habit shift: habits that stick.

August 9, 2017

Shifting habits is hard. Getting them to stick is harder still. 

Sometimes you write long well-intentioned blog posts about your renewed energy to go on daily walks and it’s not until a year has passed and a baby’s been born and seven blissful but exhausting months have come and gone since then that you realize that the energy for your morning constitutional fizzled out sometime last fall and dear god, you need to get out of the house in the morning and get walking, and for heaven’s sake, not just to the stinky subway for your forty-five minute commute, but to someplace with a bit of green, and maybe a view, and where you can gulp something approximating fresh air! Just me?

I’ve been on a lot of walks lately. The mornings this week have been cooler and misty, the kind with fog so thick that entire buildings disappear from view. After nursing Silas and gulping half a cup of coffee and squishing myself into my sports bra and tying on my sneakers, I help Faye with her shoes and we stumble out the door and down four flights together. She’s usually been in her pajamas, which seems just right to me for early morning strolling. And they’ve been very early mornings. In order to get the walk in before James and I need to leave for work, and before Silas needs to nurse again and go down for his morning snooze, and before I convince myself to stay put and unload the dishwasher, we start out before most neighbors are even awake. Those we do see are mostly on bleary eyed dog walks. If we take the route through the park, we pass a few more running enthusiasts and sometimes I’m inspired to jog a bit while Faye flails her legs back and forth and shouts, “Exercise, exercise!” from the top her lungs, which has the two-pronged result of making neighbors smile and my pace quicken.

I’ve been reminded this week how much improved my days are with a bit of morning exercise, but mostly I’ve been reminded that habits take time to shift and longer to stick. This is the part where perhaps you’re expecting some sage advice on getting habits to stick and, well, I don’t have magic trick, but I do think a general attitude of try, try again is more helpful than you’d think. Because even if you don’t quite manage to shift a habit the first time or the second time or the tenth time, that doesn’t mean you can’t take another stab at it. Even a year and baby later, there’s still time to remember to take your morning walk.

(PS. As a low-key commitment to myself, and in a nod to an original favorite blog series from my very earliest blogging days, I’m going to start tagging some shots of my morning walks around our neighborhood on Instagram. Just in case you’d like to see some of what I’m seeing in those early morning hours and just in case it makes the habit stick.)

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  • Reply Sadie August 9, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Good luck with your nearly new routine Erin.

    You might find Gretchen Rubin’s book ,Better Than Before useful if you haven’t already read it. She talks about different personality types and the easiest ways for them to form good habits.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 9, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Thanks, Sadie!

    • Reply Sasha August 9, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      I second Gretchen Rubin’s books! Also, “the power of habit” by Charles Duhigg has a lot of great ideas and is fascinating.

  • Reply Priscilla August 9, 2017 at 10:46 am

    It’s been cooler and foggy here in Virginia these past few mornings, too. I love it. When trying to make a new habit stick, I DO the task before I think about it because if I think about it, I talk myself out of it, argh! It’d be great to see photos of your morning walks, yes, by all means!

  • Reply MA August 9, 2017 at 11:00 am

    I have a theory that August inspires morning walks. I start to feel like I need to get out and enjoy this summer weather before we really lose light and warm air and fall takes over. Don’t get me wrong – I love fall. But there is nothing quite like August mornings.
    Re: habits, I totally agree – unless they are bad for you, it is hard to get them to stick. But so worth it. Good luck!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 9, 2017 at 11:44 am

      Good theory!

  • Reply Kate August 9, 2017 at 11:15 am

    I was going to mention Gretchen Rubin’s book too and see someone beat me too it (her podcast “Happier” is one of my very favorites). Coincidentally, I went on an early morning walk this morning too! Not my usual run, not high tailing it to the subway to get to work, just up earlier than usual and decided for no reason at all other than to start my day with a little peace and quiet that I would take a stroll through the neighborhood…and it was great 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Read The Happiness Project, but not this one! Adding to the list!

  • Reply Jennifer August 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I’ve also been trying the same but I need to load both kids up into rear facing car seats and drive somewhere that is safe to walk (no sidewalks on our street in the suburbs). Any advice on how to get more walking in when driving is involved? I’m hoping that as the kids get older it will become less of a struggle and they can walk themselves out to the car and climb in (instead of me carrying one in each arm).

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Ha! And here I am thinking that parenting would sometimes be easier if we could just hop in a car 😉

      • Reply Jennifer August 10, 2017 at 8:21 am

        Oh goodness. And every time I see your photos I think “what I wouldn’t give to just put my kids in their double stroller and walk somewhere.”

  • Reply Kirsten August 9, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Must be the season of second-try habits. I’ve been working on last year’s promise to myself to meditate every morning before things get nuts. And as soon as I’m not massively pregnant/can walk more than 500 feet without having to pee I can’t wait to get back to my now lapsed habit of morning walks in the park near my house early in the morning.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 9, 2017 at 11:42 am

      Go, Kirsten, go!

  • Reply Sarah August 9, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Sarah Von Bargen at Yes and Yes has a whole class on making good habits stick. I checked out her free webinar and picked up some good tips:

    Reframe your mental chatter so that instead “ugh, I’m not a morning person” you think more “I’m a morning walker.”

    And think of a placeholder action for the days when you don’t or can’t do the new habit. For example, when it’s raining or the babies are too fussy, do something related to the habit, like browse your hashtag, or just walk down the steps and back up, whatever triggers the “I did it” feeling

  • Reply Kim August 9, 2017 at 11:51 am

    In my life habits take practice. A lot of practice. So you’re right: you must try, try again. Until it sticks. Just because you miss it one day, doesn’t mean all is lost. Pick it up again the next day. As always thanks for the post and your honestly Erin

  • Reply Liv August 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Yes! Working on the exact goal with my 3 small boys and one desperately overweight Saint Bernard that we accidentally inherited from a moving neighbor. Oy! We will triumph!

  • Reply MissEm August 9, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Oh, I love that! Keep trying. Sometimes we beat ourselves up to much and give up when a habit didn’t take. And then it turns out that life at that particular bend in the road just didn’t have a spot for the new habit, but maybe now it does. Morning walks are delicious, if hard to get going. Btw, made that peach cake this morning – so good! I was out of syrup and used sugar, and plan to use half a cup next time, bc in-season peaches were just about sweet enough on their own!

  • Reply Emily August 9, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    “squishing myself into my sports bra” made me laugh, and grimace in recognition. After having a baby a year ago, things aren’t quite where they used to be in my workout clothes…my bum doesn’t fill out the shorts and the bra feels tight on the ribs and loose around my nursed-out boobs. That said, it feels like a little reminder every time I go to yoga: You have had a baby with this body and this will not be nearly that hard. 🙂

  • Reply Amanda K. August 9, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    I’m in a similar season of life as you — currently pregnant with my fourth child and currently trying to motivate myself to walk through my final trimester. The habit I think that’s most important to embrace is to give yourself grace, especially as your life and family goes through so many transitions. Maybe you needed sleep most for the past seven months? Maybe the next few months a morning walk will be exactly what you need. And then, when your routine bends again, maybe sleep will triumph, or an evening walk with the entire family will be more invigorating?

    Maybe the best habit is looking around and saying, what works for us now? What’s the best routine for our family, as it is, today?

  • Reply Jess August 9, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Lovely post! Lately I’ve been thinking of habits and wanting to re-read Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. I remember she included an anecdote about her habit of going to the 92nd St. Y, and how the habit is not the whole trip but simply the steps toward going there. I think of this when I need to nudge myself to run in the mornings, or when I get into a sewing project on the weekend.

  • Reply Coreen August 9, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Needed this today as I’ve been stumbling trying to get better habits to stick. Thanks for the gentle encouragement!

  • Reply wb August 10, 2017 at 1:52 am

    Lovely photos.

  • Reply camilla August 10, 2017 at 3:25 am

    Ha! Thank you for this post, I really needed this as a reminder why I should give it a try. Since I had to leave my beloved neighbourhood and town after 4 years and being 7 months pregnant at the moment I occasionally really get the blues … Maybe a morning walk would help 🙂

  • Reply Dana August 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

    A few years ago I was introduced to the concept of Mini Goals; the idea being that you break up your real goal (writing a book) into a goal that is so embarrassingly small that it is easy to complete every day (write ten words). Inevitably once you write ten words (or do one push-up, or put on your running shoes, etc), you have the impetus to keep on going. Starting really is the hardest part! Then buy a little calendar and physically mark off your goal every day. I’ve tried many habit changing tips, but breaking goals down into micro mini daily goals is the only one that has honestly worked for me in the long term.

  • Reply Gabriela August 10, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    I couldn’t love this more. Our babe is 16 weeks old, born at the beginning of a brutally hot Arizona summer. Now that monsoon season is here and baby girl is on a pretty good sleep schedule I’ve been trying to sneak out for a quick solo walk in the desert just before sunset. It does wonders for my soul!

    I don’t always make it out but you are inspiring me to keep trying!

  • Reply Julia August 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Oh my goodness! I was just thinking about this. Before, when I would fail at a habit shift (mine were morning yoga or morning meditation), I would tell myself – whelp, I failed. That attitude made it hard to “try, try again.” Now I just keep it in the back of my head and when I have a free morning moment, I try. My habit shift is nowhere near an official habit, but I love my new positive attitude.

  • Reply Katie August 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I miss my early morning runs in the neighborhood! Such a peaceful time for the city, before everyone wakes up. Glad you are out there again and enjoying it! I hope it continues through the winter, too! I love peaceful winter mornings, all bundled up for a good walk/run.

  • Reply Lindsay September 1, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Trying to make running a habit, and for me it helps to think like this: my goal is not to run today or this week. It’s to run for years or a lifetime. So if I miss a day – or a week, or even two weeks because sometimes life with two kids, two adults and two jobs is crazy – that’s fine, as long as I start again.

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