New year resolutions are there to be broken, right? That seems to be what most people do with them anyway. In the covid era, it seems enhanced due to people feeling like they finally get back to 'normal' only to be met with the inconvenient truth. This article is not about avoiding the rough patches, as for most, that ship has sailed. This article is about helping you come out of them. So whether you have been in one for the last two years or two weeks, these principles can apply.
Let us first introduce the Mosquito Effect. It can often be tricky to see your way out of a rough patch, you look for significant actions that can make a big difference, but these can seem daunting and often unreachable. The small things can add up to make a big difference. This is how David Brailsford made British cycling & Team Ineos what it is today, and if that analogy doesn't work, think about this, a mosquito is less than 1% the size of you, but it can keep you awake, make you itch and to be extreme, kill you. Think small things cant make a difference? Think mosquito effect.
When developing and redeveloping habits, we want to not only look at what 1% gains we can make but also what 1% losses we can remove. If you ask most people what bad habits they have, they may find it hard to answer. An excellent place to begin looking is around how you start and finish your day. Screen time habits? Eating habits? Exercise habits?
Rough patches often mean stressful situations that have us locked onto screens to 'monitor' them. This is a case of understanding what you are monitoring and do you need to? So many people are hooked to the news to know the following headline, but is that helpful to us to see before we head out to do the run we promised ourselves we'd do all week or before we are going to bed? Probably not, so the 1% move here is to not look at your phone upon waking or 60mins before sleeping. Remove the phone from your view! Small change, big difference!
Rough patches usually come with a need to elicit dopamine to make us feel better. One way we can do this is to eat! Food can bring huge dopamine responses before eating a mouthful, and with ups comes big downs! Planning out your week of food can remove the 'surprise' our dopamine-hungry brains love and keep levels much smoother. Seeing food as your fuel and not your emotion controller is vital. People who love food gifts don't actually love the food (or they would already have it in their house). They love the fact they weren't expecting it and now have it. Make a plan that you are in charge of.
Exercise can also trigger many emotions along the same lines as food and news flashes. Usually good ones! When emerging from a patch of nothing or even a patch of chaos, be hyper-aware of how you might be thinking. We can get ourselves into trouble repeatedly by setting goals out of our reach or the exercise bar a little high. 'I am going to the gym every day is not an exercise goal, and nor is entering an Ironman in 2 months if you are returning from an injury. Seeing exercise as your partner in getting better is far more productive in these situations. Who do you enjoy exercising with? If it is a friend, then be willing to try what they are doing and go to the workout with the goal of spending time with your friend or out of your home instead of burning Kcals or eliciting huge soreness that puts you off going the next day. If you enjoy exercising alone, then do just that, avoid crowded sessions that may increase stress or data-focused workouts that you can compare with others or your previous self. All these are possible slip-ups that could set you back again. Exercise is about raising your heart rate above baseline and stressing the muscular system, which has positive knock-on effects on your metabolism, hormones, and cardiorespiratory system. It doesn't need to be about numbers, winners, losers, or selfies. Avoid comparisons.
To summarise here, if you are a little stuck at the moment or are emerging from a difficult time, try to focus on these three things:
- Small differences can make big changes.
- Make a plan that you are in charge of.
- Avoid comparisons.