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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mindfulness - Getting rid of bad habits

Schnappischnap, Flickr

Bad habits. We form them, we maintain them, we curse them. They make our life miserable yet we fail at getting rid of them.

Very few of us could claim to have complete control over what they put in their mouth or what they do with their time, energy and money. Outside, stronger-than-us forces seem to be at play. This is not without consequences for our health, well-being and overall enjoyment of life.

There is a whole market based on helping people get rid of their bad habits. Or, more aptly put, there is a whole market based on making money out of people's dissatisfaction with their bad habits. Most of us are desperately looking for a way to get our life back on track, and most of us are willing to open our wallet in the process, whether we purchase goods or services that offer the promise of a better life. Nutritional supplements, kitchen equipment, storage systems, various accessories, training equipment, programs... they seem to hold the way to our individual holy grail, so we succumb and, over a lifetime, pour hundreds or thousands of dollars into them. Look around yourself and at your credit card statement... most likely you will see things that you purchased in the hope of a better life. Has it worked? Have you lost the weight? Have you reached your goal, whatever it is?

There is also a whole market based on making money out of creating and maintaining bad habits - ask any cigarette or junk food manufacturer, or any casino or shopping mall owner. 

But if dishing out money isn't the solution to getting rid of bad habits, what is? To find an answer to that, we must first identify our most common mistake.

When tackling our bad habits, we tend to focus on the future: in the future I will get rid of this habit. Beginning tomorrow, or January first, or when I turn forty, I will (fill in the blank):

  • eat healthy
  • exercise daily
  • stop smoking
  • stop drinking
  • consume less caffeine
  • go to bed earlier
  • only buy what I need
  • save money/get out of debt
  • get rid of a tic (e.g. biting nails)
  • control my temper
  • invest in good relationships
  • get organized 
  • stop procrastinating
  • get started on that book I want to write
  • meditate daily
  • ditch video games
  • spend less time on social media

After trying to implement change, and seeing that it failed, as it unfortunately most often does, we move to the next step: we try again. It usually fails again. A quick look at the statistics for smoking cessation or weight loss and maintenance will illustrate that clearly. 

Trying and trying might (if we're lucky) take us closer to our goal, it still doesn't tackle the root of the problem, which is: 

Why did we make that bad habit in the first place? 

There is always a reason. Our bad habits don't fall from the sky randomly - they serve a purpose. As long as the purpose is there, our bad habits will thrive. At best we will replace a bad habit with another. But we cannot hope to free ourselves from bad habits as long as we don't stop and think about their origins.

Before we even look at HOW we can change our life, we need to ask ourselves WHY we are not living the life we want to live, WHY we are not reaching our goals, WHY we keep self-sabotaging.

Before we look at the future, we must first determine what, in our past, contributed to the formation of the bad habit, and what, in our present, helps crystallize it, day after day:

What happened in my past that led me to adopt this habit? 

What happens on a daily basis right before I engage in the behavior?

Mindfulness this Week

When I find myself engaging (or about to engage) in a habit I am trying to get rid of, I will ask myself what preceded it:

What happened right before I engaged in the bad habit? What was going on? How was I feeling?

Is this a common pattern for me?

What, in my past, might be the source of this pattern?

Tell us what you come up with.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mindfulness - Meditation

Moyan Brenn, Flickr

"In practicing meditation, we're not trying to live up 
to some kind of ideal - quite the opposite. 
We're just being with our experience, whatever it is."
(Pema Chodron)

Practicing mindfulness, welcoming awareness, slowing down, finding stillness... all prepare you for the practice of meditation.

Imagine a simple, free habit that brings about clarity, focus, lowered levels of stress, and an improved physical health - those are all proven benefits of meditation. 

Meditation is only one letter away from medication and in some cases, it has at least as much power, minus the side effects.

Meditation is a tool that makes it possible, or at least easier, to be in the moment, centered, grounded, which in turn helps you feel and tackle life with more lucidity and serenity. 

Meditation is almost magical in that it allows you to experience a rare luxury, the pause between two thoughts (usually referred to as "the gap"). For most of us with minds working overtime, this constitutes a welcome break.

All that with the bonus of the occasional "epiphany" or blissful moment.

More importantly, meditation is accessible to all.

Contrary to what Madeleine Somerville thinks, meditation is not akin to "sleeping upright". In the beginning, especially, meditating can actually feel like a lot of work. Sitting still, allowing sensations to arise and welcoming them without any judgement, letting your thoughts drift instead of holding on to them, isn't something we are used to do. It's uncomfortable.

The body resists: you feel tense, restless, itchy. You readjust your position many times.

The mind resists: no matter how much you try to just "let them drift away", your thoughts come back circling over your head, insistent, discursive. You might also feel drowsy, which can be another way for your mind to resist the peaceful alertness of meditation.

It takes time. Getting the most out of meditation is similar to getting the most out of a healthy diet or an active lifestyle: it requires dedication and consistency. 

Eventually, the discomfort diminishes and makes way for the wonderful benefits of meditation. 

The daily recommendation for beginners is to meditate for twenty minutes. You might dislike the idea that "nothing gets done" during those twenty minutes or so. But I think that a lot gets done during the time spent in stillness. I even like to say that everything gets done during meditation, since it sets the tone for the rest of your day.

Will you try it?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, you could sit for a few minutes every day, close your eyes, and see what happens.

For more on meditation, click here.  

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Mindfulness - Stillness

h.koppdelaney, Flickr

"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, 
live in the moment, live in the breath." 
(Amit Ray)

Did you slow something down this week? I hope you were able to give yourself the gift of a more reasonable pace. As we slow down our movements, the hamster wheel in our head also tends to slow down. That allows a growing awareness to come to the surface, which in turn helps us make better decisions: 

  1. We finish one thing before moving on to the next (in our actions but also in thought), which brings about better results and lower stress levels
  2. We feel a simple need before it becomes overwhelming, and fulfill it right away: thirst, hunger, fatigue, and even the need to use the washroom
  3. We notice that we are feeling tense, uneasy, and that it translates into our mood (irritable), body posture (furrowed eyebrows, clenched jaws or fists, raised shoulders), and breath (shallow and fast) - we regain power over those manifestations of stress, the next step being the recognition and tackling of what caused that stress (A thought? An event? The presence of a person?)
  4. We realize that we need a break before things get worse: we go to bed earlier instead of carrying exhaustion from one day to the next; we apply ice to an injury before inflammation sets in; we tackle a budding migraine immediately; we allow ourselves a moment to reflect on a stressful situation
  5. We avoid conflict by being present to the real issues at play instead of reacting impulsively and "taking things personal": we know it's not always "about us", but rather about an unfulfilled need or a discomfort that belongs to our interlocutor - seeing things from that angle helps us keep our calm

The magic thing about slowing down is that it eventually leads to the ability to experience stillness. That stillness itself doesn't have to last very long. What matters more than its duration is the quality of that stillness. Here are some examples:

  1. We can pause during a conversation and really listen to what others are saying instead of planning our next response
  2. We can pause during a meal and really savour what we're eating
  3. We can pause when interacting with nature and appreciate its beauty - it can be as simple as the song of a bird as you step outside, the colors in the sky, the smell of a flower, or even a ray of light coming into the house - nature is right outside the window but we often ignore it
  4. We can pause while music plays, and give it our full attention
  5. We can pause during a hug and feel our "heart melt"
  6. We can pause during a stretch to feel how good it is for our muscles
  7. We can simply pause for a few deep breaths

Even a short pause, if it is made of true stillness, is often enough to "reset" our mind and body. Will you try it this week?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, find moments to take a real pause and be still, even if it was only for a minute or two. If you give yourself that gift, I am certain that you will feel the difference. Then share about your discoveries!

Be part of the process: 

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