Lifestyle changes are often difficult to initiate (i.e., change is hard!) and can be even harder to sustain. Often, behavior change is easier if you identify why you want to make a change, and then plan out strategies for how to work towards those changes. Part of the strategy should include identifying change supporting behaviors, which can help keep you tethered to your overall goal. This is similar to the mooring lines that boats use to stay tied to the docks; they are behavioral choices that keep you connected and tied to your goals over the long-haul. Some of them may compete with the old behavior, like going to the gym after work instead of the bar for after work drinks. Others are designed to help you stay emotionally connected to your goals, like seeing a therapist or going to self-help meetings.
As you get started, it can be helpful to create a weekly schedule that includes a list of your “mooring line” behaviors as well as a way to keep track of the frequency that you engage in them. For example, it may be that a healthy routine for you is working out 3 times a week, seeing your therapist once a week and going to bed before ten. When you suddenly find yourself staying at work late and skipping the gym, cancelling on your therapist and watching TV until one in the morning…you can notice a “drift” to old behavior patterns. When new patterns get disrupted, the risk of returning to old patterns is always high.
For all of us, life has the normal ebbs and flows that make it easier or harder to keep to these “change-supporting behaviors” in place. Vacations, holidays, changes in routine can all contribute to the reduction or “drift” away from the behaviors that are helping you achieve your goals.
And one of the riskiest times of year for “drift” is summer. The summer months tend to be a time when it is particularly easy to lose track of the routines and people that help us maintain the changes we are trying to make. Exercise routines, meditation practices, therapy sessions, self help group meetings, contact with supportive friends and family, general self care can all be knocked off course during the summer. Kids are out of school and settling into camps, summer jobs, sports or just hanging around the house. You end up covering longer shifts at work as your boss takes a vacation. Therapists and doctors go on vacation. Your favorite yoga teacher may be off on a training or a retreat or you may miss spin class due to your kid’s new soccer schedule. Long days of sunlight make it harder to get in bed on time.
If you notice that some of your mooring lines have come undone and you might be drifting away from your behavior change goals, try the following skills to get back to the dock and back to your change supporting behaviors.
- Maintain a mindset of flexibility. While in general, it might be great to work out every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, that routine may not work for you all the time, but that doesn’t mean the whole week is a wash. Step back and see if you can identify openings in other places where you may not have noticed them and be prepared to step back into your regular routine when it is available to you again.
- Plan ahead. Look at your change supporting behaviors on a weekly basis to be able to notice in advance when high risk times may lie ahead. Is there time for a different yoga class since your son’s sports banquet is smack dab in the middle of your regular Wednesday night class? How about taking that walk in the park on Tuesday since Monday the forecast looks like a lot of rain. If you have to miss your AA meeting, how about looking up a new meeting or having coffee with a sober friend?
- Do things in small doses, with the commitment to resume regular routines when your schedule allows. Try to do what you can. If your whole routine is not an option, try to do one small part of it. If you can’t take that yoga class, allow yourself to sit and do stretches in your office for 10 minutes. If you can’t go to treatment or your support group, find time to read a chapter of a book that reminds you of your intentions.
- Self soothe with your five senses. Really take in those sights, sounds, smells at the beach or pool. Savor that ice cream cone, noticing every little flavor. Really watch the beauty of your children. Give someone you love a hug and be fully present to receive the hug back. Sight, sounds, smell, taste, touch…..mindfulness in these areas is a wonderful way to refuel our spirit and appreciate that potentially great things about being “out of your routine”.
- Remind yourself this is temporary. Just like every other time in life, the busy and less structured times pass and the normal routine of life will return. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “this will never end,” but it always does.
- Give yourself permission to say no. If a drift from your routines feels like it is putting you at risk for returning to an old behavior you would like to avoid, give yourself permission to say no. Maybe you don’t need to stay up late talking to your houseguests. Maybe you can tell your boss you need to leave early one of the 5 nights you are covering so that you can get a little extra sleep.
Summer can be a wonderful time of year that is full of spontaneity and new adventures. Be mindful of the potential disruptions that come along with schedule changes and vacations. Try to notice if they are impacting your healthy behavioral routines and make adjustments. Keeping those mooring lines tied to the dock can help you maintain the changes that support the life you want to live.