• Dr. Carolyn Frost

5 Steps for Starting Any New Practice

Updated: Nov 6


We’ve all been there.


We get an idea in our mind and we are SO excited to get started.


…………..I’m going to meditate every morning!

…………..I’m going to run 6 miles a day!

…………..I’m going to meal prep on Sundays for the week!


We are gung ho for a day, 3 days, maybe a week….. annnnnd then we inevitably miss a day or two, and that’s the end of that.


Wait, what happened??


We were so excited about this brand new life of health and vitality we were thisclose to leading, and now we’re just…. over it?


Nope. Your Lower Brain just got the best of you.


---


LOWER BRAIN


The Lower Brain (your primitive/reptilian brain) wants everything to stay the same and be easy so you can keep doing what you’ve always done. This is the part of your brain that thrives on habit.


I like to think of my Lower Brain as a toddler; a cranky one. Your Lower Brain wants what it wants, and it wants it now. The primary focus is seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

It’s that part of your brain that wants you to stay warm and comfy in bed instead of getting up early to make time for a sit down breakfast before work.


The part of your brain that just knows to pour a glass of wine when you walk through the door from work.



HIGHER BRAIN



In contrast, your Higher Brain, the complex, future-focused part of your brain wants what is best for you in the long-term.


This is the mature adult of your brain; the parent, or the wise aunt.


The one who knows you will be tired if you stay up too late in a Facebook rabbit hole. The one who recognizes that waking up 30 min earlier can get your day off to a wonderful (calm!) start.


This is the part of your brain responsible for planning, creating goals and seeing an amazing way forward for your future self.

THIS is the part of your brain you want to listen to.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand a chance when we try to implement a new habit without a plan.


It’s too easy and way too tempting to prioritize the short-term pleasure of the Lower Brain over the incredible rewards and fulfillment your Higher Brain knows is possible.


Your Lower Brain is going to resist. BIG TIME.


This is NORMAL. Nothing has gone wrong!


Your brain is doing it’s job. Acting exactly as you’ve taught it to act over years and decades of repetition and reward.


If that’s not working anymore, create a new plan and set yourself up for success.


Growth and progress take time and work. And maybe a little discomfort. But it’s sooo worth it. Your Higher Brain will thank you ;)



** PRO TIP! If you are a list-making, write-everything-down type of person like I am, print out my favorite HABIT TRACKER!!


All 5 steps are included in a convenient one-page document to print and keep handy as a visual reminder of your commitment.

So, here we go! 5 Steps to Starting Any New Practice.


You can use the super handy and catchy acronym ASPOC to help ;)


A - Awareness

S - Start Small

P - Plan

O - Obstacles

C - Course Correct



STEP 1: AWARENESS



Bring awareness to current thoughts and practices around the desired habit.


Successful habit change begins largely before you even start the activity.


AWARENESS IS POWER!


This step is SO important, and it’s almost always overlooked.


You can’t change what you aren’t aware of.


Get underneath the current thought systems around this habit, and figure out what your desired outcome is.

**Grab a piece of paper and write out your thoughts about the below:

  • What is the habit you want to add to your life?

  • Why do you think you haven’t successfully incorporated it before?

  • Why specifically do you want to add this habit to your life? What benefits do you expect?

  • What kind of person does this activity every day?

  • What do you think it would take to become a person who does this activity?


PRO TIP!! Write. It. Out. I cannot stress this enough…. The power of writing things down helps you get very clear on your thoughts, solidifies the reasoning in your head, and helps you see your thoughts as a witness instead of the person so wrapped up in them. It’s also BACKED BY NEUROSCIENCE.



Now look at what you’ve written.


What thoughts jump out at you?


Are all of them true?


Are there any that feel true, but upon further inspection might not be factual? How can you look at them from a different perspective?


Do you like your reasons for wanting to include this habit in your life?


Dig into what you wrote until you have a good understanding of where you’re coming from. Bring that newfound knowledge with you into Step 2!


STEP 2: START SMALL


Small successes add up to BIG wins.


Start with a single (just one!) habit you’d like to add to your life. Resist the urge to add 5 different habits, we know that approach doesn’t work.


Your new habit should be something you can do several times a week if not every day. No need to go all out. You’ve done that before and it hasn’t worked.


A KEY benefit of starting small is building up consistent wins.


You are building evidence for yourself that you are the type of person who stretches before bed every night, or the type of person who smiles at or holds the door for strangers.


In psychology, we call this self-efficacy.


It’s an important concept in behavior change that refers to a belief in your ability to carry out a behavior or activity.


How is it built? By doing it! By performing the behavior, or mastery experiences. This creates a sense of confidence and belief in yourself.


On the flip side, perceived ‘failures’ undermine self-efficacy.

Yet another reason to start small and rack up the wins, rather than go out too big and ‘prove to yourself’ that you’ll never be able to change.


  • Try a 10 or 20 min HIIT class

  • Let go of the thought that activity needs to be 60 minutes in order to be effective! It’s outdated and untrue.

  • My two favorites are free on youtube: Heather Robertson and Penny Barnshaw.

  • 2 min of a daily gratitude practice at breakfast with your family

  • 3 deep breaths before you get out of bed in the morning


Your Lower Brain will love the consistency of a smaller habit and will find satisfaction in doing it regularly. Mark your successes on the HABIT TRACKER!



STEP 3: PLAN


Create a detailed plan. This is the meat and potatoes; your opportunity to get super specific as you create your blueprint for success.


Go Old School with the 5 W’s + H


Who: I’m stretching before bed... My cat and I journaling together (why not??)…. A friend and I hiking side by side…. I’m meditating with an online group....


What: Jogging.... Mindful breathing….. Painting….. Active listening…. Saying no…. Saying yes.... Deleting unhelpful social media accounts….


When: When I sit down at my desk, I will take 3 deep breaths before I start up my computer…. When I get home from school drop off, I will stay in the car and do a 2 minute silent meditation….


Where: I will sing my songs in the shower…. I will edit my photos on my laptop in the living room…. I will read an uplifting story in my bed at night


Why: I feel energized when I start my day with 10 minutes of Zumba…. I feel relaxed when I meditate before bed…. I am organized and determined when I take 2 minutes to write a plan for the day...


How: Habit Stacking!


THIS IS KEY!! Adding a desired behavior to something you already consistently do. It’s a powerful tool to effect lasting change, take advantage of it.


Time, location, and your surrounding environment are great cues for new habits

  • I will put on sunscreen as soon as I get out of the shower.

  • I will spend 5 minutes decluttering some area (drawer, cabinet…) of my house each day right before I eat lunch.

  • Before I sit down at night to watch tv, I will grab my knitting materials


So, instead of: I’m going to start journaling!


When we put it all together, it looks like: I will write in my journal for 3 minutes at the kitchen table while I drink my morning coffee so that I can feel focused and clear throughout the day.

This kind of advanced planning is music to your Higher Brain’s ears.



STEP 4: OBSTACLES



Obstacles are a given.

They are also an opportunity to grow and build confidence.


They are not a problem - our thoughts about them are the problem. (We see you Lower Brain that just wants everything to be easy and stay the same!)


Anticipate likely challenges and plan them from a place of calm now - NOT while you’re in the middle of them.


Writing out challenges and your solutions forces you to articulate the issues clearly, and serves as a visual reminder that you are a person with a plan.


It’s also the BEST way to quiet that Lower Brain when it pipes up about the change. You are ready for all of it’s excuses. You’ve already handled it.


  • I will set out an extra layer of warm clothing for my morning jog in case the weather gets cold.

  • I will have a book out on my bedside table so I read that instead of scrolling through TikTok at night.

  • I will check the fridge daily to ensure I have snacks that help me feel full and satiated on hand.



STEP 5: COURSE CORRECT



The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” - Albert Einstein


Check back regularly and update your approach as needed.


What’s working, what’s not? How can I tweak my approach to be more successful?


Most people don’t do this - they just expect perfection.

This is wildly unrealistic! And only sets you up for disappointment and lays the groundwork for quitting.


Nothing is ever perfect - certainly not when you’re trying something new.

Think about a baby learning to walk….


The baby falls down and gets back up, only to fall down again.


They figure out that holding on to the table or surfing the couch is an excellent strategy to stay upright for longer. This works for some time, so they stick with it.


Slowly but surely they begin to take a few steps, inching away from the support. But they’re still wobbly and unstable.


They re-assess.


Maybe they go back to the couch. They might grab a sibling's shirt or a parent’s hand.


They keep assessing and revising to see what is working, what’s not and how they can best meet their goal.


Do you think the baby is saying, “Omg baby… How have you not figured this out yet?” Or “Well, that didn’t work, guess I’ll just sit here… forever”. Or, “I tried that once, and it didn’t work... walking just isn’t for me”.


Of course not!


Be like a baby.


Start somewhere. Don’t give in to the excuses and demands of the Lower Brain. Trust that your Higher Brain has something even better in store for you.


So you try. See how it goes. If it works, great, keep doing that. If not, great. That’s a learning experience. Try something else. Repeat as needed.


You’ll be walking (meditating, knitting, singing, yoga-ing….) in no time.



TO RECAP:


Print out the HABIT TRACKER and get writing!


Keep in mind our clever acronym ASPOC:


A - Awareness of current thoughts and beliefs

S - Start Small

P - Plan (5W’s & H)

O - Obstacles - plan for them in advance

C - Course Correct as needed


Important Reminder! No one ever said change is easy and everything will go smoothly.


Do it anyway.


Make your Higher Brain proud.





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