Just had a smart conversation yesterday about this. It's been something I've been thinking on for a while.
There's a bit of a problem with long term habit change. If you're working on something that takes a while to achieve, you spend a lot of time falling short of your target and aware of it.
So, let's say you were currently drinking a lot of soda, and you want to quit.
You start replacing soda with other drinks, trying to order different things at restaurants, buy other things, turn friends and family down when they offer you a soda, get a bottled water instead of a coke at the movie theater with popcorn, etc, etc, etc.
Sometimes you go to a barbecue or a cheap lunch with pizza, and the only drink is soda. You try to just have nothing those times.
There's lots of opportunities to drink soda. If you were a big soda drinker, a gradual scaling-down of soda-drinking might take six months.
For that whole six months, there's going to be some neurosis and pressure. You're going to be aware of falling short every time you have a soda. It's likely you'll feel some disappointment or neurosis every time you cave and have a soda when you didn't plan to.
Then, one day, you'e scaled down almost all the way, and then you quit entirely. BAM! You're no longer a soda drinker.
How long do you celebrate? I'm going to guess... less than two weeks.
And I think that's a huge problem with long term habit change. Six months of hard work, of being constantly aware of falling short, of the disappointment and neurosis from false starts and mistakes, and then... less than two weeks of feeling good about it, before on to the next thing.
Yes, you get all the health benefits. But you don't necessarily get rewarding feelings anywhere near the pressure and neurosis and disappointment while working on it.
I'm gradually becoming more aware of this. I don't have a perfect solution to it, but I think celebrating more often is a part of the puzzle.
Celebrate small wins, have a little moment of satisfaction when your consumption of soda (or whatever) improves a little bit, reflect on the wins and the changes, celebrate a little longer and bigger when you have large wins.
Also, perhaps less neurosis and disappointment when falling short? I'm not sure it's necessary... perhaps it can act like a spur in your side to some extent, but maybe it'd be possible to just adjust without feeling bad? Saying something like, "Ok, I fell short. Time to get back on track" without the neurosis?
I'm reminded again of that Tomas Schelling quote from Choice and Consequences -
Some people who run for exercise discover that the fear of quitting – not the fear of running painfully, but of quitting – becomes so severe that they are tempted to quit to get rid of the fear. Once they’ve run the course the mental agony is gone and the physical agony bearable; so they sometimes treat themselves at the end to a little extra when, anxiety gone and nothing at stake, they can at last run for the fun of it.
Perhaps long term habit change is like that, to some extent. The neurosis and battling might be more difficult than the habit change itself.
Perhaps we can correct course without the neurosis, and celebrate more often? I don't know, I need to think on this more. Your thoughts in the comments?