How to Change Habits

good-habits-bad-habits

I’ve got quite a few habits I’d like to change, and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. From daily actions I take that harm me more than help me, to automatic thoughts that limits me in major ways, I have plenty of room to grow and change in positive ways. My inspired quest right now is exactly this: how do we change habits in a lasting way? Here’s my brainstorm so far:

1. Mindfulness meditation. This works especially for unconscious, compulsive actions or automatic thinking habits. We keep engaging in habits that don’t serve us because we are not thinking. It’s routine. It’s what we know and find comfortable. It’s a pathway that has been carved in our brain that is of least resistance, much like a river that cuts a pathway through rock and earth will not flow any other way unless a dam is built and a new pathway is carved. This takes a lot of work! Mindfulness meditation can help us wake up from the trance of habitual thinking and action. With practice, we can start to notice the moment we make the decision to act on a habit, or the moment a thought arises that does not serve us. If you want to know more about mindfulness meditation, ask me. It will inspire me to get off on my butt and write!

2. Monitor and change behaviors. This includes several steps.

  • Choose the habit you want to change, and state the habit you want to create positively. For example, instead of, “I am not going to eat crappy food,” you would say, “I am only going to eat healthy foods.” This is important, because your brain follows your thoughts, so if you state what you are NOT going to do, your mind will be more likely to fixate on the forbidden than to focus on the positive change.
  • Commit to creating this new habit. There’s no room for half-assed goals here. You need to make a decision, and it needs to be definite.
  • Consider accountability partners.
  • Break down the practical steps you need to take to actualize the change into your daily life, and make these steps measurable goals. Create a schedule to support these changes. For instance, if my goal is that I want to exercise more, I need to decide how much more, and what I need to do to make my schedule accommodate this. I will then have a definite plan, and it is more likely to become routine. Guess what? Routines become habit!
  • Track your progress. Keep a note of it in your scheduler. Check in with it every day. Feel good when you see yourself doing it more and more.
  • Reward yourself as you meet your goals, that is, if changing the habit and meeting the goals is not reward enough itself!

3. Take it deeper. Sometimes a purely behavioral approach doesn’t work. This is generally because we did not truly commit or because we have deeper work to do around the habit we wish to change. Here are some ideas that you may find fruitful:

  • Examine resistance. A lot of times when we try to change habits, resistance comes up. Looking at this resistance may give you some clues to the deeper issues that may be present.
  • Look at the underlying needs. People engage in bad habits to fill needs that are not being filled in other ways. Ask yourself what is the need you are meeting in engaging in something that you see as unhealthy. Find another way to meet that need.
  • Be compassionate and allow yourself to cheat at times. Rigidity can create a narrow black and white view that makes change impossible. Create some space for yourself to make mistakes. Let yourself breathe, relax, and refocus.
  • Go deeper still. Changing habits can bring core issues to light. Spend some time exploring these issues if you feel they are ripe for healing. Journal. Talk with a friend or counselor. Dream on it. Take time to truly tune into yourself. You are so worth it!

I’ve got a list of 9 new habits I want to create. Now I just need to choose one and take some of my own advice. What about you, readers? Do you have any useful strategies for changing habits that you can share?

Advertisements

The Bare Necessities

Image

It is so wild that I am sitting down to write my first post about my pledge to practice yoga/meditation on a regular basis, and as I look at my blog to see how long I have been doing this, I see that I made this pledge exactly one month ago today. How cosmic is that?

So, the last time I wrote about this, I was high from the San Francisco Salsa Rueda Festival, and I talked about movement as meditation. Since then, I have barely amazingly managed to keep up with my regular practice, and I have come up with some basic guidelines for myself.

1. Dancing does not count. I love to dance, and yes, it is a meditation, but if I count this as part of my regular yoga/meditation practice, I will never do yoga. And I will never sit and meditate. I will just dance, and I already do that so it doesn’t really count.

2. I need to be alone. This is time for me to check in with me, myself, and I. I can sit and stretch and twist all I want when I am around other people, but this is not me checking in with myself. It is merely me extending and exercising my muscles while socializing.

3. Listening to my hypnosis sessions does count, as long as I don’t fall asleep five minutes into it. I got one hypnosis CD for test anxiety, and another for Bruxism (teeth-grinding, which I have learned I do with a vengeance). They have been helping me a lot. I have a lot of anxiety in my life right now, and this is a way for me to stay on top of it. I am learning “to be relaxed more than I ever have before (actual quote from hypnosis CD).”

4. Hatha yoga is very different from sitting meditation, and I need both. Ideally, I would be spending 15 minutes minimum nightly just sitting in meditation, but I need to stretch my body to de-stress. I need more time to devote to both practices, and meditation is getting the short end of the shaft right now, because my body demands to unwind. And that is okay, for now, until I get through this very packed and crazy part of my life (I sense someone snickering and thinking, “The crazy times never end, you fool…”)!

5. My practice is about nurturing myself, not about self-discipline. My life is way too disciplined right now. I am studying for my LCSW exam, and let me tell you, this test is a motherfucker! Serious insomnia inducing, teeth-grinding insanity. And I am not a nervous test-taker. I am also juggling a job where I constantly hear horror stories and try to help people find light in dark places. And then there’s parenting my almost 4-year-old boy who seems to be getting hit by a massive wave of testosterone. My sweet little mama’s boy is now fluctuating between screaming at me, hitting, outright defiance, and extreme clinginess. Patience has been a true necessity that I have sometimes been short on lately. There are plenty of other stressors I could list, but they are either in the past, in the future, or in the not so central present, so i will not get into them, because thinking about them is making me chew my fingernails. The point is, I need quiet time, to give myself what I really need.

I am learning more about what I really need, because filling these needs feels really essential right now. I think I am listening to my deeper needs more than I ever have in my life. Simple things, like: get to sleep at a reasonable hour; cut back on the caffeine, alcohol, and sugar; eat healthy foods and take vitamins; communicate assertively instead of holding things in; don’t spend my precious energy sweating the small stuff; be grateful; and relieve stress with physical activity (including sex!!!).

I already knew all this stuff. These were the “shoulds” that were always in the back of my mind. But somehow, they are becoming the “wants” and the “musts” at the forefront of my mind. Challenging times bring us back to our foundation. I am digging deep and making mine strong.

The Guest House

Quote

The Kiss of Peace 1869 albumen print 36.0 x 27...

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

Enlightenment through Dance

ruedaI am a long time believer in dance as a spiritual practice.

I’ve been learning and practicing a form of dance known as salsa rueda de casino, or simply Salsa Rueda for around 10 years now, and I believe it is an addiction I never will shake. Imagine square dancing in a circle, with an infusion of sensual salsa moves. The caller is also a dancer. It’s a playful and flirtatious dance that is about the most fun I have ever had in my life.

This is how I met my partner (in life, parenting, and dance). It is amazing to be able to share this passion with the person I love. It is especially a blessing that he is such a good dancer; I always appreciate coming back to him after a dance with somebody else!

I spent this weekend in San Francisco at the annual Salsa Rueda Festival. Teachers and dancers arrive from all over the country, actually, all over the world. There are 15-20 classes daily, and parties with dance performances and live music each night. May I repeat: so much fun!

My partner and I took a private class Friday with David Huo. He is the man that is responsible for introducing Salsa to China. He is on Chinese TV every day, and is an amazing dancer, stellar teacher, and a very kind person as well. I have a total and complete dance-crush on him. See him here; you will not be disappointed. It will be three minutes well-spent.

Inspired by three great group classes, plus the private with the master above, I headed out for a night of dancing with my partner and friends. About halfway through the night, after numerous dances and I-lost-track-of-how-many shots of tequila, I arrived at this Zen place.

Mindful movement, especially dance, is meditation. I am pure reception when I get into the zone, my ears open to the music, listening for cues that will tell me how to move my body; and my vision and tactile awareness completely tuned into my partner, picking up pulls and pushes and light touches that tell me what to do and where to go. Complete bliss. Total mindfulness. Highly recommended.

Hold Me Accountable to Myself, Please

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: atsukosmith)

I’ve been running like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland lately. Between studying for my LCSW exam, parenting, working, and keeping up with my social life, I haven’t been allowing myself time to write. More importantly, I haven’t been allowing myself time to take care of myself.

When I don’t take care of me, I tend to get grumpy and melancholic, and I find myself talking to myself in a whiny voice a lot of the time. I get into this victim, “poor me” mindstate, and I forget about how incredibly blessed I am.

When I take just a little bit of time to take care of myself, everything shifts. When I stop and think about everything I have to be grateful for, my whole perspective changes, and suddenly life seems to be so worth it; I don’t want to miss even one moment feeling sorry for myself.

I’ve decided to challenge myself. For the next three months, I am going to spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day meditating and/or doing yoga. I can skip days, but I need to make the time up within a week. This means I need to do a minimum of one hour and forty-five minutes of meditation and/or yoga weekly.

Breaking this down even more, I know I will engage in these practices at least twice weekly, because I simply won’t do this much time in one day. And another great point, if I start my meditation and/or yoga practice on any given evening, it is very, very rare that I spend only 15 minutes. See, the hard part is starting. The challenge is getting myself away from the infinite amount of distractions and bringing myself here, to this present moment. Once I am here, I don’t want to leave.

Tonight, for example, I spent 45 minutes. I did some simple leg stretches, then started working on some swan stretches (not using proper yogic names, I know).

I noticed a weird stitch in my lower back, so I started working on some movement I learned years (& years) ago in a class with a yoga teacher who incorporated continuum movement. Basically, this means I got into hands and knees position, and wiggled and swayed my spine and hips whichever way felt right. This is so simple, yet so powerful, because it gets your body out of its stuck places, out of its habits, and opens it up in new, delicious ways.

Then I did some hip shoulder stretching, lifting my arm up (elbow next to head) and wedging my hand underneath whichever shoulder was stretching, and massaging myself this way, underneath the weight of my body. Complete bliss, and…ahhh.

I then did some sitting meditation (after a brief break from comforting my screaming 3-year-old, who woke up feeling too hot or too stuffy-nosed or whatever). I tried this Happiness Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Breathing in I calm my body.

Breathing out I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.”

I fucking love meditating. And when I don’t do it, I forget, and I think of it as work. But the really great thing is that the effort you put into and progress you make with meditation and yoga does not go away. When you come back, there you are, right where you left off. The wisdom you learn, you learn so deeply, and you naturally apply it to every aspect of your life.

Tonight with the meditation, I remembered something in a book I am reading about how one day for Brahma (the Hindu creator of the world) is 4 billion years for us humans. And I started to think of every second, and how teeny tiny that would be in this perspective. And then, I thought of some insects, who live to be just a few days old, and how maybe for them, in their experience, they have these incredibly long lives with a vast amount of experiences.

Gazing into the infinite also always brings up existential angst for me, but the smiling and the constant coming back to the present moment really helps with that. And the realizing that I need not fear loss and death, because, really I have nothing. I am a part of this cosmic dance, and I am in relation to other people, and I like to believe, or at least hope for, reincarnation, or something after death, in which I am still connected to my loved ones.

So, please, readers, help me on this journey. Hold me accountable to this practice. And join me, if you’d like. I would like, very much.