The Ever Better Challenge, Part 4: Consider the Past, Continue What Works

It’s been a long 21 days.

I think giving up desserts for my Ever Better Challenge (Evernote’s 30-day program to help you finish what you start) was a decent idea, but it might have been an easier feat after the holidays.

I never noticed how ubiquitous holiday desserts were until this year. Every day was an obstacle course—coworkers bringing baked goods to the office! Friends, neighbors, and relatives giving treats as gifts! Free samples at every store!

Nevertheless, with the exception of the accidental cookie I mentioned in the second blog post in this series, and the genuine setback featured in week three, I’ve stuck to my challenge.

I mentioned last week that setbacks are likely in any habit change, so I’m going to declare this a victory so far—although I still have a few days to go.

As you enter the home stretch of your own challenge, this point right around Day 21 is a great opportunity to pause and take stock: What’s working? What isn’t? And why? Figuring that out now can help you power through to the finish line and keep your new habits going for the long term.

Here’s what I found when I reflected on the past three weeks. Hopefully, it’ll help you finish what you started.

What worked

Having self-compassion

I admit, up front, I haven’t done this challenge perfectly. Some days I didn’t even follow my own advice (so don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t either).

I tend to be pretty hard on myself. It’s been interesting to notice how much of the advice I wrote in these blogs was actually directed inward. As I wrote in the last blog: It’s not uncommon for people to totally give up on a goal after a slip. We set these targets in a black and white way—this will be accomplished or it won’t—instead of recognizing that consistent effort leads to improvement.”

The black-and-white thinking? Totally my style. The quitting over a single slip-up? Also my style.

So it was a big deal for me to not beat myself up—it kept me moving forward even when I wanted to self-sabotage.

Being honest

There were some days I was in a pretty foul mood—and people noticed. I was the first person to test out this challenge and wanted it to go smoothly. But I couldn’t hide the fact that I was having a hard time.

Admitting I was struggling was surprisingly liberating. I was letting myself be flawed and I was letting others know. Everyone responded with some variation of warmth and support, which gave me both the freedom to struggle and the strength to continue.

Taking it one day at a time

It was helpful to remember that I wasn’t committing to never eating dessert again—just for 30 days. On any given day, I only had to make it until bedtime without dessert to be successful. I stopped worrying about what would happen the next day, next week, or after the challenge.

Rather than getting overwhelmed, I took it day by day. This kept me focused on the present, which was much easier to manage than the rest of my life all at once. As a result, my challenge stayed manageable and I abstained from dessert on a number of days I would have otherwise slipped into my old Habit Loop.

What didn’t work

My activation energy ran out

In scientific terms, activation energy is the amount of energy it takes to create a chemical reaction. For our purposes, it’s how much energy is required to get a new habit going.

Initially, I wanted to take the stairs every day for my challenge. That seemed like an easy way to lose a little weight. And it is; I’ve taken the stairs every day with no problem.

Giving up dessert, on the other hand, took a lot of activation energy. After a few days, I was already burning out.

OK, I was burning out on the first day—skipping dessert is much harder for me than taking the stairs. For years, I have followed nearly every meal with dessert—sometimes I’ll even skip a meal and just eat cupcakes, waffles, cookies, etc.

I am hooked on sugar.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed how intense my craving for sweets is, and the effect they have on my mood: without them, I’m irritable (to put it lightly).

This may be part of the reason I slipped on day 11—and it’s definitely why this challenge has been so difficult.

My challenge was too hard

There’s a sweet spot for success, no pun intended. If a challenge is too easy, it’s boring and not truly rewarding to overcome. If it’s too difficult, it’s overwhelming. James Clear refers to this as “the Goldilocks Rule“.

Taking the stairs was just barely a challenge. I only needed to focus on changing my behavior for a few days and the rest has come together.

No desserts for 30 days might have been too hard. Perhaps having desserts, but only on the weekend, would have been better.

Or, because it’s such a hard challenge, perhaps I could have planned better or reached out for help sooner…or at all.

I didn’t reach out

Sometimes asking for help is hard. That’s why we made the Support Network template: so you could anticipate when, why, and how you would be tempted—and what to do when the time came.

While it might be easy to write down whom to call when you’re on the edge of giving up, it’s much harder to actually follow through—not only do you have to be humble, you also have to be ready to keep going.

How I corrected myself to finish

On day 12 of my challenge, after having slipped the night before, I came into work disheartened. I was ready to give up. The things I wrote at work were really negative (almost comically so in retrospect) and I was cursing this whole process.

It occurred to me that I could give up and still write these last few blog posts. I could lie to you and my coworkers and say everything was going great…but I couldn’t lie to myself.

Day 12 was “gut check” time: did I have what it takes to finish this challenge, or not? I decided I did. But how?

I used my templates

Returning to the templates I began with helped me re-energize and re-focus.

I checked in with my Build a Plan template to remember my motivation. I put my Habit Tracker in a more prominent place. I looked over my Support Network template and reached out to some people to let them know what happened. And I wrote a lot of notes in my Reflect & Correct template.

I kept going

Once I made the decision to not give up and checked in with my templates (and support network) it became much easier to keep going. The last 10 days have gone by without too much emotion. I remembered how disappointed I felt when I ate those cookies and didn’t want that to be the end of my story.

Even if it wouldn’t be perfect, I decided I wanted to finish what I started.

You can keep going, too

If you’re struggling, I urge you to keep going. Check-in with our Facebook group and reach out to your support network. Remember why you chose to take on this challenge: you wanted to be someone different. And to be someone you’ve never been, you have to do things you’ve never done.

Whatever your challenge is, overcoming it will empower you to have confidence in taking on more and greater challenges in the future. The only person you have to compare yourself to is who you were yesterday—so here’s to being Ever Better!

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