How To Find Your ‘Why’ & Create Habits You’ll Keep

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I don’t think of myself as someone with a ton of discipline. Before motherhood, having “discipline” just meant doing my homework before watching TV, being judicious with my spending, or showing up to work on time. No big deal. Normal life stuff.

But that was before. Back when I was just barely twenty-something, before weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle got the best of me. Before I came to terms with my chronic illness. Before I had kids.

Words like “self-control” and “willpower” weren’t overwhelming to me, because my life wasn’t overwhelming.

Yet.

This is the real reason lifestyle changes are hard to make. It starts with motivation. Learn how to find your why and create habits that last, even as a busy mom.

I don’t think of myself as someone with a ton of discipline, because I’ve struggled hard with food, my weight, managing my chronic illness, and making healthy lifestyle choices.

In the four years after I got married, I went from a size 2 to an almost-size-12. I struggled to remember to even check my blood sugar, much less make sure it was in range (I have type 1 diabetes), and I couldn’t for the life of me be consistent when it came to things like cooking meals at home, exercising, or even keeping my apartment clean.

But since then?

I’m a size 2 again. I meal plan every week. We rarely eat out anymore, and we’ve gone from shopping in the middle of the grocery store ( where the junk food is) to the outskirts (where the real food is). My blood sugar control is phenomenal (if I do say so myself) and has been for the last four years. I’ve gone from loathing exercise to genuinely enjoying it. My home is almost always orderly. And all these changes happened even while having two kids! (They’re the reason my home is almost always orderly).

What the heck changed, you ask?

This: I found my “why.”

Photo of the author before and after losing weight. Left: December 2014 - 30+ lbs overweight before kids. Right: March 2019 - After 2 pregnancies/Cesarean births (68 pounds lost after first baby, 53 pounds lost after second).
Left: December 2014 – 30+ lbs overweight before kids. Right: March 2019 – After 2 pregnancies/Cesarean births (68 pounds lost after first baby, 53 pounds lost after second). Low quality phone photo, but you get the idea.

It wasn’t lost–I just had no reason to need it before. Before, when I was young and healthy and childless, I had no reason to think too much about the things that would wind up being massive, anxiety-inducing burdens for me later.

I don’t think of myself as this person with a ton of discipline, because it was a hard fight to get to where I am now, and I know how incredibly easy it could be to fall back into my old ways.

But I don’t do that, because–again–of my “why.”

Your “why” is what ultimately motivates you to make changes in your life. But I think too often the “whys” we select aren’t meaningful enough to spark a transformation that is.

Before I found my why, I wanted to lose weight so I could look cute in my clothes.

That wasn’t enough.

I wanted to eat better so I would feel healthier and more energized.

That wasn’t enough.

I wanted to have my life in order–my home clean, my shopping list planned, my things organized, etc.–to save money and time.

That wasn’t enough.

In the summer of 2013, I learned at a doctor’s appointment that my blood sugar control was the worst it had been since I was diagnosed. And my husband kept mentioning things like “when we have kids soon…”

It was heart-wrenching.

I was 23. I should have felt like I was in the prime of my life, but I was overweight, with an unmanaged chronic illness that made having a baby a risky endeavor. They wanted my blood sugar controlled to an extent I had never even come close to achieving at my best, and I had all but resigned myself to the real possibility that I would never have kids. I couldn’t, in good conscience, get pregnant unless I made some major changes.

Motherhood, as it turns out, was a catalyst for a profound transformation of my life and my health.

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I spent the next year and a half proving to myself that I was capable of meeting the blood sugar goals I once thought impossible. Regular exercise put me in the best cardiovascular shape of my life and for the first time, I enjoyed it. I didn’t lose any weight, but I experimented with counting calories, keto foods, eating gluten-free, and eventually settled on an “everything in moderation” approach that I could actually stick to.

It was enough.

In January of 2016, I had my first baby, Little Bo. And she was perfectly healthy. We struggled hard to breastfeed, though, and I once again found myself starting to feel hopeless.

But only for a moment.

I had just been through an intense pregnancy that required relentless care and self-control. And I knew if I could get through that, I would find a way to meet my breastfeeding goals.

In addition to a tongue-tie, Little Bo was sensitive to dairy. If I wanted to keep breastfeeding, I was going to need to cut dairy–and possibly other top 8 allergens–out of my diet. Which was hard!

I found myself forced to eat in, which meant I couldn’t just wander the aisles of the grocery store anymore. I had to meal plan. And because dairy is in basically every packaged and boxed food, I had to confront my nemesis: Vegetables. I choked them down before, but now I had to find a way to like them.

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Over the next 10 months, I lost 68 pounds of baby weight and pre-pregnancy fluff I couldn’t lose by counting calories or eating keto or any of the other million things I tried before. I was back down to what I weighed in college.

And there was a snowball effect during all of this: If my kitchen had to be organized and efficient, shouldn’t the rest of my home be also? I became a minimalist.

When it was time to think about baby #2, I wasn’t worried. I just did it all over again–the rigid control, the healthy diet, the exercise. I gained and lost another 53 pounds. But this time, it just happened. It wasn’t a struggle. It was my new normal.

Because I had found my why: My girls.

I wanted to get healthy for them, and I want to stay healthy so I can be around for them. And now, I’ve worked too hard to get where I am to risk falling back into old habits. Old habits aren’t an option anymore.

Are they an option for you?

If so, you might need to find your why. Here’s what you can do:

1) Define what’s actually important to you

Sometimes there is a difference between what we think is important, and what is actually important to us as defined by our actions. Losing weight was important to me in my head, but my actions said enjoying myself was paramount. If I was going to have success, I needed a find a motivator at least as–if not more so–important as that.

2) Consider the consequences

Worst case scenario, what are the long-term consequences of continuing down your current path? Often we don’t consider those–and I mean really dwell on their impact–because human beings are wired to prefer to think on short-term benefits (source). It’s easy to give long-term consequences little more than a fleeting thought. Stop doing this.

3) Think about others affected

We don’t live in a vacuum. Our decisions, especially as mothers, impact everyone in our family system. How are your current choices affecting your loved ones? What are the long-term consequences for them if you continue on your current path?

4) Establish non-negotiables

We all have things in our lives that are non-negotiable. Every month or week or day, we have to do X and it must get done come hell or high water. Some of these non-negotiables you don’t have to think about because they are habits–like brushing your teeth. But other non-negotiables happen because of some external force demanding it–like your boss or your landlord.

So consider making some things in your life non-negotiables.

5) Be willing to focus your efforts elsewhere

If you’re struggling to come up with a why that you find actually motivating, consider the possibility that what you’re trying to accomplish isn’t ultimately that important to you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change–but it might mean your time would be better spent focusing on a different goal first and revisiting this one later.

6) Start with creating good habits

The reason it got easier over time to maintain my new lifestyle choices was because those choices became habitual. When we have habits in place, the things we want to accomplish start to become automatic. They require less willpower. And they’re more likely to actually happen.

Are you ready to make changes in your life? If so, you can get started with my free Habit Formation Challenge. Over the course of four days you’ll learn through my email series the fundamentals of how to create lasting habits more effectively. You’ll also get a 9 page companion workbook to help you on your journey.

Remember: Your goals don’t have to be profound to be important and worthwhile. Sometimes one small change snowballs into a whole new lifestyle. Sometimes it takes just one little step in the right direction.

LOVE,
GABBY

How to find your why and create habits you'll keep