What do you do when you missed your habits for a day? If you’re like most of us, you probably get disappointed with yourself.
We realize how important habits are, and we try hard to stick to them. And there’s a vast body of research that shows how beneficial habits can be. This only adds to the pressure to not screw up for a day.
But here’s one thing you hardly hear: If you take your habits to an extreme, it backfires on you. Here’s what I’m talking about. Have you ever said things like this to yourself?
- “Oh no! I forgot to meditate yesterday! I’m losing my mind!”
- “I know I’m traveling but I NEED to eat healthily every day! I’m already gaining weight!”
- “I didn’t work out today. There goes my good health!”
Stop being so dramatic! It’s not the end of the world if you don’t stick to your habits for a day or two. So what?
Habits shouldn’t be a burden
We humans have this tendency to take everything to the extreme. And when it comes to habits, I found that majority of my friends, family, readers, and students have an all or nothing mentality.
You either work out every day or you do nothing. You either write every day or you do nothing. Why so serious? The reason for this is negative self-talk. We assume that we messed up if we miss our habits for a few days.
Look, this isn’t middle school. No one gets punished if you didn’t stick with your assignment. You can do anything you want. If you truly don’t want to stick to certain habits, it’s your life. It’s better to have a lighthearted approach when it comes to self-improvement and work.
Otherwise, you’re constantly struggling with yourself. One of my favorite Mindfulness teachers and writers is Thich Nhat Hanh. I’ve read several of his books, and recently, I read You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.
In that book, he constantly talks about giving up the struggle and surrendering to the present moment. We need a similar approach when it comes to habits. Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
“You have struggled in the past, and perhaps you are still struggling; but is it necessary? No. Struggle is useless. Stop struggling.”
”Streaks” are harming you
In life, it’s not important what you did yesterday. It’s all about what you do today. But most of us insist on bringing yesterday to the present moment. We believe things like, “I didn’t work out yesterday so it’s useless to work out today.”
A lot of this comes from the world of habits, health, and meditation. Almost every app has “streaks” built in. They want to encourage us by showing how many consecutive days we’ve meditated, worked out, or stuck with any type of habit.
While I’m a big fan of momentum, I’m not a fan of this type of gamification. In reality, streaks backfire all the time. We build up a streak of 20 days, mess up one day, and look at that mountain and think, “screw it.”
I’ve learned to take daily habits lightly. For example, I aim to get 10,000 steps a day. But I don’t worry if I don’t do it for a day. Here’s a screenshot of my activity over the past week:
I recently bought a compact treadmill you can put underneath a standing desk, so I get a lot more steps. But I didn’t hit my goal on Sunday. So what? On average, I’m still active. I’m not going to force myself so I can keep some kind of imaginary streak alive.
Missed your habits? Start with a clean slate
If you practice true mindfulness, there are no streaks. There’s only now. You shouldn’t care about what you did yesterday. Only care about what you’re doing today. And always try to make the best of it.
Every day is a new day that has nothing to do with yesterday.
Stop struggling with yourself and live for today. Life’s too short to beat yourself up about missed habits. If you live your life like this, there’s no burden whatsoever.
Your life will not end if you eat junk food for a few days a year. Same thing for nearly all other habits. Sure, if you have some kind of deadly allergy, one mistake can cost your life. But this is not true for 99.9% of other habits in life.
That’s why I don’t worry about missing out a day on writing, working out, stretching, and all the other habits I practice.
Why? Because I know I have a new chance tomorrow. And I intend to fully use that chance. The key is to never give up trying to become better. That should be the standard.