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.

Moving from habit to choice, part 2: true is not the same as right

A long while back, I made a post about akrasia: our tendency to do things we know are bad for us in spite of ourselves.  Recently, I’ve been trying to make a fairly major dietary change in myself, based on a bunch of research and things I’ve observed to be healthier for my overall state than the Standard American Diet.

Unfortunately, though, giving up a lot of the junk – and in particular, ditching grains and sugar – tends to have a mixed effect in the first few weeks I try it.  For the first week I tend to feel pretty great – energized, satiated, filled with foods that are nourishing to me.  Around the end of the first week, though, I tend to get tired, even a bit depressed: sleeping too long, not feeling motivated, and at times, having brain-fog.

For these reasons, I’ve never made it past the 2-week mark on any kind of lower-carb diet.  According to a lot of people who try them, though, the first two weeks are the hardest, as your body adjusts; after that, chronic pains and symptoms start to disappear, body composition changes, energy levels rise, and so on and so forth.

I’m looking forward to that bit, but it’s awfully hard to get past the initial messages of the body in the moment – especially for someone who has studied and believes in the power of the body’s truth!  How can I listen to my body saying, “Gee, I’d be a lot happier if you gave me a cookie right now,” and ignore it?  Or more generally: where is the line between listening to your body with the knowledge that it always tells the truth, and getting stuck in bad habits because you can’t get past the body’s usual patterns?

Depression and anxiety can both have these problems, where we get caught in loops of what we think we want versus what would be best for us.  “I just want to sleep,” our depressed brain might say to us, when getting up and moving around would do us the most good.  “Eat that cookie,” says some part of me, and another part – ostensibly my brain – says, “No, have this apple instead.”  What do we do when our bodies – which we’ve established can only tell the truth in the present moment – are telling us to do things that don’t benefit us?

This is part of the trick of getting to know ourselves in all of our parts, as a prayer I’m fond of goes.  While getting to know our bodies and listen to their messages is essential to optimum health, it’s important not to mistake “always telling the truth” for “being an unerring guide for action.”  It takes our thinking, reasoning minds and our wise, compassionate spirits to translate the bare truths of our bodies into appropriate actions.

I believe that the more we listen to our bodies’ truths, the more often our thoughts, emotions and bodies come into alignment, or congruence, with one another.  At times like this, though, there are old patterns to get past: things my body has been doing for so long that they seem like the only right way.  If we carefully listen, and carefully honor ourselves, making life changes does get easier.  But it’s never a piece of cake.  Or an apple, for that matter.