Good habits are difficult to form. (The bad ones just seem to leap into existence!) When we are working on incorporating a new habit, we often struggle mightily to get started. We do well for a few days, and then our inspiration leaves us. Guilt ensues. We begin again. We fail again. More guilt. We wrestle with our own best intentions, but so often, Newton’s first law of motion wins out – things at rest really do stay at rest.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Understand the universal process for implementing good habits, and you will recognize that victory is simply a matter of time and persistent effort. According to Dr. Larry Lea in his book, Could You Not Tarry One Hour, the process involves three stages – Desire, Discipline and Delight.
Stage 1 – Desire
The essential first ingredient in a habit is desire. You can have all the knowledge, skills and resources you need to get started (remember that treadmill that’s gathering dust in your living room?), but if you don’t have desire, it ain’t happening. Sure, other people can coerce you into starting a habit through authority, nagging or guilting you into it, but without your own personal desire to make a change, you’ll dump the habit as soon as they take the pressure off. Desire is the gas in your engine. Use it to help you push through Stage 2.
Stage 2 – Discipline
Once you have the desire (yours – not someone else’s) to make a change, you have to discipline yourself to follow through. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it takes you out of your comfort zone, but it’s also temporary. Studies have shown that it takes twenty-one consecutive days to form a habit. There have been no studies that say you have to enjoy the process. You just have to stick with it. Keep your eyes on the larger goal that fuels your desire, and keep plugging.
Stage 3 – Delight
Here’s the secret. If you push your way through the wall of discomfort during the discipline stage, you make it to the third stage. This is where the habit that was such a chore before becomes a delight. You long to accomplish it each day. You can’t wait to get started, and if you neglect the habit for some reason, you feel a tangible gap in your day – like something is missing. When you get to the Delight Stage, benefits of the habit that you never knew existed suddenly materialize. You’ve developed momentum that makes the habit easy to continue.
So many times, we give up too soon. We allow our feelings to dictate our actions. If we’re tired, we make excuses for not practicing our habit. If we feel unmotivated, we let ourselves off the hook. If someone dangles an option before us that is even slightly more appealing, we give in to temptation. That’s backward thinking. Feelings follow actions, not the other way around. When you discipline yourself to take action, you push through to delight.
It’s just a matter of time and persistent effort. Do it even when you don’t feel like it. Fake it until you make it. Resist the temptation to do nothing, and you can take advantage of the second half of Newton’s first law: things in motion tend to stay in motion. Be a thing in motion!