Communicating Matters: The Dwindle Effect

By Jude Bijou   |   December 6, 2022

Backsliding comes with almost every new habit you’re trying to ingrain. I call it the “dwindle effect” because your initial desire to change an old habit wanes. It’s easy to lose sight of good intentions. It’s common to rebel against the effort the new action requires, forgetting why you wanted to change in the first place. Your persistent mind chatter becomes the only voice you hear, and you just want to numb out the emotions of the moment with your familiar, safe (and yet oh-so-destructive) habits.

The dwindle effect can either drain your resolve or provide a learning opportunity. With a little observation and introspection, you can identify some of the when’s, why’s, where’s, and who’s that spark falling off your sterling intentions. Keep the warning signs in mind, and you’ll be better prepared next time. Ask yourself, “What will I do next time this happens?” Develop a strategy, like choosing some truths for tough moments, selecting another substitute, or setting a shorter-range goal that’s more achievable. If you relapse, don’t abandon your goal. Just remember the dwindle effect. Deal with your emotions and then step back onto the battlefield of life.

The Six Steps to Overcome the Dwindle Effect 

You made a commitment to walk every evening after work, but you can’t remember the last time you did. Work is so stressful; you’ve decided it’s a bad time to quit smoking. Or your New Year’s resolution not to drink during the week has long been forgotten. No matter how strong your intentions were in the beginning, life’s invariable challenges flare up and make it oh-so-easy to slip back into your old habit. Welcome to the DWINDLE EFFECT.

So what happened? You were on a roll there for a while with the yoga classes! Well, emotions came up (about you, your weight, your relationship, whatever) and you didn’t handle the sadness, anger, or fear physically and constructively. Instead, you went into survival mode and reverted back to the familiar habit that you swore you were going to change.

How can we fight the dwindle effect? Making a long-term change in life isn’t rocket science. To actualize your goals and good intentions, do these
six things:

1. At those crucial moments when you’re justifying not following through with the new behavior – make a new choice! Deal with your emotions in their pure, natural, physical form, without words. Just move the energy. Stomp, shiver, or cry to deal with your anger, fear, or sadness. Find a safe place and do it with abandon for just three minutes! Your unexpressed emotions are clouding your ability to choose anything new. I know that sounds radical, but it’s not. Emote and then remember your goal (see number #2).

2. Get clear why you are going to change. Write it down if that’s helpful, because it’s easy to forget. Remember your goal often but especially at times when it’s easy to get “lazy” and revert to your old habit. Make sure your goal resonates with what’s true for you. You’re making this change for you.

3. With awareness, changing old habits IS possible and sustainable. Locate your self-sabotaging thoughts and find contradictions that support you. Remind yourself of the reality when you start to waiver. 

“I hate looking like this. I want to be more fit. I’m doing this for me.”

4. Make sure the change you desire is doable, specific, and reasonable. Little steps. Maybe you can’t become a gym rat five days a week, but you could catch one class every two mornings fairly easily. 

5. Get a buddy who also wants to make a change and establish a regular daily, weekly, or in between check-in for support and accountability. Initiate and contact him or her at the appointed time, no matter what. Each person gets two to five minutes of listening (set your own reasonable amount of time). The first one talks of victories and breakdown, and the next specific steps he or she needs to take between now and the next check-in, and appreciates themselves. Then switch and listen while the other person talks about how they are doing with their new behavior.

6. When you choose the old habit today, don’t give up your good intentions altogether. It really IS okay. Get up and start again fresh tomorrow. It’s a brand new day. 

The Rewards

Just remember to deal with whatever emotions are sabotaging your efforts and keep checking in to make sure the steps to your goal are small, reasonable, and doable.

Keep at it and you’ll conquer the dwindle effect and bask in the new life you’ve created. A series of little victories is the way to change. And please don’t forget to praise yourself every time you choose to align with what you know in your heart is good.  


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