California Death Valley Sliding Rock. Photo Credit: Max Pixel (CC 0)
Backsliding comes with almost every new habit you're trying to ingrain. I call it the "Dwindle Effect" because the initial impetus to change an old habit can wane.
It's easy to lose sight of good intentions. It's common to rebel against the effort the new action requires, forgetting why you wanted to change in the first place. Your persistent mind chatter becomes the only voice you hear, and you just want to numb out the emotions of the moment with your familiar, safe (and yet oh-so-destructive) habits.
You made a commitment to walk every evening after work, but you can't remember the last time you did.
Work is so stressful, you've decided it's a bad time to quit smoking.
Your New Year's resolution not to drink during the week has long been forgotten.
No matter how strong your intentions were in the beginning, life's invariable challenges flare up and make it oh-so-easy to slip back into your old habit. Welcome to the DWINDLE EFFECT.
So what happened? You were on a roll there for a while with the yoga classes! Well, emotions came up (about you, your weight, your relationship, whatever) and you didn't handle the sadness, anger, or fear physically and constructively. Instead, you went into survival mode and reverted back to the familiar habit that you swore you were going to change.
The Dwindle Effect can either drain your resolve or provide a learning opportunity. With a little observation and introspection, you can identify some of the whens, whys, wheres, and whos that spark falling off your sterling intentions.
Keep the warning signs in mind, and you'll be better prepared next time. Ask yourself, "What will I do next time this happens?"
Five Steps to Overcome the Dwindle Effect
How can we fight the Dwindle Effect? Making a long-term change in life isn't rocket science. To actualize your goals and good intentions, do these five things:
1. At those crucial moments when you're justifying not following through with the new behavior --- make a new choice! Stomp, shiver, or cry to deal with your anger, fear, or sadness. Find a safe place and do it with abandon for just three minutes! Your unexpressed emotions are clouding your ability to choose anything new. I know that sounds radical, but it's not. Emote and then remember your goal (see number #2).
2. With awareness, changing old habits IS possible and sustainable. Locate your self-sabotaging thoughts and find contradictions that support you. Remind yourself of the reality when you start to waiver. "I hate looking like this. I want to be more fit. I'm doing this for me."
3. Make sure the change you desire is doable, specific, and reasonable. Maybe you can't become a gym rat five days a week but you could catch one class two mornings fairly easily. And make sure your goal resonates as what's true for you.
4. Get a buddy who also wants to make a change and establish a regular daily, weekly, or in between check-in for support and accountability. Initiate and contact him or her at the appointed time, no matter what. Each person gets two to five minutes of listening (set your own reasonable amount of time). The first one talks of victories and breakdown, and the next specific steps he or she need to take between now and the next check-in, and appreciates themselves. Then switch and listen while the other person talks about how they are doing making with their new behavior.
5. When you choose for the old habit today, don't give up your good intentions altogether. It really IS okay. Get up and start again fresh tomorrow. It's a brand new day.
Developing Your Strategy
Develop a strategy for choice moments where you begin to waver. For instance, choose to repeat a reliable truth that contradict your permission giving voice (I'm doing this for me), remember your goal, or revise the desired behavior so it's more reasonable and achievable.
If you relapse, don't abandon your goal. Just remember the Dwindle Effect.
Deal with whatever emotions are sabotaging your efforts and keep checking in to make sure your steps to your goal are small and doable. Call your buddy.
Keep at it and you'll conquer the Dwindle Effect and bask in a new confidence in life.
©2017 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace
* Watch video: Shiver to Express Fear Constructively (with Jude Bijou)