New Year’s Evolutions

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Stars over time, by Zach Dischner via Flickr

I’ve talked in this space about moving from habit to choice, and how Rubenfeld Synergy and other mindfulness work helps to stop ourselves before we engage in an old habit, and have the option to do something else.

But if we are, as the man said, what we repeatedly do, then habits are what most profoundly shape us. At this time of year when there is a lot of pressure to “start fresh” with New Year’s resolutions, fraught with unrealistic fitness goals and promises we rarely manage to maintain past February, it’s important to look at how move from from habit, to choice, to better habits, in a way that is not doomed to failure.

Try this experiment this year: instead of making New Year’s resolutions like “get in shape,” “finish my novel,” and “call my mother more often,” consider making a single, specific habit-changing move each month. Establishing a new habit – or breaking an old one – takes time; the 21-day number turns out to be a myth, but doing something for many days in a row does help cement it. Starting on my birthday this year, I managed to establish a daily meditation practice after years of struggling. I even took off for the week of Christmas, and have gotten back on it again without any trouble.

How did I do it? Not by promising myself a 20 minute session every day. I got a meditation timer app for my phone, chose a pleasant sounding chime, set up a place to do it where I’d be comfortable, and pledged five minutes a day, preferably in the morning right when I wake up.

It worked, because the goal was specific, achievable, and not too time-consuming. Doing just five minutes meant that it wasn’t much time out of my day, so I didn’t have to really “set aside time” for it. (Now that I’m up to 7 minutes, I feel like a champ!) Doing it in the morning means I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and light my candle, and though I’m barely awake I’m awake enough to sit still for five minutes, and then I feel the accomplishment of having done it. Doing it every day…makes it into a new habit, one that’s peaceful, good for me, and expandable. (I’m planning to go up to 10 minutes soon.)

You’re going to be much more successful, for example, if you decide to, say, not eat after 8pm for a month, or change out your lunchtime bag of chips for an apple, than if you decide to “change your diet.” Small, specific changes, sustained over a period, tend to accumulate.

So enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Do whatever you do, make toasts, and make resolutions if that’s your thing. (I’ll be doing it. It’s a habit. 😉 But this year, see if lasting change is possible. Start small. Listen to your body. And hey, let me know how it goes.

Happy New Year, everyone.

New Year's Evolutions

5290873034_786ec5eba8_b

Stars over time, by Zach Dischner via Flickr

I’ve talked in this space about moving from habit to choice, and how Rubenfeld Synergy and other mindfulness work helps to stop ourselves before we engage in an old habit, and have the option to do something else.

But if we are, as the man said, what we repeatedly do, then habits are what most profoundly shape us. At this time of year when there is a lot of pressure to “start fresh” with New Year’s resolutions, fraught with unrealistic fitness goals and promises we rarely manage to maintain past February, it’s important to look at how move from from habit, to choice, to better habits, in a way that is not doomed to failure.

Try this experiment this year: instead of making New Year’s resolutions like “get in shape,” “finish my novel,” and “call my mother more often,” consider making a single, specific habit-changing move each month. Establishing a new habit – or breaking an old one – takes time; the 21-day number turns out to be a myth, but doing something for many days in a row does help cement it. Starting on my birthday this year, I managed to establish a daily meditation practice after years of struggling. I even took off for the week of Christmas, and have gotten back on it again without any trouble.

How did I do it? Not by promising myself a 20 minute session every day. I got a meditation timer app for my phone, chose a pleasant sounding chime, set up a place to do it where I’d be comfortable, and pledged five minutes a day, preferably in the morning right when I wake up.

It worked, because the goal was specific, achievable, and not too time-consuming. Doing just five minutes meant that it wasn’t much time out of my day, so I didn’t have to really “set aside time” for it. (Now that I’m up to 7 minutes, I feel like a champ!) Doing it in the morning means I roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and light my candle, and though I’m barely awake I’m awake enough to sit still for five minutes, and then I feel the accomplishment of having done it. Doing it every day…makes it into a new habit, one that’s peaceful, good for me, and expandable. (I’m planning to go up to 10 minutes soon.)

You’re going to be much more successful, for example, if you decide to, say, not eat after 8pm for a month, or change out your lunchtime bag of chips for an apple, than if you decide to “change your diet.” Small, specific changes, sustained over a period, tend to accumulate.

So enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Do whatever you do, make toasts, and make resolutions if that’s your thing. (I’ll be doing it. It’s a habit. 😉 But this year, see if lasting change is possible. Start small. Listen to your body. And hey, let me know how it goes.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Wednesday Sway: Taking flight

Three bikes on the canal bridge in Amsterdam, by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

Three bikes on the canal bridge in Amsterdam, by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

I’m going out of town at the end of this week, and I’m not going to be super-available by email or phone between July 25 and August 8. I’m thrilled to report that I will be traveling in Europe, for the first time in 20 years, and most of the places I will visit will be for the first time, period.

This trip in particular has got me moving with the idea of spontaneity. If there’s a single kind of movement I’d like to restore in my life, spontaneity is it. I’ve come to recognize that, especially when planning a trip, I can get very caught up in the little details, and very anxious that everything be planned in advance.

A long walk and talk with my partner in this journey helped me unpack, as it were, some of what is going on for me here. Raised in an atmosphere of uncertainty and lacking a sense of security, I often didn’t know what I would be doing or where I would be living next. Vacations, when I had them, seemed to pop up out of nowhere, suddenly, and holidays – which became very important to me – were often chaotic. In my teenage years, I often felt like plans could change on a dime, and things I was looking forward to could get randomly cancelled and changed without notice. I often felt left in “wait and see” mode, in a kind of suspended animation until decisions I had no part in were made around me. The message I took from this was: if you don’t do it yourself, it won’t happen.

As I became an adult, I tried everything I could to make special occasions special, and to make trips worthwhile. This resulted in a lot of nitpicky planning, especially since money was also often tight. I tended to get more and more stressed out with every event, trip or occasion, worried that we wouldn’t get to see everything, do everything, make everything perfect.

Naturally, this way of being isn’t easeful for anyone around me, and it also keeps me from having as good a time as I could.

My partner, in contrast, grew up traveling the world with his small family. They went everywhere – cycling across Europe, diving in Fiji – and they traveled lightly. They would find places to stay as they went, take the less beaten path when something interesting presented itself, have guidebooks on hand but go without a strict itinerary in mind. This left a sweet taste in my partner’s mouth: not planning too much means I can relax, and that I’m secure enough to do things on the fly.

So as I prepare to take this trip, I notice myself getting anxious, shoulders tightening, breath short, as I peer at my packing lists and things to do and stress over things like whether we have time to visit Alsace or not, because it runs parallel to the route we’re taking through the Black Forest.

And then I think of my partner, take a breath, and think about what it’s going to be like to be in a tiny European car with him, tooling through gorgeous countryside and seeing what kinds of adventures we stumble upon. And then my breath lengthens, my shoulders descend, and I can almost feel the warm summer breeze off the Rhine on my face.

I look forward to seeing you all when I return.