There's a certain kind of frenzy that occurs, at least in my head, when I try to stick to a set of rules. All I can think about is what I can't have, and when I'm not thinking about that I obsess over what it is I can have. I compare them constantly. I inevitably give up on that set of rules if I can't find a compelling enough reason to keep up with this stressful mind game.
I've done this with trying to lose weight, with eating less sugar, with dating, with spending less money, and with countless other habit changes I've tried. For some reason, though, I never had this problem when I decided to go vegetarian, and later, vegan. I hadn't really examined why they were different until recently.
I'm trying really hard to exercise more, because days and days of sitting at a computer straight through gets harder and harder as years go by. Especially because I work for myself (and by myself), I'm hyper aware of the fact that without external prodding, I could sit or lay for 24 hours a day and not notice. I've been trying to be more active for years now, and nothing has stuck. I had plans to exercise every day, and make sure not to sit at the computer for too long. I tried different tools and techniques. Nothing worked.
So I took a look at habit changes that had stuck - being vegan, specifically. It's not extremely easy, and it takes a lot to change from the standard American diet to a completely vegan diet, and stick with it. It's not extremely hard, though, either. I realized nothing is really that hard if you're committed, if you're willing to learn, if you're kind to yourself, and if you come from a place of mindset instead of sticking to a list of rules.
From the outside, it might look like veganism is all about rules. When I'm at family parties, someone will ask if I want a cheesy lasagna, and my dad will say "Oh, she can't have that." On the contrary, it's not that I can't have it, it's that I don't want to have it. After years of eating fantastic vegan food and learning about what's wrong with the dairy industry, it's just not on my radar any more. Using this as an example, I've learned that living by a mindset is really a wonderful way to enact change in my life.
I set myself up for success with veganism by:
- replacing foods with equally good vegan versions, and not comparing my food to food using animal products
- making new traditions and memories with people that don't revolve around exploiting animals
- having a really, really good reason to do all of this in the first place - animal rights, environmental accountability, worker welfare
- using positive language - "I want amazing food that matches what I believe in" versus "I can't eat cheese any more"
- knowing how each decision I make strengthens my reasons for going vegan - buying whole, local plant-based foods vs. processed animal products is better for the environment
- surrounding myself with (and being held accountable by) a community that "gets" me and my decisions - reading blogs, Twitter, local vegan potlucks
- going into this lifestyle change with commitment, kindness, and a willingness to learn - I may not know all the answers right away, but I'm ready to move forward
Using those principles, I can apply that to any habit change I want. For example, my exercise habit:
- replacing my sedentary activities with equally fun/interesting active activities, and not comparing the two
- making new traditions and memories with people that don't revolve around sitting
- having a really, really good reason to do all of this in the first place - reduce symptoms of my carpal tunnel, reduce stress and increase focus, and feel energized every day
- using positive language - "I want to be energetic and focused" versus "I don't want to get up early to exercise, but I will because I have to"
- knowing how each decision I make strengthens my reasons for staying active - getting up early to exercise isn't so hard when I know it will help me feel better all day
- surrounding myself with (and being held accountable by) a community that "gets" me and my decisions - Instagram, FB groups, a local yoga studio
- going into this lifestyle change with commitment, kindness, and a willingness to learn - it's okay if I get things wrong, just keep going
Before, my attitude was very black and white: exercise every day, eat healthy, weigh yourself every week. In the end, it just made me feel guilty and trapped and got me nowhere. It's not about rules. It's about the "why" behind all of it. It's about joy and fun, and selecting what you love every day. Don't feel constricted by rules, instead approach change with positivity and purpose. Good luck!