Despite the timing, this is NOT a New Year’s resolution story but a story of how to create lasting habits.

On January 1, I attended a yoga workshop, which I do every year I’m in town. I had such a great time, I signed up for a month-long introductory membership at a yoga studio for $50. Who can beat that?  Like most savvy consumers, I wanted to get the most out of my $50. This is how I began my 5 days a week yoga habit.

I had no intent on continuing yoga beyond this first month. But a lot happened in that month. Things that will change my life and for which I learned a lot about creating habits.

So what did I learn from this experiment?

Slow and Easy Start Trumps Hardcore and Sore When Creating Habits

Like so many people, when I’ve started a new routine, whether on January 1 or July 15, I go all out. I’ve resolved to run a mile every day. Do yoga everyday. Eat a salad for lunch every day. Call my mom once a week.

Ultimately, the resolved routine fizzled out. I miss one day and I’m done.

I figured the same would happen with my yoga experiment.

It didn’t. Instead, I became attached to the practice.  If I went more than two days without going to class I was cranky and irritable. So what was different?

I suspect it was the ease in which I approached this new routine. Not once during my month of yoga did I take an advanced or hard core class. I kept to the basic classes. I didn’t push myself into the hardest poses. I allowed myself to ease into the routine instead of forcing myself to stretch too fast and too soon.

The result is I didn’t spend days sore and unable to walk. Sure I was sore, but not the extreme, I can’t get out of bed kind of sore. It was a good sore; a sore that let me know I was doing something. Yet I was never too sore not to go. It was never too hard and so it became easy to create my new habit.

Lesson #1: Start slow so you can stay steady.

David Sized Goals Beat Goliath Sized Goals

So often when starting a new routine, we create jumbo-sized goals to inspire us. Indeed, most self-help books and coaching programs suggest you dream big and go for it. Leap and the net will appear. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I call BS on this approach. Both in my coaching and my life I find setting Goliath-sized goals leave a trail of failure behind. We set goals so big and our progress is so small in comparison we get discouraged and give up before we see a single win.

Without a win, it’s hard to stay motivated.

I often hear people set the goal of losing 10 pounds in 30 days. When the 15th of the month rolls around and they’ve only lost 2 pounds, they get discouraged. They are ready to give up because it’s impossible (not to mention harmful) to lose eight pounds in two weeks. They either throw in the towel, beat themselves up or overextend themselves. In short, this is a recipe for habit creating disaster.

I didn’t set out to do yoga every day of the week, month or year. I set out to do as much yoga as I could in a month. I ended up creating a solid habit. Before the month was over, however, I had signed up for yoga teacher training. I suspect my little experiment has created a life-long habit. Of course, I’m not declaring that as a goal. Instead, I will do yoga as often and long as it serves me.

Choosing smaller goals is wise, not just in the realm of health. A few years ago, I gave myself 90 days to land my ideal job. With two weeks to go and no prospects, I gave up hope and effort.Only when my coach challenged me to make as many contacts as possible each day, did I land my ideal job.

Lesson #2: Choose small, realistic goals and focus on the daily progress.

The Results Are In The Journey

I’m a results whore.

I love getting great results. I love celebrating results. I’m so results focused sometimes I forget my worth is not dependent on the results I create in my life. (Hey I’m a work a progress like all of us).

I tend to want to see immediate results. I want to be able to run 5 miles NOW. I want to hold a plank for 2 minutes NOW. I want that ideal job NOW.

Because of my results orientation, I sign up for the tough classes to prove to myself I can do it and I’m not a wuss. It never works out. When I can’t hold the pose or keep up with the class, I would feel shame and quit.

I chose a different strategy this time. I started with the easier (yes, my ego was saying wussier) classes. Yoga 1. Yin Yoga. Gentle Yoga. Even in these classes, I avoided the tougher poses opting to sit in child’s pose if it was too much. I didn’t always break a sweat in these classes. Yet the approach worked.

As we’ve seen, two months later I’m still taking classes. Success.

But what about those results?

By the end of the first month, without pain, I’m able to hold plank for over a minute. I’m also able to make it through all the poses in a 75 minute flow class without collapsing.

I’ve enjoyed myself every class and never dread going to class or try to talk myself out of going. How often can we say that when starting a new exercise routine?

I’m confident enough to listen to my body. I’m no longer persuaded by my ego to keep going when my body is screaming no. Instead I rest without guilt or judgment.The journey has surpassed immediate results.

Lesson #3: Focus on the journey so you can enjoy the results.

A life coach told me years ago, discipline brings freedom. In my month of yoga, I’ve learned discipline doesn’t have to be rigid to generate freedom. All you need to create sustainable habits is a discipline of fun and experimentation.

Question: What new habit will you experiment with this month? What have you been aching to do but have been too afraid to start? Share in the comments below.


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