If you've adopted a new good habit today, you're probably very excited and motivated.
What about tomorrow? Will you be motivated then as well? Fingers crossed…
And the day after tomorrow?
And the day after that?
With any luck, you'll be motivated to eat salad / walk around the block / avoid potato chips / sit and meditate for 10 minutes / do 5 pushups after you brush your teeth / [insert your resolution here] from now until the end of time.
But what if – and I hesitate to even raise the possibility – you wake up one morning with a bad case of DGAS?
You know, DGAS, as in, “Don't Give A Shit.”
If you've ever experienced DGAS, you'll recognize the symptoms:
- the goal that was so exciting now seems either lackluster or unattainable
- you resent the imposition on your life that doing the habit will bring
- you know that this is the end of your dream to change
- you hear the voice of your inner bully, taunting you: “I guess this is gonna end like all the other times, with you giving up, you loser.”
- curiously, you're not even upset that you don't care anymore: “Whatever.”
DGAS Kicked My Ass
I used to get defeated by DGAS days a lot. Here's a short list of the habits I bailed on once I hit a DGAS speed bump:
- conscious breathing
- bear crawls
- avoiding sugar
- Wim Hof breathing exercises
- downward dog
- downward dog against the wall
- writing a thank you letter each day
- spending 5 minutes planning my day
- starting each day with 10 minutes of Getting Things Done
- blogging daily
- thinking of three things to be grateful for
- posting a daily video
Please excuse me while I pause here for a moment, to allow the waves of shame and regret to wash over my soul and casually kick me in the solar plexus on their way out.
Sometimes DGAS snuck in under the radar. Like, I'd wake up one morning and suddenly realize that I hadn't taken a conscious breath in two years. Or that once upon a time I'd given up sugar, but somewhere along the line it had found its way into my diet on a far-too-regular basis.
Whether I noticed in the moment or not, DGAS always seemed like the final word. Like, “Checkmate, Bitch. Tuck your tail and go back to your mediocre life.”
How to Bounce Back from DGAS
What I didn't realize when I abandoned all those good habits due to a DGAS day was that I could have gotten right back on track the following day.
As Billy Joel sang, “Everyone goes south, every now and then.” (That seemed so damn profound to my 12-year-old mind when I first heard The Stranger in 1977.)
It's the whole “falling off the wagon” fallacy:
Once I missed a single day, a single workout, a single opportunity, then the “wagon” was trundling off over the hill and below the horizon, and I was sitting on my ass in the dust, nursing a bloody knee, totally unable to catch up.
The most profound realization that helped me sustain new habits was that THERE'S NO EFFING WAGON.
Nothing has gone anywhere.
I may be sitting on my ass, dirty and bruised (at least in my egoic mind), but there's absolutely no reason I can't dust myself off, get up, and continue on the path.
As Josh LaJaunie explained to me, “YOU are the wagon.”
Once I understood that a single loss did not constitute a losing season, I became far more resilient.
I stopped interpreting glitches – breaks in the chain – as showstoppers.
To be sure, there was a loud and excited voice inside me that was eager to interpret individual mess-ups as global and permanent failure. Glenn Livingston of Never Binge Again taught me how to attribute that voice to a psychopathic force within me that desperately wanted me to fail so it could enjoy the momentary pleasures of not doing the positive behavior.
Armed with these new insights, I began having winning seasons even when I couldn't go undefeated.
But there was one more insight – possibly the most powerful – that I needed to discover before really taking charge of my habits.
The Function of DGAS
The book Organize Tomorrow Today teaches a three-stage model of habit development.
Stage 1 is “Honeymoon.” That's when you're all excited and motivated, and you get it done no matter what. It's great, except for one thing: it doesn't last. It's exquisitely fragile to DGAS.
Stage 3 is “Second Nature.” That's when you DO the thing, relentlessly, automatically, no matter what. The behavior is part of your identity, your routine. It's embedded into your environment. It's your default, and it would now take a lot of energy to change.
The million dollar question is, How do we get from Honeymoon to Second Nature.
The answer, the authors tell us, is by going through Stage 2: Fight Thru.
Fight thrus occur when we do the behavior even when it's hard.
When it's inconvenient.
When it would be much easier not to do it.
When we don't feel like it.
When we – wait for it – DGAS.
It turns out that not only is DGAS not a dealbreaker, but it's actually necessary for true habit change.
The Gift of DGAS
Not only necessary, but actually an accelerator.
That morning you wake up and totally don't want to go for a walk, and you do it anyway, you're making huge progress toward Second Nature.
Repeating a habit builds automaticity and increases its grip on your life.
Repeating a habit in the face of DGAS is like a Daily Double. Double down on the behavior when you just don't feel like it, and you're fuel injecting your habit and pointing it straight toward Second Nature.
How to DO When You DGAS
It's easy to say “Just Do It when you don't give a shit.”
How do you actually operationalize that tactic?
1. Plant that seed in advance.
Right now, practice seeing DGAS days as a gift, not a problem. While you're still in the throes of your Honeymoon (maybe that phrase is a bit too evocative), start looking forward to the day when you won't feel it. When you'll want to give up. Get excited about that moment.
2. Make sure that your desired habit is not just a wish, but a sacred vow.
A promise you've made to yourself.
Even if it's “just” a wall pushup or 30 seconds of conscious breathing (actually, there is no such thing as “just” in this paradigm), it's really a trial of your integrity.
Whether you keep your word – to others or to yourself – really matters. A lot.
3. Start with an Easy Habit
Make sure the initial habit is easy enough to do without a Herculean effort.
Keep it small, or tiny, or atomic, or whatever lingo lights your menorah.
It's easier not to make excuses when you have no excuses. 🙂
The Punch Line
So there you have it. When you want to accelerate your progress, step on DGAS!
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