It’s likely at some point in your life you’ve attempted to be healthier by changing your habits. Start or stop doing_______ (fill in blank). A common habit changing strategy is to count.
Count the number of days you haven’t smoked.
Count the number of times per week you’ve exercised.
Count the calories eaten or the pounds lost.
In fairness, there are a few ways that counting can be used effectively. There is science to show that doing the same action repetitively creates new neural pathways that reinforce the behavior making it easier and easier to do something. Twenty-one days to make a habit. Counting can also be helpful when used to increase stamina, for example increasing the number of reps you do in weight lifting or increasing the time you run from 20-30 minutes.
In spite of these helpful ways to use counting, I find counting is more often used as a form of self sabotage.
Take for example my client Joy who recently told me she’d like to lighten up on the amount of wine she drinks in the evening. In our coaching session this week she declared, “I’ve already gone 3 days without having wine in the evening.” My question to her?
Why are you counting?
She seemed a bit shocked at my questioning her method. Like many, Joy was programmed to think counting was a good thing. “What do you mean?” she asked. “I’m counting so I know how well I’m doing. It keeps me motivated.”
I asked Joy to bring some curiosity to her method and contemplate three simple questions.(Contemplate doesn’t mean give the first answer off the top of your head, it means sit with it and let answers come)
- Am I counting in order to make comparison?
- If I need to count am I truly committed to this intention? Or is there doubt?
- How do I feel when I count? Free or constricted?
In Joy’s case, the answers were:
- When I think about it, I’ve tried to cut back on drinking wine before and I know I made it 31 days so maybe I’m counting to see if I can do better this time.
- I’m counting so I know if I do better or worse than the last time I tried to cut back on wine.
- The first thing that comes in my mind when I count is that I won’t make it long enough. I’m afraid I’ll quit.
Joy’s answers reflect what is in her mind.
- Comparison in any form is a negative energy that constricts energy flow. By counting her wine-free days and comparing to the last time she quit, she was competing with herself in a no win situation. If she made it more than 31 days, she was in the clear to quit. If she quit before 31 days, she proved herself incapable. Either way it was a set up to beat herself up.
- The sheer fact that Joy was counting showed herself doubt about her intention. If she was truly committed to cutting back on wine or even eliminating drinking all together, there would be no need to count. The decision would be made. In this case, counting was a stalling tactic to see if commitment would show up. Joy didn’t believe she could be successful.
- By counting, Joy had set herself up to judge her progress every day. Each successful day of not drinking increased the number of wine free days and also increased the pressure. Over and over I’ve seen clients “throw the fight” to escape the anticipation of failure. She was a prisoner of her own mind.
When you create stress, even perceived stress from something like counting, it affects every cell in your body. They go on lock down-emergency alert. Cells literally can’t absorb nutrients like they should. Your brain can’t think clearly. You more or less guarantee an environment of failure. Habits don’t change.
With the New Year around the corner and the temptation of resolutions in the air, I encourage you to try something different this year. Set intentions not goals and FREE yourself and your cells by . . .
NOT COUNTING.[Tweet “Set intentions not goals & FREE yourself by . . . NOT COUNTING.”]