Sticky Habits and Sex

nikki's blog Jan 11, 2020

As a sex therapist lots of people come to see me about improving things and 8 out of 10 times there’s something that needs to be fixed in their relationship, because it’s hard to have good sex if there’s resentment or anxiety present. But after that’s been sorted out, it’s really more about developing the habit to have regular, enjoyable, mindful sex.

Regardless of what new habits you’re trying to make stick, today I’ve got some cutting edge ideas on how to do that, including some ideas about willpower that might even surprise you.

Would you agree that there are very few things quite as disheartening as failing at the same goal over and over again? Whether it’s increasing intimacy, eating healthier, or just finding more balance in general.

Goals are usually made up of smaller steps that need to keep happening in order for the larger goal to be a success. A small step that needs to happen consistently is called a habit.

New habits are ‘things that you do’ but after a while they’ll become old habits and old habits are ‘things that you are’.

So if you want improvements that last, you need to create new habits and keep doing them until they become old habits. You want them to become so automatic you don’t even need to think about them.

That’s like the difference between making a healthy meal and being a healthy eater, or having a great shag and being a great lover.

Cutting edge research by Kelly McGonigal author of The Willpower Instinct says it helps if you can begin to see the good habits you’re developing as part of your identity, rather than just a thing you’re doing, in order to obtain something. That pride will help build confidence, which is also a great motivator.

The first and most important thing to know when we’re trying to make habits stick is that willpower is required, and willpower is a limited resource.

Decision fatigue or ego depletion is what it’s called when willpower gets used up. Another way to look at ego depletion is a person’s diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings and actions. So when it runs out you just go back to doing things the old way, or back to the familiar old habit that has already become you.

What you need to know, is willpower is like a muscle, consistent use will make it stronger but overuse will exhaust it.

So consistently creating lots of little habits is the best way to grow your willpower, so you can create the bigger, more difficult habits that require more of it.

The easiest way to do this is to automate all the little things you do on a daily basis, by creating routines.

The next thing to remember, is because willpower is a limited resource,, just focus on creating one habit at a time, especially when trying to develop habits that require a lot of willpower. This’ll ensure it’s more likely to stick.

The second tip is to commit to a schedule rather than a decision.

A habit shouldn’t be based on a fad or a temporary desire. There’s a reason you want to make this change in your life, either to afford you pleasure or deliver you from pain, but often the benefits aren’t felt right away so the motivation to make the correct decision to do it every day isn’t always there. Remove the likelihood of failure because you don’t feel like doing it by committing the habit to a schedule.

The best way to do that according to Stanford Professor B.J. Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, is to anchor it to a habit that you’ve already developed, that’s currently being scheduled-in daily.

Examples he gives are after he gets out of his car from work he changes into workout clothes and walks for 10 minutes. Or after dropping the kids off to the babysitter he hits the gym for his yoga class.

Fogg also suggests we make it easy by starting out small, and building it up over time. The point is that when you’re not in the mood to do it, the low level of commitment is much easier to fulfill, and pretty much impossible to fail.

The third tip is to commit to doing this habit daily for at least 30 days.

There’s much debate about how long it takes to truly anchor-in a habit, but committing everything to carving out the time to do this, while you’re in this vulnerable early phase, where decision fatigue can so easily sabotage you, is crucial.

Obviously, on your quest to becoming a better lover, you probably wouldn’t want have sex daily. But there are lots of other smaller, intimate acts, like a good snog or a racy text message, that can make you both a little hot under the collar, and look forward to the date you do have scheduled in.

Because you’re training your brain, it’s more important not to miss a day when trying to build a habit, than it is to hit a specific milestone.

Just as importantly you can use the little but consistent wins to motivate you further.

Tip number four is to plan for obstacles.

These are inevitable and to have a plan for how to deal with them if and when they arise is crucial. Typical examples include time, weather, pain, space, cost, and self-consciousness. Use if-then statements in your plan. For example if it’s raining and I can’t run, then I’ll go swimming instead. Also if you do slip up don’t beat yourself up, just get right back in the saddle.

The fifth tip is to create accountability for your habit.

While you may not see yourself as someone who’s concerned with social approval, thanks to something called the Hawthorne Effect, you’re a lot more likely to follow through with a commitment when you’re being observed by others.

Make public declarations about your new goal. Post updates on social media and use apps like to track your progress. Getting an accountability or workout partner is a great idea too. According to the research, simply knowing that you’ll be held accountable is often enough to keep you focused and committed. Also don’t be afraid to ask those around you for help and support in making the change.

My last tip is to reward your important milestones.

It’s so important for morale to celebrate and reward the completion of the steps towards achieving your goal. It doesn’t need to be big, but making it fun or pleasurable will not only give you something enjoyable to focus on short-term, but it’ll also link that feeling to habit-creation, so it doesn’t feel like such a chore.

I hope this’ll prove helpful in your quest to be a better you, and that you’ll join me in a few weeks when we’ll take a look at the most important habits today’s woman can develop to get the best out of her relationship.

Until next time, be good to yourself, and remember to keep it real.

With light and love

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