5 Steps to Pause Habits

No matter how great our habits are, life happens and we may get thrown off our routines. And then it’s easy for one missed day to turn into two and before we know it, that great habit is a distant memory. Intention is the key to making sure something is a pause in a habit rather than actually breaking that good habit. Here are five steps to work through these pauses and come out successful on the other side.

Pause. Stop and recognize that you are choosing to not pursue the habit or routine on this particular day or period of time. Often recognizing what you’re doing and being accountable for it may be enough to help you carry through on the habit.

Purpose. Purpose is two-fold here. First, consider the purpose of the pause. Are you pausing due to something that was unforeseen and out of your control, or was it perhaps a result of lack of planning or commitment? Why you’re pausing is often the difference between whether you resume the habit or not. Second, what is the purpose of the habit in the first place? Does that purpose still resonate with you? Purpose is what drives us to grow and become a better version of ourselves. Considering why you’re pausing and comparing it to what you are trying to achieve may motivate you to return to the habit more quickly and with more focus.

Plan. Plan when you will resume the habit. Usually, this is simply the next day or scheduled/plan time for the habit. If, however, the pause is due to a schedule disruption – for example, a vacation or business trip that frustrates your ability to carry through on the habit – make a point of marking on your calendar (in pen, not pencil) when you will resume. The very act of doing so reinforces your commitment and you’ll have a visible reminder in case the habit needs a jumpstart. Planning the return of the habit also releases the stress and anxiety of when you’ll resume and potential guilt for pausing. You have a plan and can let it go.

Penalty. Maybe this sounds like too harsh of a word, but it starts with a ‘p’ so I’m going with it. Create a disincentive to not following your plan to return to the habit. This is not the same thing as beating yourself up for failing, because that’s never a great thing to plan on doing. Rather, think of something that is something unpleasant but not harmful, and preferably increasingly onerous. For example, if I’m not back to my running schedule by Thursday, I’ll do 50 pushups and add 10 pushups to that each day that I don’t return to schedule. Or perhaps it’s donating to an organization that you find distasteful. Something that adds to your motivation to return to plan.

Proceed. Now that you know why you’re pausing, have a plan to return and a penalty in place if you don’t return on time, it’s time to proceed. Take the pause, knowing you’ll be back soon.

It’s always better to hit play rather than pause, but the key is never to press stop on growth.