creating consistent habits

One of the hallmarks of the inner critic is “all or nothing” thinking: If it’s not all happening right now, it’s not working. If you change an old habit three times and then “mess it up” the fourth, it’s not working. If a bad habit didn’t stop the first time you tried, it’s not working.

I also think of this kind of thinking as “I don’t want to water the plant” syndrome.


Plant Care, People Care

When we buy a houseplant, we take it home. We fully expect that to keep it alive, we’ll need to, you know, water it. Routinely. On a schedule.

We don’t stand around looking at the plant going, “Why aren’t you growing faster?” We also don’t tap our foot and say, “I watered you last week. Why aren’t you staying fully vibrant and alive without watering, this week?”

So, yeah–people? And especially people changing habits? They need regular watering. And sometimes plant food. And the right amount of light and heat. The occasional stirring of the soil. And sometimes? A total overhaul–a new pot altogether.

And okay, the metaphor is not exactly deep so much as it is obvious, but it’s fitting. –Because when was the last time you knew of someone who said they were going to make some kind of change and then they started and then somehow, it didn’t quite reach completion? And did you hear them say things like or take on an attitude of, “I’m a defeated failure/loser/flake who can’t stick to anything”?

Have any of those people you “know of” lately been…you?

In those moments, you conveniently don’t want to “water your plant,” so to speak. Not wanting to put in the time, over time, is treating our desires like a one-stop shop

Sorry, friends. It doesn’t work that way.


Creating Consistent Habits

Now, I mention that the impulse to avoid “watering my plant” is there, and most of the officious self-help articles I’ve seen focus their time on getting people to stop having any impulses not to water their plants.

“Here are 10 easy steps water your plants!” says one article. “Need motivation to water your plants? Here it is!” says another. Then, a third: “Here’s how you can water your plants even less and still keep them alive!”

Ridiculous, non?

These articles often strike me as babying, almost coddling. Helpful perhaps with tweaking some details, yet not always so helpful in the long run, because there’s an element of doing the “Look! Look at the airplane!” to them.

You don’t need to be tricked into wanting to water your plants or to get motivated to water my plants.

We just need to have the simple reckoning that if we don’t water our plants, they get sick, and then they die. Then you gotta start over.

It’s that adult, and that simple.


Care Varies by Plant Family

Like plants, each project or new habit also has its own watering schedule. It takes time, sometimes, to learn what that is.

When I was in college, my first plant ever was a little cactus perched on my dorm room windowsill. I watered it like crazy and it died. I had made the classic mistake of confusing lots of water with lots of LOVE. Nope. Dedication and determination are highly individual. I needed to adjust the watering schedule to the task at hand.

For instance, I recently started Bikram yoga. When I first began, I needed to “water my plant” by going every day. I knew that if I didn’t go every day at the beginning, I’d be more liable to quit. Someone else might know that for them, every day would be too much and a recipe for quitting. It’s all a highly individual thing, this watering schedule business, and it is learned over time.

Also, it is helpful if we do not make watering my plants my new life or death Story.

Sometimes we miss a watering. Sometimes we miss so many days or weeks that the plant…dies. Then it’s time to head back to the nursery and get a new one (because plants are good to have around, you know? one wouldn’t want to give up on them altogether).

We try to catch all of our under-watered, under cared-for plants in their sick and ill stage so that I can try to shore up their health before they hit the dead and wilted stage. When I am not able to salvage anything, and death happens, I think a little healthy grieving could be in order (“Leafy was such a gooood little guy!”), but not too much.

And to carry this metaphor just one inch farther, I’ll share that I do not think it’s good to keep the old, dead, wilted remains of a plant laying around. This becomes a Graveyard of Failure, and who needs it? Sometimes I can tell that people are keeping these things around (sometimes I discover one or two of my own old dead things in a corner), and it doesn’t serve anyone.

Plants work with what they got. It’s this time, this soil, this plant life. We start again and again with the moment that we have, the resources that we have, the lives that we have. We can choose to water, or not water, our projects and undertakings.

It always boils down to choice.


Click to tweet: Make sure you’re watering your (interpersonal) plants.