“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
We’re about to launch the Transformation Project, a 28 day experiment into the impact of yoga, meditation and pilates on happiness and wellbeing. Together we’ll be diving headlong into a full month of practice. A month that will challenge you, inspire you and empower you to become the best possible version of yourself.
Sounds fabulous doesn’t it! And the first few days of any challenge or commitment to change, usually are. Swept along by our initial enthusiasm, the early alarm clock to practice at the start of the day, or declining the invitations after work don’t seem too difficult at all. But then something changes. Things get a little tough and we can feel ourselves start to slip.
So what to do about it? How can we sustain the practices long enough to feel the benefits and reap the rewards? How do we stay the path when our will starts to weaken?
A great first place to turn for this answer is Pantanjali’s Yogic Sutras.
The Niyamas – or observances or ways of living – contain a great tip for us in this. It’s called Tapas and it’s translated as “self-discipline,” “effort,” or “internal fire,” or even “austerities”. This Yoga Sutra suggests that when tapas is in action, the heat generated will both burn away impurities and kindle the sparks of divinity within.
There is recognition that this isn’t easy. Tapas is the willingness to do the work. To build the discipline, and the internal muscle of commitment. In yoga, we see it as commitment to your practice – to make time for the mat even when you don’t want to be there. Work out what’s possible to do and do it every day. Even if it’s just 10 minutes – make that happen.
We also experience tapas when we hold a pose that little bit longer than we’d like to! You’re restraining yourself from moving and observing what happens, testing your limits and building capacity to tolerate strong sensation or discomfort. The discipline to stay when you want to run away.
So when that feeling of staying in bed or skipping meditation comes up, approach it the same way as you do when you need to hold a pose. Notice what’s happening and stay. Notice how the sensation comes and goes. And stick it.
The “if-then” technique:
This tool is effective for when you really don’t want to do practice. It’s basically a pre-plan that you have in place as an alternative to opting out completely.
Columbia’s Motivation Science Center show quite promising results from the use of ‘if-then planning’ and how it ties into the brain’s preference for contingencies. For example, you could do the following:
If I feel too tired to practice an open class after work, then I will go to meditation instead
This is a really simple but proven effective for those moments where mood, fatigue, and motivation begin to wane.
Avoid “what the hell” thinking:
We’ve all done it. We get so far and then we blow it. And instead of picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, we say “what the hell” and eat the entire contents of our fridge or give up the challenge.
Accept the fact that you may not achieve all the steps to reach your goals, but don’t let that be the reason you quit! Similarly avoid being too hard on yourself for messing up. It simply isn’t healthy. Forgive yourself, be kind and try again tomorrow.
Reconnect with your “why”:
Something inspired you to make a change, to create the new habit or quit an old one.
Ideally you will have spent some time thinking about that and getting really clear on how you want to feel as a result of your challenge (or any other change you are wanting to make).
Through creating a powerful, colourful, bright and bold “why”, we provide ourselves an anchor to keep us rooted in our motivations for diving in in the first place. Just like a boat tethered to an anchor won’t ever stay completely in one spot, when the tides and the waves push it around it moves a little but it keeps coming back into its centre, held by the anchor. Your why is a little like this!
Reconnect with that and let your why be the bridge over the chasm of self-doubt, fear, and the lure of staying in bed instead of fronting to the studio at 6am!