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Starting again with good habits after annual leave…

Experiencing progress is a critical part of motivating yourself to continue with a new habit. It’s not this magical unicorn we’re all perpetually waiting for, willpower, that gets you moving the second, third, or fourth time so that you actually begin to create the habit.

Does this sound like your summer holidays?

By the time Xmas saunters around you’re SO exhausted that you roll yourself toward it, hoping the momentum you’ve built up throughout the year will do you a favour and drag you across the finish line.

You feel well and truly cooked – burnt – overdone – dry – desperate to get out of the heat of life and into the shade of holiday-mode.

So, you do what most do when they finally start annual leave – pop the champers, crack open the mixed sliced meats packet, grab a few wedges of fancy pants cheese and put crackers out by the boxful.

You melt into the gooey feeling of not being responsible for constantly having to keep moving, keep thinking, keep doing. You just relax and indulge.  And ooo baby, it feels good.

By the end of Xmas Day – stuffed like the turkey – you make the vow, the same vow you make after a big night out that ends in being woken by a toddler – “that’s it, I’m done. I’ve had my fun and I’m never doing that again!

But then, Boxing Day begins and at 2pm Aunty Pat drops in with Uncle Ron, along with all the other extended family for a Boxing Day post-Xmas debrief and you think, “oh what-the-festive-heck, one late avo G&T won’t hurt…

Before you know it, it’s 9pm and you’re the instigator breaking out the family karaoke machine – riding the happy train of footloose and fancy free intentions!

We’re right there with you

Now don’t get us wrong, there is absolutely NO judgement from us for staying aboard the Xmas Holiday Express.

In fact, we’ve written this because we’re acutely aware of the feeling that the “Xmas break” somehow crept right on through for most of January.

But, sadly, there is a price to be paid for all the fun and frivolity and for me (Kim) – it usually comes in the form of really really sore hands. My Rheumatoid Arthritis flares up when I’m not kind to my body.

A slight lack of exercise combined with a margarita too many and a deliberate ignorance of what I need to eat to fuel my body, resulted in me waking up grouchy because of the pain.

It was enough to snap me out of my jolly folly, but as per usual, I re-encountered the universal truth that getting back on track post-holidays is in fact about starting all over again, not just picking up where I left off.

So how do you start a new habit? It’s all in the little things

If you haven’t heard me say it before, I am a HUGE fan of James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits. Reading his book empowered me in a lasting way – it made me aware of my own capacity for change in any circumstance.

I mean I knew I had it in me but I always attributed a large portion of my discipline to willpower – that old idea that some are just born tougher. In fact, I prided myself throughout my early 20’s as a Type A personality.

It was actually a small part of Clear’s process for building habits that really grabbed my attention and shifted my perspective. He notioned that, when starting a new habit, it is important to start very small.

Now of course I’d heard this before but I’d always found myself repelled by it, with some sort of self-deprecating inner talk about how I was aiming too low. Starting small just didn’t feel motivating enough. But, as Clear explains, you are simply looking to build progress.

Experiencing progress is a critical part of motivating yourself to continue with a new habit. It’s not this magical unicorn we’re all perpetually waiting for, willpower, that gets you moving the second, third, or fourth time so that you actually begin to create the habit.

So, instead of shaming myself for starting small and feeling like “it isn’t worth it” – I now always aim to start in a way that is so small that trying to tell myself I don’t have the energy to do it, feels frankly, a little bit ridiculous.

Like the 6 minutes per day of weights training I set myself as a goal in January. That’s right, 6 minutes with 2 x 4kg dumbbells. Sounds like nothing but it worked! Before I knew it I was thinking of myself as someone who does weights and from there, how far you want to go is up to you.

Kindness (to myself) is my favourite habit hack

Now we’re on the topic of what our brain tells us, the other big tip I have that has been a game-changer for me in habit forming (and life in general) is practicing self-compassion.

Dr Kirsten Neff, one of the pioneers of self-compassion research, describes self-compassion as “turning compassion inward”. You can think of it like how you’d talk to a friend in need – (hopefully) with a gentle sense of love and care – and Dr Neff’s research has shown that self-compassion is a powerful source of coping and resilience.

It’s actually kind of marvellous when you think about it. Usually, when we set ourselves a task or goal, it has a certain hardness to it. In this case, the task is all about kindness, softness and love. This is truly a rainbows and butterflies situation – practice being kind to yourself and that simple and deeply pleasurable act can significantly improve your mental and physical wellbeing.

How does self-compassion relate to habit forming? Well, there’s no time we are more judgemental toward ourselves than when we are trying to make change. We want to change our state but it isn’t easy so we beat ourselves up for not being able to “just do it”.

Self-compassion is the key to quietening those demotivating, self-defeating voices in our minds.

Some of the things I say to myself include “I love you”, “listening to your body is brave” and “wishing you’d done it differently is part of being human”.

Lean on the Team

The concepts above are really important tools when starting new habits and, I can attest, they really do work.

But there’s an added ingredient that always gives a new habit the absolute best chance at success for me – my teammate. Yep, ol’ mate Rog is my secret ingredient for success and has been my key to getting back on track after these holidays.

In #Ep.03 Winning Team, we talk all about how powerful teams are. Amongst other things, we discuss how they provide a sense of safety, and when we experience safety, we decrease our mental load – allowing us to more easily focus on the task (or new habit) at hand.

We also share the benefits of being able to think about the habit with someone else – whether that’s by discussing progress and setbacks, tapping into your teammate as a source of encouragement, or simply reducing our need to process everything alone.

The outcome

I finally managed to kick-off my positive new habits for 2023. And joyfully, it’s inspired Rog at the same time.

And it’s all thanks to my toolbox of resources:

  • Starting small
  • Practicing self-compassion
  • Sharing the load with my teammate Rog

What new habit would you like to make this year?

Check out other posts:

To learn more about Kim & Rog's story and what inspired them to start their podcast.