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How to Get StartedPublished:
Where the heck do I start? We are certainly not the only ones asking this question regarding things like the gym, eating healthy, forming new habits, changing a lifestyle, etc. We see all over social media the progress people make on their journey towards being their best selves or the results of years of hard work, but rarely if ever, do we see someone start something. Let alone how or where they started.
We are very outcome-driven, and this is great until you don't actually know how to get what you want. You may be able to stumble your way through parts of life, but leaving essential things, like your body's well-being up to chance, is likely not going to get you the desired outcome. So, what the heck do we do? Let's look at a few scientific ways to approach change, form new habits, and start something new.
First and foremost. Time is our friend, not foe. Anytime we are going to change something or try something for the first time, or heck, even get back into something we used to do, our greatest ally is time. Alright, now a bit about change. Whenever there is change, there is also grief and loss. Whether that be a new job, selling a house, changing schools, losing a loved one, or a crisis of identity. Even in "good" change or change you were in control of; there is still some level of grief and loss. Give yourself space to let go of how things used to be, who you used to be, and how things looked and tasted and felt like. Give yourself time to feel sadness and maybe some anger. It all belongs in the process of change.
Now, a bit about habits.
First, there is the cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward. Our prehistoric ancestors were paying attention to cues that signaled the location of primary rewards like food, water, and sex. Today, we spend most of our time learning cues that predict secondary rewards like money and fame, power and status, praise and approval, love and friendship, or a sense of personal satisfaction. (Of course, these pursuits also indirectly improve our odds of survival and reproduction, which is the deeper motive behind everything we do.)
Cravings are the second step of the habit loop, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained. Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.
The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won't do it. Your response also depends on your ability. It sounds simple, but a habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it. If you want to dunk a basketball but can't jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you're out of luck.
Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us.
There is something wonderful and witty that Brene Brown said a few years ago in regard to trying something new that you haven't done before. She called it "F*cking Fist Time" or an "FFT" We all had our fair share of FFTs during the pandemic. Whether it was a zoom meeting where you didn't actually mute yourself, or online school with your kids and the juice ended up all over the laptop or interviewing for a job not remembering that you were still wearing your sweatsuit. The good ole FFTs. We all have them, and the wonderful thing is that after that first time is over, you won't ever have that same experience again because it will no longer be the first time. That anxiety of stepping into the gym for the first time and seeing a gang of machines, tasting the sweat and pre-workout, and awkwardly walking around for an hour... or the madness you feel you try to cut out sugar?! How about when you decide to try Dry January and want to die (dramatic but relatable). We have all been there; it is the perfect place to start.
So where the heck do I start? You start right where you are. You have what you need to start anything. It might be messy and full of mistakes and not anything like you thought it would be. That's good, and that is NORMAL. Put your focus on starting again day after day. Stay present, do what you can with what you have, and whatever happens happens.