Keeping change going once the fear wears off
About 5 years ago, I had a really bad cavity. When I left the dentist’s after the filling with a numb, drooling mouth, I was already panicking about my next check-up. Overnight I went from flossing infrequently to brushing, flossing, and using fluoride after every. single. meal. When I first started my 3x daily ritual, it was a slog, but the terror of more cavities kept me honest. Even so, it got boring VERY quickly. I started experimenting with new ways to approach flossing and make the most of my time. Sometimes I practiced yoga poses or dance steps, and other times I focused on the careful process of winding around each tooth. It became almost meditative. Even though my sheer terror about dental work dissipated fairly quickly, 5 years later, my daily flossing habit has stayed comfortably ingrained. It’s strangely relaxing, and as mundane as it is, I’m almost never tempted to skip it.
There are probably lots of simple habits that you’ve been effortlessly keeping for years, too, because you like them. It may be the daily ritual of a cup of coffee because you like the taste and it lifts your mood, or cleaning up right after dinner because it’s satisfying to look at a clean kitchen. While fear can initially spark us into taking action, when our only motivator is fear, our efforts tend to fizzle out before they have a chance to become real habits. Fear is exhausting. It fuels our body’s emergency stress response, and when our bodies are flooded with stress hormones long-term, we burn ourselves out. We get frustrated when we hit stumbling blocks and we’re also more likely to beat ourselves up for “failing,” which isn’t great encouragement to keep going. When we enjoy something, we're more motivated to do it over and over again. It's so obvious, yet it's something we often overlook because of the "shoulds" in life. So what would have happen if we more frequently approached self care in ways that felt good? The fear of heart disease might be the spark that gets us thinking seriously about exercise, but it's how much fun we have in Zumba and the peaceful buzz we feel after a yoga class that keep us moving throughout the years. Taking care of ourselves has the potential to be challenging, but it can also be a great opportunity to get a little more creative!
What good-for-you behavior can you make more enjoyable?