Dissolving a Habit

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The sink in my new home is across from the stove to the right instead of beside me to the left, the way it was in my old place. No big deal, except each time I want the sink I turn to the left before I realize that it’s the other way.

This habit of turning to the left worked well in the old kitchen situation but doesn’t here. That’s the way it is with habits. They may have worked before but now, they don’t.

50shousewifeNo, not really me.:)

Habits exist so that we don’t have to think so much.

Imagine if we didn’t create habits. We’d be rethinking all things all the time. We’d be up in the middle of the night deciding which way to get to the bathroom, or thinking about how to form the letter “a” while trying to write our thoughts.

We’d be exhausted and still never get beyond inventing the wheel…or to the toilet in time.

Habits, a.k.a, patterns, put us on “automatic,” resulting in large parts of our lives being better. Easier.

We can thank our brains for this ability to be efficient.     Basal_Ganglia_and_Related_Structures.svg

The Basal Ganglia, is a big player in habit making.

Every habit we have serves a purpose, some way it made our life better at the time we made it, though that purpose may not be as simple, or obvious, as getting to the sink quickly with a hot pot of pasta.

So what to do when a pattern no longer helps us?

When the mindlessness of “automatic” makes it difficult to be as healthy, productive, creative, kind, or as loving as we desire it’s time for a change.

Luckily, our brilliant brains are adaptable too. Some patterns re-adjust or shift on their own, subconsciously, the same way they are made. I’m sure that I’ll soon have a new pattern in the kitchen and that cute little spin I do at the stove will disappear.

It’s trickier when a habit  doesn’t change on its own.

If it’s an old habit, chances are it’s not going to shift as easily as my kitchen example. At this point, dissolving a pattern requires coaxing its reasons for being out from the gray world of rote behavior into the brighter light of gentle inquisitiveness.

It requires mindfulness.

And a plan.

A plan unique to you.

I hope you’ll use the following 5 elements to craft such a plan. When I work with clients I use these very same elements. A recent client stopped smoking, another is exercising every day, and another is making different food choices. I quit biting my nails years ago by incorporating these elements into a plan.

  • Do things that help you learn about yourself and your body like journaling, meditation,  PauseAbilities,yoga, therapy, energy work.
  • Find ways to quiet the judging and shaming yourself for having this habit, or waiting too long or not moving fast enough or whatever way you shame or “should” yourself.
  •  Start learning about the needs you are meeting by maintaining this habit. There can be more than one current one, and older ones too.
  • A. Cut down slowly and intentionally. B. Introduce new behavior that meets the needs behind the habit.
  • Celebrate the small victories! They add up and keep momentum flowing.

All 5 elements are equally important to creating the type of plan that doesn’t emphasize outer or inner work, but integrates the two.If you like this, please share it. Responses, comments and questions are always welcome.


Wednesday Words

confidence myth #2_bPerfectionism is one of the biggest obstacles to self- confidence.

There are many myths about confidence, and, there are terrific practices to help us stay connected to our confidence and to develop more. While we actively increase our internal and external assets, it’s important to look at the patterns of thinking and believing that get in the way of self- confidence too.

I didn’t even know I was dealing with perfectionism until I started to explore patterns of behavior like avoidance, procrastination, and refusing to say Yes! when a good opportunity came my way and then regretting it.   “Who me? A perfectionist? Me, who can’t even ….” as I went on to list all the ways I wasn’t perfect enough to even call myself a perfectionist — Oh my.

So I did some experimenting. I acted like I was using perfectionistic thinking even though I wasn’t sure. I took to observing where the “never going to be good enough” voices were so quiet and powerful I barely was aware of how quickly I reacted to them.  And yup, the data showed me that it was time to take a look at how to interact with this “stuff.”

If you want more self-confidence, find yourself doubting your skills, avoid things you really want, and then doubt that you even want them, you might experiment with seeing how perfectionism shows up for you.

If you are already experimenting, I’d love to hear how it’s going.



Meditation Monday Day #36: It’s Getting Better All The Time

meditation Monday large text boxSince last time:

Last week I was stuck and wondering if I could start meditating again after two days without and avoiding the third one. Then I went for a walk. Even though I didn’t want to meditate and even though my critters were YELLING at me to DO IT ALREADY, I chose kindness instead. Out walking, I listened to the crunch of my feet on the two day old snow and when I got back, without even thinking, I sat, breathed and counted. So much ease from a simple act of mercy. From then on I had no trouble choosing to sit and settle.

Two days ago, I even attempted to meditate in the passenger seat while my husband drove. Quite the challenge that. Each bump and swerve grabbed my attention. Hey, I tried.

Mostly during the week though, I noticed a habit of rushing the breaths as I neared 100. The thoughts went,  “Be done, be done, c’mon done.”  This tendency to barely put up with “here,” so I can get to “there,” matches a way of being in my life in general, a pattern. Right now, I’m halfway off the chair because I can hear visitors in the living room.

Instead, I’m slowing down, pausing, to give this moment my full attention. Breath comes more easily. Warmth is spreading around my collarbone, softening the bones and blurring my edges.  It’s Getting Better All The time pops into  my head.

Talk to me. How’s it going for you?

Have you noticed that it’s so much better when other people tackle a disciplined practice along with you?  It would be fantastic if you were doing it too. We can share stories – or not. You can just read, lurk about and observe – your call.

Want to ask a private question? email: judy@moveintochange.com

Related articles & photo credit:
  • photo detail from Breathing by Anne Lindberg at the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Also,I came across this today. It’s a fairly straight forward and very short explanation of why meditation is good for us and some basics about getting started. Could be useful.  http://www.youtube.co/watch?v=paTULfNHkWY
  • You might want to check out moveintochange.com too. That’s where there’s info about coaching and coaching with me. Go… and then go forth and tell your friends.

Ask Judy #4: The Problem With “Why” or Try a Little Tenderness

“Why” is a fantastic question. So, this post isn’t an effort to remove it from our language, or anything remotely like that. Lately though, I’ve been listening to how some of us use Why questions against ourselves, against other people or situations, mostly unknowingly, or let’s say, unintentionally.

For example, I have a client who has just begun to notice the power of her inner critters (critics). She has become aware of how difficult it is for her to accept acknowledgment from others, or celebrate her own strengths and accomplishments – big or small.

I’ll stop here and state how cruddy it is to want to feel good and to then notice the pattern of perpetuating the not feeling good. Ouch, yuck, and – what use is self awareness if I still feel cruddy anyway? Oh yeah, I know this one really well.

Back to my client, call her Teresa. Teresa wants things in her life to change. She wants out of the patterns that she sees are holding her back. And, she’s in that place where she’s sick of the old, but when she starts to get a glimpse of the new (and how to go about taking small steps to change her pattern) the Why questions start.

Why do I have this pattern?” Why don’t I just change already? Why do I always do this? And, my all time favorite, “Why, if I can see what’s wrong, don’t I just act on what I know?”

That last question can be the subject of this blog for the rest of my life, so let’s leave it alone for now and move on to, the problem with why. Don’t get me wrong, finding out  why a pattern began is valuable work. But, have you noticed that the Why questions above (or substitute your own)  really aren’t about loving inquiry into what might be under a pattern, but more of, well, blaming?

Mostly blaming ourselves.

Why, in this context, is about looking for what’s Wrong.  Under the guise of figuring it out, we look for the bad, or really, who’s been bad (and guess who that turns out to be?). And, on top of that, we’ve  convinced ourselves that answering the question will bring us the relief we seek. In my experience, this doesn’t happen. The answer isn’t in the reason, but in the relationship with the reason, but that’s also a subject for a future blog potentially titled, “Needing to Know.”

Back to Why. When working with young children, I learned pretty early that, why, as in, “Why did you hit johnny with that truck?” goes nowhere productive. When you ask why in that situation here’s what happens:

  • Jenna, who hit Johnny with the truck, may not know why.
  • Asking why makes Jenna feel stupid, confused and possibly humiliated that she doesn’t know, ’cause if you’re asking her, the expectation is that she should know.
  • AND, she probably hit Johnny because she was scared, angry, or hurt and she didn’t know how to deal with it.
  • That’s pretty overwhelming as it is, and Why from an adult just scares her more.
  • Scared = flight, fight or freeze.
  • The answers you will get at this point are; stone faced silence, running away, “I don’t know” or some version of, it was Johnny’s fault.

See how that works? This post is too long already, so I won’t go into what might be happening for Johnny.

We aren’t much different from Jenna except that now we get to be both scared child and interrogator.  Asking why, when we’re feeling terrible just adds to the confusion and/or self-loathing we already feel.  We think we “should” know, we “should” be able to do something about it and we “shouldn’t”  try anything new (or fall back while we’re learning) unless we can know why there’s a problem in the first place.  Gaaaah.

The first thing to do here is the opposite of analyzing the problem. Why can’t help us here. But tenderness can.  Finding some intentional practice of listening to ourselves with tender regard, as we would hold a tiny seedling that we need to re-pot, or watch a bird hatch from its egg, can bring relief. From here, we are free to know more about what we might really need to do to move forward.

There are lots of great practices to investigate. You might try Exploring the Perimeter, it’s a good start. When I’m really desperate, I pick a part of my body I feel pretty neutral about – like my thumbs- and I sense them (eyes closed) with as much patient gentleness as I can possibly stand for as long as I can.

Listening to Otis singing Try A Little Tenderness here couldn’t hurt either.

Stuck In A Rut

Stuck in a rut. Hmm…what does that mean?

A rut: a path, a channel,a track, a trench. When it comes to creating ease, a rut can be a good thing. Those first few runs down the snowy hill with a sled are tough going, but after multiple trips that pack down the snow – wheeeee! Getting into a groove- we want that. In the 60’s “groovy” meant filled with cool, ease and, like man, way fun.

Learning is like that. Establishing patterns is like that. So what happens to make an established pathway, a safe and well maintained superhighway, you might say, feel – er, not so super.

One thing that happens is our life situations change, and while we change and grow along with those situations,  the  pathway we established to support the “old” us, doesn’t help us anymore. In fact, since other parts have grown and this part hasn’t, it can actually hinder forward motion. This can feel like struggle, frustration, even anger, and this saps our self-esteem.

Another thing that happens is we lose sight of the meaning of the routine. We get complacent. We had set up patterns (consciously or unconsciously) to help us feel safe during change, but the routine becomes an end unto itself, instead of a series of steps to get us though something difficult or on to somewhere new.

Before we know it, we are “going through the motions.” We are no longer participating, but we’re are hoping that the motions will stand in for meaning. Nope. Boredom, apathy and lethargy can be signs that this is what’s happening.

Stuck in a rut can look like a small thing, like realizing that the, walk to kitchen -> make coffee while grumbling,  morning routine used to set you up for the day, but now, you don’t even notice the taste of the coffee. Or it could be bigger, like waking up to the fact that the work you dreamed about doing and thought you would be buried doing, no longer makes you feel anywhere near good anymore (that was me two years ago).

What to do? First, change something. Change something small. Have tea. Get a new mug. Practice paying attention. Small changes beget bigger ones. Ask the part of you that dismisses the small thing as pitiful compared to the big change that’s really needed, to please take a break while you play a bit.

This video is artist Levni Yilmaz ‘s take on getting out of rut – it’s funny- and you’ll understand how it applies to you, cause you’re smart.

Post #12: In which I ask for help naming something

I’m searching for a name for an experience I have and it’s likely that others have it too.

It’s that moment when I learn something again, and somehow this time it means something more than before.

I’m not talking about the third time my jacket gets caught on my bag and I finally decide to fix it. Nor, is it when the critical part of me says, “You here, again? Again?” when I repeat a pattern that lands me in emotional pain.

No, this moment, the one I don’t have a name for (yet), could come as a result of working through those situations, but it isn’t the same.  Not the same. No.

When this moment happens, it’s as if something shifts, gets deeper, wider, more intricate yet simultaneously, clearer. I thought I knew, but I didn’t know this about x, or I didn’t know x like this. Are you there with me? And across the span of that split second, I go from what I didn’t even know I experienced as a limit of understanding of x to –> more. There’s a physical sensation to it and some wonder too. I’m here again, in the same room, but the blue walls are bluer, the room is bigger and maybe there are books on the shelves that I didn’t see  before – and the changes feel so, well, obvious. Of course, x is this.

Believe me, I’ve tried on a bunch of words. None satisfy. They either describe the result – like understanding, wisdom, or clarity. Or, they describe the sense of surprise like “Aha!” But none give justice to the nanosecond of crossing over, going down deeper, or expanding from what is now x as I know it, into the newer shinier x that is the x of before transformed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to have to invent a new word.

Let’s play.