticking power changes immensely.
I encourage people to see that commitment as the same as any appointment that you have made, like going to the doctor or a date to meet a friend. You wouldn’t just not show up. Showing up for yourself puts a value upon you and the goal you would like to achieve.
Look back at the trigger points that led to the decision to stop in the past. What led to that decision? Go in curious, like an outside observer. What vulnerability or feeling was present? Did you feel judged, uncomfortable or lacking in confidence in yourself? Bring softness to these important questions.
Tenacity and determination to stay the course takes a lot of effort. See this as a skill that you can and would like to develop. Breaking it down into smaller, manageable tasks is the way to go from overwhelm to slipping it into your everyday mindset.
I always like to think of it as similar to dental hygiene — you don’t question or quit brushing your teeth. It is part of your routine, morning and night. Mental hygiene can help bring in healthy routines. I’m also going to throw in time for intentional procrastination.
If you find you get side-tracked, give yourself 20 minutes or so to intentionally scroll or do something you’d like to do and then choose to get back on track.
By modelling these skills, first your son will see that you have days that you don’t want to exercise or go because someone said something rude to you, but you are going anyway.
There is great strength and courage in this. These are wonderful skills for you to develop for yourself and the positive off-shoot will be your son will see it — and that is so much more powerful than just talking about it.
Learning knows no age limits. I’d recommend watching Carol Dweck’s TED Talk on how to develop a growth mindset as an excellent place to start this exciting journey of change and possibility — ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve.
There are great resources on The Big Life Journal. This article is very useful on how to teach kids the growth mindset explaining neuroplasticity and activities. It really helps to encourage the value of mistakes and trying something even though it is hard. Check out biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/teach-kids-growth-mindset-neuroplasticity-activities.