Creating Healthy Habits — Why is it so damn hard?
One of my clients recently asked me this question. I am sure that this is a question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another. I know that I personally have asked this question when I wanted to know why I couldn’t learn to use my body differently overnight, why I couldn’t maintain better eating habits past the second week of trying or why I couldn’t maintain over time my new habit of believing that I am enough just as I am.
My answer to this client came to me as if it were a present from the universe. I stated that creating habits is exactly like learning to meditate. When we practice meditating, we often hear practitioners refer to our wandering thoughts as a dog that wanders away. The same is true for our minds when we meditate. When people meditate, they focus on something: a candle, a word or phrase, or their breath, noting its inhalations and exhalations. Often our mind will wander and begin thinking random thoughts, such as, “I need to get milk at the grocery store,” or “I wonder what I should wear today.” Meditators are taught to watch their thoughts like a neutral witness; say to themselves, “There has been thinking”; and return to focusing on whatever they originally were trying to focus on. For most people, this is an arduous practice, as it was for me this morning. My mind just kept wandering away like a very curious dog. I kept reining it in, but it kept wandering away. So, that became my practice — the practice of returning to my point of focus.
Learning any new habit is exactly the same. We will fall off the bandwagon and default to our old behaviors many times. So, there are two questions about this phenomenon. Why does this happen? And what can we do to work past this so as to create new, healthy habits?
First of all, it’s important to see how the mind works in this area. Every time we have an experience, our minds are in one of three states: unconscious, aware or self-aware. The unconscious and aware states are far more developed than the state of self-awareness. Let me explain with an example. I like to eat snack food in the evenings. If I eat snack food every evening as I watch TV without thinking about it or watching how much I am shoveling into my mouth, I am unconscious. If I see myself as I am having a snack in the evening, then I am aware. However, if while having a snack I start asking myself questions — “Why am I having a snack?” “Am I hungry?” or “What am I getting out of this?” — my mind begins to become self-aware. We start becoming self-aware by asking our inner self questions and allowing the inner self to respond. In other words, we are not rationalizing the behavior. We are honestly listening for our personal truth to that question.
The interesting tidbit of knowledge is that the unconscious state is where all our habits (both healthy and unhealthy) live. Therefore, our goal is not only to create healthy habits, but also to have them become so automatic to us that they live in our unconscious state of mind.
It’s important to remember that when we wish to create change in our lives, we are changing habits that are taking place on an unconscious level. Therefore, change requires us to slow down and become mindful of what we are doing in order to insert the change we wish to see. Most of us tend to lead inordinately busy lives, running here and there continuously. Raise your hand if this sounds like you. While we are running hither and beyond trying to get everything on our to-do list accomplished, we leave self-awareness and fall to our unconscious state, where all our habits that we may want to change occur. In this state, we may have habits like shopping, drinking alcohol, exercising, and working all to excess, etc., that continue to exist because we are just trying to get through the day and check things off the almighty to-do list instead of utilizing new habits that support our core values.
Initiating and implementing new, healthy habits requires slowing down and becoming self-aware. It also requires a ton of practice, regularity and a heap of self-kindness for those times when we do wander and go back to our old habits! That’s bound to happen, so instead of beating yourself up for eating those two pieces of pie and tons of holiday cookies, give yourself a break. Notice what you ate, be compassionate with yourself and gently return to where you want your focus to be. It is not enough to want to do something differently. It’s important to realize that we have been employing other habits of behavior for a very long time. So, be sure to add a truckload of self-awareness, a bottomless pit of self-compassion and a bunch of regular practice for your new, healthy habits.
I would love to give you three simple steps to making new habits part of your typical routine, but I would be lying to say that changing yourself is easy. Changing ourselves for the better is one of the most courageous things we can do. So, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat someone you love as you attempt the courageous act of creating new, healthy habits for yourself!
And with that, I am off to do a round of physical therapy exercises.
Also, if you want some support as you jump on the path to create a healthier you, please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to support you on your journey!
Remember that my new book club adventure on Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly begins Saturday, Jan. 11 ! Registration is open. All you need is $99 to hold your spot! You won’t want to miss this amazing opportunity. Check out this awesome flyer!
I thought I would share this lovely quote by Mary Anne Radmacher, which reminds me that it doesn’t matter how many times I fall. All that matters is that I get back up!
Maintaining New Year’s Resolutions can be one of the most challenging things we do. Whether you are trying to exercise more, have a more positive attitude, lose weight, spend more time with those you love or spend more time taking care of yourself, learning to grow as an individual is downright courageous. Remember that you will slide. Expect it and realize that does not have to be a sign to give up. Realize that you are on a journey to be a better you. Knowing that, remember that each moment of every day is a new opportunity to return back to your new habits that support your core values.
Maybe this Ralph Marston slide show can help us all remember that it is perfectly fine to start anew in each moment!
Until next time,
Safe Space Life Coaching