So much of how we operate as human beings is habitual. There are habits of how you get ready in the morning, of your movement, of how and what you eat, of how you spend your free time, etc. You even have habits of thinking! Typically, you operate from these places of habit on autopilot, without much awareness.
Most people try to change their habits at one time or another. It goes something like this for many… At some point, it becomes apparent to you that a habit is not working anymore, or it's not aligned with how you want to live, or it’s getting in the way of you functioning well. You decide to change it. You try to eliminate it, and after a few days or a week, you discover that it’s quite challenging. Maybe you do okay for a day or two and then slip back into that familiar way of being. You feel frustrated and maybe even give up…. If this has been your experience, you’re not alone. It is often the case that when you want to change a habit, there is a sense of urgency, often followed by disappointment and frustration when things don’t go the way you want quickly.
When you set out to change a habit, it may be the case that you’ve taken on too big of a task at once. It can be quite helpful to create small (tiny, even) concrete steps to focus on as you move toward changing a behavior or a habit. Commit to each step for a month, maybe even two, or three. For changes to integrate and be sustainable, the brain and nervous system need a lot of practice and repetition. A lot. Once a step feels like it is integrated and close to autopilot, it may be time to move on to the next step, and so on. Tread lightly and patiently.
While you’re in the process of changing an unwanted habit, challenging feelings will likely come up. It is important to recognize these feelings when they arise and name them. Naming how we feel lessens the intensity of the feeling. You may also choose to take some full, deep breaths and feel your feet on the ground as you practice being with your feelings. Remember to be gentle with yourself. This habit had served a purpose.
Another aspect of habit change that’s important is to choose a wholesome habit to cultivate as you decrease an unwholesome/unwanted one. It’s valuable to add a habit that feels joyful, meaningful or helps you thrive. In the same spirit as changing an unwanted habit, when you choose a wholesome habit to develop, create small, concrete steps to follow. Take one step at a time and be patient.
Changing a habit on your own can feel challenging and overwhelming. I invite you to contact me for support. You don’t have to do this alone.
Well, this year has been quite a wild one so far. I hope you're taking good care of yourself.
Due to COVID-19, our lives have changed in many ways. Some of us have circumstances that allow us to work from home, and all of us are encouraged to limit our time outside of our homes this year. I've spent some of my shelter-in-place time reading books and listening to podcasts.
Here's a partial list of books and podcasts that I've found worthwhile:
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection by Sharon Salzberg
Your Undivided Attention
Being Well with Dr. Rick Hanson
The Science of Happiness
The Ezra Klein Show
May you continue to take good care and be as well as is possible during this challenging time.
I had the pleasure and honor of being on my good friend's radio show, Radical Advice this week. The show is live on Tuesdays from 10:00a-12:00p on www.bff.fm and each episode is archived into the iTunes podcast app. Check out the episode, during which we practiced and talked about mindfulness, listened to some music and answered listeners' questions. Find this episode in the October 2017 archives in Itunes.
Take a moment to breathe in deeply and breathe out fully. Most people don’t pay much attention to this essential component of living. Yet, the breath is perpetually with us, providing information to the brain and the body.
The breath interacts with the autonomic nervous system, which is composed of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system activates the body; it is sometimes referred to as the “fight, flight, freeze” system. When the brain registers danger, whether real or perceived, it sends messages to the sympathetic nervous system to prepare for action: increase heart rate, breathe shallower, etc. Alternatively, when someone is relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated; sometimes called the “rest and digest” system. When the brain registers absence of danger, it sends messages to the body to slow down the heart rate, deepen breathing, etc.
Since the breath is a function we can regulate, there is a simple technique that can be used to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and help the brain and body calm down. This can be especially useful if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed or stressed. The instructions are written below. You may want to read through the text before trying it out or practice as your read.