Ep #58: A Backup Plan for New Habits

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | A Backup Plan for New Habits
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Today, I’m sharing my mantra. This is one sentence that I adopted years ago when I was trying to find balance in being a wife, a mom, a full-time physician, and a human being. I still repeat it to myself fairly frequently. It’s helped me stay grounded, take care of myself, and adopt new healthy habits, even when life feels out of control.

If you’re struggling with following through on the habits you want to develop, I have one simple sentence to help you. My mantra has helped me adopt new habits, and I’ve been using it with clients in helping them successfully form new habits. Today, I’m sharing this sentence with all of you listening.

Tune in this week to discover the power of my sentence for inner peace when you’re struggling to create new habits: “Something is better than nothing.” I’m sharing why something is always better than nothing and how to use this idea to start changing your habits and forming new ones that serve you in the life you want to live.

Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • Why something is better than nothing when it comes to changing and establishing habits.
  • How I realized that something is better than nothing.
  • Why this sentence is especially useful for perfectionists and all-or-nothing thinkers.
  • What’s wrong with the way you’re currently planning around adopting new habits.
  • How your brain works when you’re adopting new habits.
  • The role of discipline in adopting new healthy habits.
  • How to use the idea that something is better than nothing to start developing the habits you’ve been longing for.

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, episode number 58. If you struggle with following through on your habits, I’ve got a sentence that will help you.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new? What’s good? So what’s good here? Today, I’m going to share my mantra or my sentence that I adopted years ago when I was trying to find the balance of being a wife, a mom, a full-time physician and taking care of myself. So it’s a sentence that I repeat to myself fairly frequently and it’s something that I would put on a t-shirt. It’s what helped me stay grounded and still take care of myself, even on days when my life feels out of control.

And I’ll be honest, that happens a lot less often nowadays, actually. But this sentence has helped me adopt new habits and I’ve used it with clients to help them form new habits. And today, I’m going to share it on the podcast. So I recently talked about being too busy. And the biggest danger of being too busy is that you can lose any sense of inner peace. And often when that happens, taking care of yourself goes out the window.

And when I was dealing with exactly this and felt that I had absolutely no inner peace in my life, and wasn’t taking care of myself, I needed something to come back to, to remind myself of. And this was for the days when I felt that I was totally failing at life. So when I stopped trying to beat myself up into better, and instead started giving myself some grace, I can see how I started to live out this mantra.

And now I share it with clients and we talk about how they can live into it too and they can decide what it means for themselves personally. And, on a side note, if you don’t like the word mantra, which in all honesty I don’t really like that word either, no problem. Just call it a sentence, that’s fine.

And the mantra or the sentence that I want to share with you today is something is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. So in all fairness, I’m sure you’ve heard that sentence before. I certainly did not come up with that on my own. So apparently, Winston Churchill said it and he said it much more eloquently and said, “It is better to do something than to do nothing.” I had no idea.

So regardless of where you’ve heard it, I hope you believe it. I hope that you can see that the concept of something is better than nothing is worth considering. And it’s worth adopting especially if you’re busy, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and you have high expectations of yourself.

So today, I’m going to break this idea down for you and get into the why behind it. I want you to understand why something is better than nothing is actually true. And if you’re a skeptic about the idea, I’m hoping I can help you see a different perspective. So, to be clear, when I say something is better than nothing, I mean this in relation to changing your habits, okay? We’re talking about establishing habits.

And I think this is important because after spending years changing up my own habits and now having the opportunity to help you change your habits, and your mindset too, of course, I’ve seen over and over again how challenging it can be. Whether it’s establishing a morning workout routine, eating more meals at home instead of going through the drive thru, sticking to two glasses of wine per week, instead of a class every day, writing 500 words a day to get closer to your goal of publishing a book.

Whatever it is, adopting new habits is not easy, especially for any perfectionists out there or any all-or-nothing thinkers. If this is you, I hope this episode will help you. If you’re someone who believes it has to be perfect, or it has to be just so, or it has to be a certain way in order to count, this episode is for you. And I’m speaking from my own experience here. Ask my husband, I am pretty particular and I have set ideas in my head about what things should look like.

I had very set ideas about what constitutes a workout or what constitutes a healthy meal. But then we had kids and we got busier with our careers. And when you combine work and life and how our schedules ramped up, I just had to adjust. I had to make some compromises. And I had to realize that something really is better than nothing. So when it comes to forming and keeping your habits, taking the something is better than nothing approach can most definitely help you.

So let’s go back to habits for just one second here. There are two key things I want to zone in on. So if you want to be successful at changing or adopting new habits, here are two things to consider. So first and foremost, have a plan. If you want to succeed at any big change, you know by now if you’ve listened to this podcast, that a plan is essential.

I’ve talked about having a plan time and time again, so I’m not going to belabor that point. But for the quick and dirty, when you’re developing a plan to change your habits, it should be specific and address the what, the when, the how and how often, okay? Your plan needs to be specific, don’t be vague.

And then second, once you have your plan, have a backup plan. You need a backup. And that’s where we’re going to focus today. We’re talking about what to do when you have a plan for changing or adding in a habit, but you can’t or you don’t follow your plan exactly as you envisioned. And that is where taking the approach of something is better than nothing will help you. So let’s talk about why something is better than nothing, okay? So, again, for my perfectionists and all-or-nothing thinkers, I am especially talking to you.

If you are someone, for example, who believes that if it is not a nicely packaged 30-minute run then why bother, I’m talking to you, okay? Or if you’re someone who if you eat a cookie from the break room and are quick to decide that the whole day is lost and you’ve messed up your progress by eating that one cookie, so why bother sticking to the rest of your plan? I’m talking to you. I’m going to tell you why you should bother. I’m going to tell you why you should keep going, why something is better than nothing, okay?

So the first thing to recognize is that often when you make a plan for your habits, you think of what you can do on your good days or even on your best days. You plan for what you will do when everything in your life and your schedule and your job lines up in your favor and there are no hiccups. You’re planning for when the stars are all aligned.

So, for example, when you tell me you want to exercise for 30 minutes, three times a week at 5 am before you head to work. Often when you do that, you’re planning for a solid night of sleep the night before. You’re planning for a bedtime of 10 pm. You’re planning for no interruptions to your night. No sick kids or crying babies. No animals that need to be let out. You’re planning for a solid night of sleep so that when 5 am rolls around, you turn off your alarm, you get yourself out of bed, and you get on with your workout.

But the problem with this is that often you don’t plan for what happens when you stay up late because you got a big work project due. Or when your kid wakes up three times and comes into your room to tell you he can’t sleep. Or when you’ve got a crying baby that is just not having it, or a dog that needs to go out. Most times you’re not thinking about those scenarios, so what do you do when they happen? Then what?

And I bring all of this up because this is the sort of stuff that actually does happen, and it happens fairly often. And it most definitely can derail you. If your night totally stunk and then 5 am rolls around, you’ve got a decision to make. Maybe you sleep through your first alarm and then the second one goes off 15 minutes later and it means that your workout will have to be shortened if you’re going to get to work on time.

So in that moment, you can decide that those 15 minutes of a workout are worth it and schlep yourself out of bed. Or you can decide, nope, not today, and try to go back to sleep. And on a side note, if you’ve ever played that serial alarm game, you would know it’s not good, restful sleep anyway, right?

So this is an instance where you can decide for yourself that something is better than nothing. You can be an example for yourself that something is better than nothing and get those 15 minutes in, even if it wasn’t your original plan of 30 minutes. And here’s what I want you to consider, when the stars align and everything in your life and schedule goes as planned, it’s a lot easier to follow through on your plan. It’s easy when it’s easy.

It’s a lot easier to stick to your habits when the conditions are good. But at the risk of being a Debbie Downer here, when does everything go according to plan? How often does your life and schedule go exactly as planned? And that’s just it, when you accept that something is better than nothing, you’ll be prepared for the less than perfect days because it’s not a matter of if, but when those bad days are going to happen.

So when that night of interrupted sleep happens and then 5 am rolls around and you get yourself out of bed anyway, even if it’s to do an abbreviated workout, you’ll see that those 15 minutes of strength training or those 15 minutes of a low impact ride on your bike, they matter.

When you believe that something is better than nothing, you take into account that not every day is going to run according to plan. You’re planning for what you can do on your worst days. And that’s awesome because you’re still going to show up and do the best you can with what you’ve got. Do you see that? You don’t give up on your plan. Instead, you adjust the plan for whatever circumstances arise.

And so for any perfectionist listening, this is essential. You know it’s rare for your days to go exactly as planned. It is so awesome when that happens, but for most of us snafus come up. Work runs late, an extra meeting gets added to your calendar, a kid starts puking at school. But these things do not automatically mean that you give up on your plan.

Instead, by adopting the approach of something is better than nothing, you’re not trying to fight your circumstances. You’re also not giving in to them or resigning to them. Instead, you embrace the challenge and look for what is possible instead of seeing your habit as impossible.

This is thinking in terms of possibility. You’re looking for what you can do, instead of getting stuck thinking about what you can’t do. And this is so important for when you think about your less than perfect days because the idea here when you’re creating habits is to keep the habit alive. Keep the habit alive, okay? This is the next concept I want you to consider. This is going back to habit science and how your brain operates.

So remember, your brain is lazy. And habits are your brain’s method of being lazy and conserving energy. So habits help your brain be lazy by putting behaviors on autopilot. So when you’re forming habits, the goal is to seal in a new pathway that makes the action automatic so your brain doesn’t have to use a lot of energy.

So when you repeatedly get up at 5am to get your workout in, you’re telling your brain, hey, this is the way it is. I get up early and get my workout in before I go to work. And it doesn’t matter if that workout is 30 minutes, 15 minutes, five minutes, whatever. It’s the same message being sent to your brain, I get my workout done in the morning. And the only way to reinforce that pathway, the only way to relay that message to your brain is to get up early and get your workout in.

If you get up Monday at five, but then you wake up at six on Tuesday and skip your workout because you can’t get in the full 30 minutes you intended, you’re not firing that pathway. And that pathway goes dormant. And when you’re creating new habits, you want to fire that pathway as often as possible. You want to keep that pathway awake and engaged and alive, even if it’s not perfect. And it’s not going to be perfect, okay?

The point here is to go through the process and to go through the steps of getting up, throwing your workout clothes on and moving your body. That series of behaviors tells your brain what’s up. And the more times you do this, the more times you get up when your alarm goes off and get your workout in, the more firmly you etch that pathway into your brain. It’s not so much about doing the perfectly packaged 30 minute run, okay? That is a bonus, for sure.

But when you get up and get your workout done, even if it’s not exactly as anticipated, you’re keeping the habit alive. You’re fueling that new pathway in your brain with information. You’re telling your brain this is how it’s going to be. And that’s exactly the point. That’s how you keep the habit alive, by doing the habit.

And I’m going to pick this apart just a little more because there’s another layer to this. I just mentioned that when you take the approach of something is better than nothing, you’re keeping the habit alive. You’re firing a new neural pathway and you’re doing it repeatedly to give your brain information. But I want you to see this on a deeper level.

When we’re talking about engineering a new habit there’s two parts, and both are equally important. So when you do the workout, you get the benefit of the workout, right? That’s really obvious. Moving your body is good for you, right? So when you choose to get up and do your workout instead of sleeping in, you reap the health benefits of moving your body.

And sure, from a health and fitness perspective, getting in a 30 minute workout will do more for you than a 15 minute workout. And in the same vein, a 15 minute workout will do more for you than a zero minute workout where you snooze through your alarm repeatedly, I think we can all agree on that.

But here’s the other piece to this, while there’s the benefit of the habit itself in the form of taking care of your body through exercise, there’s also the habit of the habit, okay? Do you see that? There’s the habit of exercise itself in the form of your workout, but then the other piece to this is the habit of the habit. That process that I just described, of getting up, getting out of bed, putting on your workout gear and going through the motion of your workout, that’s the other side of the coin.

It’s both. It’s the habit itself and the habit of the habit. And they both matter. So you can apply this to your food too. I have a number of women I work with who eat quite a bit of fast food or takeout and they’re trying to change that up. But as I said earlier, this is not zero to 60 here. This generally doesn’t happen overnight and it generally comes with a few hiccups along the way.

So say you have stuff for salad at home but you don’t have any protein. It’s 6:30 in the evening and you’re strapped for time and you need dinner. So you go through the drive thru at Chick-fil-A and pick up some chicken nuggets and bring them home. You still eat your salad, and instead of making tofu tacos like you planned, you have the Chick-fil-A nuggets with your salad and you eat at home.

And that’s just it, there’s the habit itself. You made a plan to eat at home more often and you’re making it happen. The entire meal isn’t cooked by you, but who cares? You bring the nuggets home, you get the salad on a plate, and you eat at home as you intended. And that’s the habit of the habit. You’re fueling the process, even if it’s not perfect. You’re telling your brain this is what’s up, I am someone who makes meals at home and eats them at home.

Do you see that? There’s the health benefit of eating food you cook at home, which is generally less calorie dense than the meals you eat out. And then there’s the habit of the habit, going through the steps of preparing food at your house. It’s both and both are essential for dialing in new habits, okay?

And here’s the other point I want to make here, often when you take an all-or-nothing approach it’s easy to pass off one missed workout, or the pizza you had at work with your coworkers instead of the salad you brought from home. It’s easy to say that that one instance doesn’t really matter. And if you take that approach, the question I would ask you to consider next is, when does it start to matter?

How many missed workouts is enough to matter? How many off-plan meals until it matters? So really think about that for a second. And this idea comes from the scholar and theologian Erasmus, who is credited with this quote, “If 10 coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

So if you really think about that, it makes sense. It’s so good. So take this concept and apply it to your habits, okay? While one workout in the grand scheme of things doesn’t really matter, it actually does matter because if you keep skipping that one workout under the guise of it doesn’t really matter enough times, you’ve talked yourself out of trying altogether and you find yourself sitting on the couch and you’re not getting anywhere closer to your fitness goals.

So even in theory, if it’s just one workout and that one workout in and of itself will not make you fit, it’s when you keep going and keep showing up to those individual workouts, even if they’re a shorter or lesser version of what you originally anticipated, you’re adding coins to the stack. Do you see that? When you take the something is better than nothing approach, you realize that one workout in whatever shape or form it takes is another coin in your pile. You’re still adding a coin to the pile, okay? Whatever workout you do, is adding more to the pile than if you were to sit on the couch. And it most definitely matters. I really love this concept and I think it is so fitting to habits. And it really speaks to the idea that small progress over time adds up to big results. It all matters.

All right, so another reason that something is better than nothing, is that when you take this approach it’s a practice in holding yourself accountable. I’ve said it many times before, but it feels really, really good to do what you said you were going to do. And this is about honoring the decisions you make ahead of time. It’s discipline.

So remember, discipline means doing what you planned, even when you don’t want to. That’s the key piece here. When we create new habits, we’re trying to put behaviors in place that aren’t currently there. And if it were easy, you’d already be doing them. That’s why the plan is there. And that’s why discipline exists, it’s making your decision ahead of time that you will go to your workout class after work, and then when you’re heading out of the office, and you would just rather come home and put on your comfy pants, you go to the class anyway.

You made the decision in advance for that precise moment that comes and you just don’t want to go, and you do it anyway. It’s holding yourself accountable. And even if you get stuck at work and you’re running late, and you miss the first five minutes of your class, but you go and you still get through the rest of it, you’re practicing discipline. It may not be perfect, but you showed up, you got in whatever amount of time you had, and you finished the job. You held up to your deal.

So contrast that to the all or nothing approach when you decide that because you can’t get in a full 45 minutes, there’s no point. Then you’re giving in. Then you’re not holding yourself accountable and you’re not reinforcing discipline. So I would rather you hold yourself accountable and do what you said you were going to do, even if it’s not perfect, than to say forget it and not do it at all, and not hold yourself accountable. Okay?

When you take the approach that something is better than nothing, you’re giving yourself the space to honor the commitment you’re making to yourself. You’re still following through on your commitment, even if it’s less than perfect. And that’s important because this is about proving yourself to no one else, but yourself.

When you follow through on your plan, even if it’s an adjusted version of your plan, you’re reinforcing your self-efficacy. Ooh, there it is. I haven’t brought it up in a while now, so here it is, self-efficacy. And I cannot stress enough how important self-efficacy is for any goal you have. So remember, self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to do what you need to do to reach your goals. I am sure that Albert Bandura, the father of self-efficacy, said it much more nicely than I did, but I like to keep things simple, okay? It’s your belief in your capacity to get the job done. And you will not prove your self-efficacy by skipping your workout altogether because it’s late and you only have 30 minutes instead of the 45 you were planning for because you got stuck at work.

Going home and sitting on the couch instead of getting in 30 minutes of a workout, even though you wanted it to be 45, going home is not going to do anything for your self-efficacy. Taking the something is better than nothing approach and making the most out of those 30 minutes you do have, that’s something. That’s honoring your commitment. That’s doing what you set out to do and that feels a whole lot better than skipping it altogether and sitting on your couch.

That’s fueling your self-efficacy, which is essential when you’re building habits. I need you to believe that you are capable, and then I want you to go prove it to yourself. You’re not proving it to me as your coach, you’re not proving it to your partner, or your kids or your family, you’re proving yourself to yourself, okay?

And then last, when you take the something is better than nothing approach, it implies that you are doing something. Generally it means you’re taking action. You’re doing the workout, you’re eating the meals at home, you’re making the salad, you’re drinking water instead of alcohol, you’re doing something. And when you take action towards your goal, it feels good. In fact, it feels a lot, a lot, a lot better than doing nothing.

Taking action feels good because actions will lead to results. So remember, an important note here, imperfect action beats no action at all, okay? When you take action, even when you don’t want to, and even when it’s not perfect, you will see results. Your 20 minutes on the bike instead of 30, having a semi-homemade meal at home of salad and Chick-fil-A nuggets instead of burgers and fries from McDonald’s, it all counts, it all adds up.

When you take action, you will see results, and imperfect action counts, doing something to move you forward, that still counts. Because remember the connection here, taking action, even imperfect action will get you closer to your results. And those results breed motivation. And then you take that motivation and use it to fuel more action. It’s action, results, motivation.

And that is such a great cycle and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, it fuels itself. But you have to take action in order to get it going. Even if it’s a little action, instead of a big load of action like you planned. Just take the action, fuel the cycle, because little by little that cycle moves you forward and you get closer to your goal.

So contrast that to taking no action. When you take no action, you’ve got nothing, you don’t get results, and you certainly don’t get motivation. And the cycle has nothing to go off of. And my point here is that I would prefer you do something, even if it’s less than what you planned, and take action to fuel the action, results, motivation cycle. That will take you so much farther than if you do nothing and stay stagnant, okay?

Small, imperfect action beats no action, okay? Something is better than nothing, all right? So there it is, we just went over a number of reasons why adopting the something is better than nothing approach can help you. So to review, when you live out that something is better than nothing, you are planning for what you can do on your worst days. You’ve got a backup plan in place for when your life and your schedule do not go as expected.

Then you keep the habit alive by firing that new neural pathway in your brain. It’s telling your brain this is what’s up, this is how I roll. Even if it’s not the full workout, I still get it in and get it done. Next, you get the benefit of the habit in the form of exercise or a meal made at home, but you’re also reinforcing the habit of the habit, going through the motions of your behavior.

Next, you’re adding coins to your pile, I love this one. No matter how small, you’re adding a coin to your pile. And over time, those coins add up to make you rich. Those workouts add up to make you fit. Next, you’re practicing holding yourself accountable and proving your self-efficacy. Remember, you’re proving yourself to yourself by doing what you said you were going to do. And then last, you’re fueling the action, results, motivation cycle. All right, awesome.

So I hope that this concept or this sentence that something is better than nothing, I hope this speaks to you. Please borrow it. It is not my own, as I said, but I would love for you to apply this concept to your life and your habits and see where it takes you.

And here’s my last challenge to you, because when I’ve shared this concept with some of you the response I’ve gotten a few times has been essentially, yes, that’s great. You’ll tell me you believe something is better than nothing to be true for your friend, or your sister, or your coworker, but it doesn’t apply to you. And if that’s the case, if you understand and believe that something is better than nothing, and believe that it applies to the other important people in your life but not you, I would encourage you to get curious about that.

Ask the hard question of why. And I say this because that was me. I said it earlier, I had very set ideas about what a workout or a meal at home should look like. And if it didn’t go according to plan, then why bother? I used it against myself that a shorter workout, or a semi-homemade meal, or a lesser version of my habit just wasn’t good enough for me. But that was keeping me totally stuck.

And if this is you and if you feel stuck or trapped by what your workout, or what your meals, or what your schedule should look like, I would encourage you to ask questions. Start thinking in terms of possibility. Is it possible that a shorter workout is better than no workout at all? Is it possible that a meal of half chicken nuggets and half salad that you eat at home is better than giving up and getting fries and milkshakes? Is it possible that something really is better than nothing, even for you?

If you’re willing to question it, I think you’ll find your answer. Imperfect action beats zero action any day, okay? Something is better than nothing. And if you need help adopting this concept in your own life, let’s go. If you describe yourself as a perfectionist, or if your all-or-nothing thinking is getting in the way of changing your life, let’s fix it. This is what we do in coaching. You have a plan and you have a backup plan, and you will prove to yourself that something is better than nothing.

Check out my website, send me a message at www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact and let’s get started, all right? Thank you again for hanging out with me and I’ll catch you again next week.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend. Text a show link, share a screenshot or post a link to the show on your social media. And be sure to tag me at CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think so you can live in the body you want with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com

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