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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mindfulness - Making good habits

Dafne Cholet, Flickr

Getting rid of bad habits is important, but making new ones is just as critical. 

First, because you can't simply let go of a bad habit without replacing it with another, better one: facing the void is too hard, especially when the reason the bad habit exists in the first place is to cover some deep dissatisfaction. Personal anecdote: A dietitian I once consulted for advice on how to stop eating my emotions (I would go for sweets whenever I felt tired, stressed or bored) recommended that I find another pleasant activity to engage in, ideally an activity that would prevent me from eating sweets, such as going for a brisk walk, talking to a friend, or taking a bubble bath. 

Second, because good habits are the number one step toward structuring our life in a way that enables us to live according to our values, and reach our goals. Forget about your bad habits: the only way you will build a life that makes you feel good about yourself is by adopting good habits.

The thing is, implementing (and maintaining) good habits is hard. That's because it takes us out of our comfort zone... but I think it is also because we look at them from the wrong angle: we see good habits as things we "should" do... if only we were a "good" person. I have a different take on them: good habits are the things that ultimately make you feel good, physically and mentally. Therefore, good habits are a gift we give ourselves. NOT some sort of painful coercion.

Of course, going from theory to practice takes some time - and a lot of mindfulness. We need to reconnect with how we really feel. We - erroneously - tend to think that our bad habits are what makes us feel good: after all, spending, eating, drinking and the like tend to give us a "high" which we tend to confuse with actual happiness. Paying attention and being honest with ourselves is the only way to rediscover the true source of well-being. (No, bingeing on beer or chocolate cake is NOT it.)

We also need to take baby steps. It will be difficult, but the beautiful thing about good habits is that they generalize to other good habits: for example, my first yoga instructor used to say that when she started meditating, she automatically started eating healthier, even if she had not consciously planned to. I believe this is true for many good habits. (Smokers who start running have an easier time letting go of smoking.) I personally still tend to gravitate toward sweets when I am tired or dehydrated... so I make sure to sleep enough and to drink water throughout the day - those two good habits help me resist a bad one.

Which takes us to some of the good habits you might want to start forming. (I recommend starting with one, and only adding additional good habits one at a time, when the previous one is more or less "mastered".)

You could make it a habit to:

  • Go to bed earlier
  • Wake up half an hour earlier in order to squeeze in some exercise or some meditation (both wonderful ways to start a day, they energize AND make you peaceful at the same time)
  • Eat a tall glass of water as soon as you get up, and carry a water bottle with you all day
  • Include actual fruit with each breakfast (better than juice)
  • Carry a healthy snack with you for sudden cravings
  • Make sure both lunch and supper include a big portion of vegetables
  • Walk or bike whenever possible (as opposed to taking the car)
  • Do simple body weight exercises and stretches while you watch TV (if you watch TV)
  • Do a quiet activity before bedtime, such as reading a book, writing a gratitude journal, or taking a bath

Whether I "feel like it" or not, I know for a fact that whenever I include those good habits in my daily life, I feel much better. Even if the rest of the day doesn't go quite according to plan, I know that I did at least a few things right, and I feel more motivated to make other right choices.

What new habit do you feel like making?

Mindfulness this Week

I will look at my daily schedule and see if I can tweak a few things in order to include more of the "right choices". I will NOT focus on my bad choices. I will trust that by implementing good habits, the bad ones will slowly fade away.

Tell us what you come up with.

Be part of the process: 

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  1. YES YES YES!!
    I adore this post as Im really striving to live it.

  2. One of your best, and I will share this later in the week.

    One virtue I attempt to teach my clients is to use small inclusions and exclusions in seeking change -- primarily in eating as it applies to them, but can be superimposed on any ideal.

    A simple inclusion: Regardless of what else they eat all day long, I simply ask them to eat and apple and a cheese stick mid-morning for 3 weeks.

    If they are successful for 3 weeks we switch to an exclusion.

    A simple exclusion: Don't add cream to their coffee for 3 weeks, and keep up the apple and cheese stick.

    This process is so slow, even Darwin would have been repulsed by it. However, by adding a new inclusion every 6 weeks, alternating with a new exclusion every six weeks (equating to a new change every 3 weeks), my clients who adhere to this usually succeed.

    Food for thought...

    1. I like the small inclusions and exclusions idea! Slow and steady also means sustainable. It works. :-)

  3. Ha! There are certainly too many situations where people replace bad habits with other bad habits. You don't want to repeat the old tricks in new disguises!

    1. Yes, and that's why I'm putting together a list of good and bad habits, in the hope that I won't confuse the two! ;-)