I got a new car a few months ago, and I wasn’t very happy about it. My 2004 Subaru Forester and I had been together for thirteen years. It was dented and faded, it rattled and made weird noises, my Wakulla Springs bumper sticker was almost entirely worn off, and it was clearly missing non-essential parts that I had single-handedly ripped off on the side of the interstate so I could keep driving. But it was paid for, and it was cute, and it had a roof rack, which I never used but valued greatly. And I knew that car. We were a team. I could drive it with my eyes closed. (I did not do that.)
But I knew it was time for a change. Repairs were becoming more frequent, it was becoming inefficient, and after over a decade of me driving it, well, let’s just say it was tired. So I bit the bullet, and I do enjoy driving my new Prius. But I miss my clunky old car, and I do still think about it with nostalgia.
Changing habits is like that sometimes, isn’t it? We all have habits that we’ve lived with for years, and we know they need to change and that we will be happy with the outcome, but we’re cozy and comfortable. Even when we know they are destructive, expensive, unproductive, and sometimes dangerous, we stick with them because they’re what we know. There is risk in change, even when we have a reasonable expectation that the outcome will be good, even when the only real risk is the possibility of feeling weird and mildly inconvenienced.
Well guess what? No one ever said you couldn’t be wistful for the old days. Changing habits doesn’t necessarily mean closing a life door and pretending they never existed. You can change your health habits without saying goodbye. Consider these approaches to change that may ease your transition.
Just Press Pause. When ending one habit and beginning another feels overwhelming, don’t pressure yourself to cut ties. Just press pause. Press pause on the unproductive things you might do – being too sedentary, eating too much, wasting time – and reserve the option to go back to it later if the new habits don’t work out. I have not met anyone yet who wanted to go back to being sedentary, overeating, and feeling like they are wasting their time, but who knows, it could happen. Don’t worry about ending something. Just begin something else.
Let Yourself Mourn. If you are ready to close the door on a habit and never speak of it again, allow yourself time to mourn that loss. Yes, it is a loss! There is a “win” to everything we choose to do, whether or not it is a healthy one. When we choose to cook more instead of eating out, we lose the convenience of having someone else cook. Getting out of bed earlier to go exercise means losing the comfort and coziness of blankets and pillows. Even our destructive habits have an element of benefit to them, and it’s totally okay to acknowledge what you are giving up in order to gain something else. That’s fair. So be sad, and then get yourself together and keep on keeping on.
Connect With the Payoff. The grief won’t last long, I promise. It won’t be long before you like how your new habits make you feel, and the appeal of going back to old ones will fade. Acknowledge that, and connect with it. Write the reasons why you are happier in a notebook and refer to them from time to time. Jot down a challenge you encountered when reverting to old ways would have been easier but you persevered. Keep a record of the payoffs – a new size clothes, walking a flight of stairs without getting winded, getting off of medication – and read them. The more you connect with the benefit of your new choices, the less you will feel tempted to look back.
But if you do look back, that’s okay. I like heated seats, and better fuel economy, an ice-cold air conditioner, and a warranty. My new car is stylish and clean and great, and it was the right choice. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes miss the old one. I’m not going back to it, but I can still remember.
Do you have an old habit that may be comfortable and easy and familiar, but you know needs to be upgraded for something smarter? Shop around this week. Take new habits on a test drive. And when you’re ready, press pause or trade in the old ones for something new. That new life smell is pretty sweet!