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.

Just breathe.

I had a great insight from a client this week, and as usual, it was something so simple, yet so hard to grasp for most people.  Ilana Rubenfeld used to talk about “a-ha moments,” and a wonderful classmate of mine in the Rubenfeld training talked about “duh-huh moments.” Coming to realizations like this can seem like the latter at times, but in my experience, that’s when you know they’re really important.

The realization was this: to go inward, the very first step is to breathe.

In this fast-paced world, it can be very easy for us to forget ourselves, to forget self-care, and to forget that in order to be effective in the world and helpful to others, we have to make sure we are clear. But some people don’t even know how to begin to go inward, rather than constantly reaching out for validation, for activity, for distraction, for love.

Here’s the answer: breathe, and pay attention to your breathing.

There is nothing so simple and effective as listening to your own breath to bring you into the moment, to connect you with yourself, and to begin to understand what is going on inside your own body and heart. You don’t need to believe in chakras or chi, you don’t have to hold crystals or light candles or believe in any gods or even take long walks in the woods (though I recommend that). You don’t even have to do anything as radical as talking to your body and seeing what it says back. Just take ten seconds, right now, to breathe out whatever is currently clogging up your mental works, then slowly let your lungs fill up again.  Then, do it again.  One more time.

Just breathe, as the song says. And see what happens to your mind, your body, your heart.

I dare you.

 

Am I awake right now?

I have Google set up to send me articles about body/mind topics, and sometimes links come along that I never would have found on my own.  Like this little gem from the Times of Swaziland (Swaziland!).

It’s a fairly simple article on mindfulness, but I found its messages to be particularly poetic and true.  Some highlights:

“Even though we may not understand life, we should savour it.”

“We are not really in search of meaning but, rather, moments of ‘aliveness.’”

“As we allow our innate imagination and creativity to lead the way, we start to process our lives and understand just how ‘fictional’ we really are. We become characters in our own story, we create and witness our own past; not with judgment but with compassion.”

“Mindfulness is living as if every moment really matters, through continuous, non-judgmental, awareness. A simple way to bring your attention to the present is to ask yourself from time to time, ‘am I awake right now?'”

That last one is a question I want to be asking myself continually these days: am I awake right now?  Am I aware of what my body is experiencing, what my mind is thinking about, what my heart is yearning for or peaceful about or sorrowing over?  Am I experiencing this moment?

This morning I’m sitting alone in an apartment, working mostly in natural light.  A gorgeous breeze is working its way over wood surfaces, through the blades of a ceiling fan, and onto me.  I’m going to need to go to the bathroom soon.  My shoulders and neck are a little tense, probably because I’m working with my laptop actually on my lap.  I was distracted by at least three other things while attempting to write this paragraph.  Make that four.

This last part seems especially important: attention, the first step to mindfulness, seems at a premium these days.  There are too many things to do, too little time to do them in, and too many other things clamoring for our focus.  And divided focus is ultimately no focus at all.

Yet we get things done.  We muddle through.  We accomplish things, or at least, complete them.  We do our jobs, love our families, manage our homes, if we have all of those things.  But mindfulness, besides all of its other well-researched benefits, maybe can help us enjoy it all a bit more.

Am I awake right now?

Almost.  Part of my head is planning the rest of my day and getting all stressed and confused about it.  I still have to go to the bathroom.  I’m trying to maintain a conversation over Google Chat about plans for the weekend.  Definitely awake, definitely conscious, but divided.

We seem to live in a world of division.  Divided attention, divided selves.  Even in my work we talk about body, mind, emotions and spirit, as if they were really four different things – because we have a goal of integrating them, getting them all moving in the same direction.  It’s the tradeoff for all the amazing benefits of human consciousness that we constantly live in this divide: we are always simultaneously living and observing ourselves living, being physically present in one place but mentally present somewhere else, feeling the complex, multilayered pull of all of our parts.

I do it again: am I awake right now?

What about now?

And now?