Hey everyone, and welcome back to Pole Goals 101!
Today, we’re going to be chatting about building successful habits, what makes a habit easier to stick to, and how successful habit building can help you reach your pole goals.
Now that you know your why, and you’ve engineered your environment to help you achieve your pole goals, the next important topic to tackle is building, and sticking to, habits that feed into your pole goals.
Habits and Energy
As I talked about in the previous post, willpower is a finite resource and is used up whenever we have to make a choice.
However, we all have habits, good or bad, that are so ingrained in our minds that doing them is no longer a matter of choice.
These can be habits you learned as a child, like brushing your teeth, or ones that you’ve picked up in your adulthood, reading a book before you go to bed. When I talk about ‘unconscious’ habits, I mean habits that take more willpower to stop doing, than they do to complete them.
Obviously, everyone’s mileage varies with unconscious habits, what they look like, and how often they do require willpower to complete.
People with severe, chronic conditions like ME, PTSD and Lupus may struggle to complete habits that would otherwise be unconscious for other people. When my depression was at its worst, I was lucky to have someone to remind me to brush my teeth and shower, because I barely had the energy to get out of bed.
Understanding what energy you have available is the first step in building habits. After all, dedicating yourself to new habits in your life will only lead to disappointment if you don’t actually have the energy to follow them the majority of the time.
Habit building and maintenance is an individual journey that may not be right for you. If you only just have enough energy to make it through the day, please don’t pressure yourself to expend more energy if you can’t afford to. Only do what you feel like you’re capable of doing, and always consult a doctor before embarking on new fitness or eating habits.
The Future You
When I asked my partner about how he goes about his habits, he told me he likes to envision his Future Self, and how that person is different from his Present Self. He then splits this down further into two categories – Physical and Personal.
Let’s say, for instance, your pole goal is being able to do the splits.
So, your Future You can do the splits – that’s the physical aspect.
The personal aspect is understanding how your Future Self achieved their goals – which, if you know how you like to train, you should already have an idea of.
For instance, if you enjoy doing Yoga, your Future Self might be the kind of person who only misses Yoga class if they have unavoidable commitments elsewhere.
Or if, like me, you don’t really have the motivation to stretch as a solitary thing, your Future Self might be the kind of person who always stretches for 20 minutes after every workout.
The whole idea of this exercise is to visualise who your Future You is – and figure out what you need to do to become that person.
This will form your habit plan.
Successful Habit Building
Now that you have an idea of what kind of person your Future You is, and what they do differently to you, you’ve taken the first step to building successful habits.
But, here’s the thing:
Building, and sticking to, your habits is hard.
I got you thinking about your Future You, what they do, and how they’ve been successful because it can be difficult to figure out what habits you need to build in the first place, let alone understand how to consistently follow them.
Building habits is an entirely personal process, and different things will work for different people.
While I think the tips I’m about to give you are some of the best ways of going about building and sticking to your habits, they may not work for you. Please don’t beat yourself up if they don’t end up working for you. We all have different motivations, different lives, and different schedules. If you try out something new and it doesn’t work for you then, well, at least you’ve tried.
This is perhaps the bit of advice that you see plastered across the internet the most, but it’s there for a reason.
Starting small gives you the power to keep going.
Going with the example from earlier in this post, you’ve identified that your Future You can do the splits, and is the kind of person who stretches for 20 minutes every day.
If you follow the New Years’ Resolutions model of habit building, you might be able to achieve two or three weeks of stretching for 20 minutes every day, before you realise you’re tired, you’re burned out, and you’d be much happier watching a 20-minute episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
With this model, you’re doing too much, far too fast.
You’re going from 0-100 without time to prepare, letting it adjust to fit into your life, and allowing your energy levels to keep up.
Instead, you’re better served by using a You-Focused model.
Only you know what you can reasonably manage at this point in time. If you haven’t worked on your flexibility and don’t know where to start, you could start by committing to one Yoga or Flex class a week, or following one YouTube tutorial a week.
If you have the energy to do more, awesome! Go you!
And if you don’t, awesome! Good on you for listening to your body!
And, only you know how much time you can realistically dedicate to training each week.
If you’ve never had burnout and don’t know what it is then, you’re definitely a lucky goose, but it’s effectively the state your mind and body reaches after a period of prolonged and unrelenting stress. Not only is it a huge passion killer, but it can have drastic physical effects on your body, like frequent illnesses, headaches, and muscle pain.
By understanding how much time you can realistically dedicate to your habits while leaving time to relax and socialise, you can avoid burning out and continue to maintain a healthy work-training-life balance – which is super important for your mental health.
If you’re the kind of person who loves planners, calendars and to-do lists, time blocking might just be for you.
Since going self-employed, I’ve started using a planner to organise my days and the work I need to get done, and the first thing I block in my schedule for the day is my breaks and habits.
Both of which are things I have a tendency for not making time for if I end up deep in my creative flow.
As you can probably guess, time blocking is scheduling a time to train, stretch, or whatever activity it is that you want to get into the habit of doing.
Personally, I’ve found time blocking to be amazing for keeping me on track with my goals. As it’s one of the first things I write in my schedule before I prioritise my workflow for the day, it makes sure that I have space clear for my habits.
I also find it helps to cement in my mind that I’m going to be exercising or stretching that day, so I’m less likely to skip doing it.
Everyone has days where they struggle with the idea of sticking to their habits.
Whatever’s going on in your life – whether it’s been a long week and you’d rather sit at home with Netflix, you’re having a bad time with your mental health, or you’re generally running low on energy – it can be hard to feel motivated to work towards your goals 100% of the time.
This is why I like to add the concept of Minimum Acceptance onto my habits.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know I don’t make a secret of living with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder, which can make it difficult to work on my habits. It’s like living with a defective phone battery. Some days I can hold my charge better than others.
The first thing you need to ask yourself is, when you’re ill, exhausted or injured, is “Do I have the ability to do the thing?”
Sometimes, the answer will genuinely be no – and you should follow that voice. For the love of all things good and pure in this world, take a break. Look after yourself. Your health, both physical and mental, comes first. Always.
If the answer is yes, then you ask yourself “How can I make the thing less taxing for me?”
When it comes to building your habits, you should really consider setting yourself a minimum level at which you consider that habit followed. This could be exercising for a certain amount of time each week, stretching for a certain amount of time each day – or even just stepping foot in the gym.
And be kind to yourself. Be realistic.
If, like me, your depression can make it near-impossible for you to move sometimes, but you know exercise helps when you get the momentum to move – make your minimum acceptance level just getting changed into your exercise gear.
You might find that, once you’re at your minimum level, it helps get the momentum going to do a little bit more.
Hell, I actually started weightlifting regularly because I pushed myself to put on my pole gear to go to class, despite feeling super anxious, but by the time I decided I couldn’t really make it to class I figured I might as well do something.
Minimum acceptance levels on your habits are a great way of showing your body and mind kindness while also working towards your goals.
Won’t vs. Can’t
There’s a huge difference between not wanting to do something and not being able to do something.
Sometimes, life genuinely does get in the way of our habits. We have meals with friends that clash with pole class, we’re out all day seeing family, or we’re just too ill to exercise without making ourselves feel worse.
You need to make allowances for the times that you can’t do what you’ve planned to do.
It’s so easy to beat ourselves up and convince ourselves that we’re perfectly able to get up and chase our goals, if only we weren’t so damn lazy – while we’re also bundled up on the sofa, under a thousand blankets, laid up with the Flu.
I’ve said the same thing to myself when I’ve been near-catatonic thanks to the depressive episode that decided to turn up.
It’s also super easy to beat yourself up over missing a Sunday workout again, even though there’s been three family birthdays in a row and you’re seeing them to celebrate every week.
Sometimes, we genuinely can’t follow our habits – and you need to give yourself permission to rest, socialise, and just live.
If you’re a disciplined individual with a lot of willpower – or want to learn how to be – rewards can be super helpful in encouraging you to stick with your habits.
However, it’s also important to note that using rewards for motivation don’t work for everyone and, if done in the wrong way, can actually hinder your progress. After all, as adults, there’s nothing really stopping us from simply treating ourselves whenever we like (aside from monetary, distance or time barriers, of course).
With this in mind, there’s a couple of important things to note about rewards you need to bear in mind to make sure your rewards actually help you build on your habits.
Your reward must be something that you want – NOT need.
By need, I mean things that you actually require to go about pursuing my habits. So, for instance, it’d be pointless for me to reward myself with yoga blocks if I stick to my stretching habit – because I use yoga blocks to stretch.
However, I want a new yoga mat, because while the one I have is serviceable, it’s not ideal. It’s slippy, I don’t like the material, and it’s not entirely comfortable. But, I also want something made from ethically-sourced cork, recycled wetsuits, or something equally environmentally friendly – which are often more expensive than PVC-based mats on Amazon.
You also need to be aware that the things you want will change, and by the time it comes to ‘cashing in’, you might want something else entirely.
Your reward should be scaled to the habit
That is to say, save the biggest rewards for the biggest achievements!
Not only does this help keep the reward affordable for you, it means that you’re keeping that special thing you love, well, special.
I’m not going to tell you what rewards you should give yourself throughout your journey, because our habits are entirely personal. Going to pole class twice a week might be business as normal for some people, but for others, it could be a huge step forwards and more difficult to stick to.
Your reward shouldn’t get in the way of your habits
One of the biggest issues I have with sticking to my habits is momentum.
Once I’ve got going, I’m not too bad at sticking to my habits which are, at the minute, going to two pole classes a week, and weightlifting twice a week.
It’s when my routine is thrown off that I find it hard to get back into the swing of things.
This is all going to depend on what your habits are, and how you fit them into your life, but I personally prefer to reward myself with things that don’t interrupt my momentum.
So, for instance, treating myself to a sports massage as a reward for sticking to my habits actually helps me to keep going as it improves my performance, which increases my confidence with training.
Whatever your reward is, try to choose something that won’t interrupt your momentum.
And, personally, I don’t set myself food-based rewards.
If I don’t pay attention to it, I can very easily slip into old eating habits.
My body image and relationship with food tie in a lot with my mental health, and it’s taken me years to mentally work out of attaching certain words and concepts for foods.
For me, using food as a reward attaches a value to it, and tells my mind that I’m only ‘allowing’ myself this food because I’ve been ‘good’ – and that I’m not allowed it at any other time. This scarcity mindset only leads to me craving it more, and not because I actually want it – but because I’m not allowed to have it.
Restricting my food in this way makes me feel awful about my body.
And rewards should make you feel good about yourself and what you’ve achieved, right?
Some habits, no matter how hard you try, just won’t work out through no fault of your own – and it’s all part of the process.
You might find going to pole class twice a week isn’t actually manageable, no matter how much you try to plan around it.
You might find that the yoga class you’re going to doesn’t actually help your flexibility as much as you’d like, so you need to find something new.
You might realise you actually don’t like the activity you picked to cross-train with.
Please, be kind to yourself.
Having to adjust your habits isn’t the end of the world; you’re not lazy, weak, or a failure.
Having to adjust your habits means you’ve learned more about yourself.
Figuring out what habits do and don’t work for you is a lifelong process of trial and error. Some habits will fit so perfectly into your schedule that you’ll wonder why it took you so long to start, while others will feel like a constant stone in your shoe.
So don’t feel bad about having to give up on habits that aren’t working out for you – because you can replace them with something that makes you happier!
Tracking and Journalling
This is another one for the organisation and stationery nerds!
While I’m going to go into this in more detail in my next post, it’s worth mentioning here that tracking and journaling are a fantastic way of logging your journey.
Whether you prefer to physically write things down in a notebook, do everything online, or use a combination of the two, you can customise how you journal and track your progress to suit you.
This is one of my preferred methods for staying on top of my habits because I can fit it into my day wherever I have time.
The downside of this is that it can feel like unnecessary admin, and does require you to build yet another habit on top of the ones you’re already working on.
Building habits is a journey that is completely personal to each and every one of us.
The tips I’ve shared above are things that either myself or my partner have found that work for us, but they won’t necessarily work for you. That’s not to say it’s pointless trying them, but that I don’t want you to feel disappointed if they don’t work with your habits or lifestyle.
However, building habits we can stick to is crucial in smashing our pole goals.
Join me next week as I talk more about how journaling and tracking can help you keep track of your progress as you work towards your pole goals.
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