Do this instead of setting a New Year’s resolution
Did you set a New Year’s resolution this year? If you did, have you already broken it? (Never fear… you’re not alone.)
A story… When I first began to meditate, I was ALL ABOUT IT, if you know what I mean. I was really digging mindfulness. So much, in fact, that I built myself a meditation room and proceeded to fill it with every rock, crystal, bead, candle, and oil you can imagine. It was like some alchemist bookstore vomited into a little corner of my house.
I was totally lost in the aesthetics. If I was going to meditate, I had to have the right music playing, the scented candles burning, and a piece of rose quartz clutched into my palm.
I didn’t yet know that I didn’t need any of that shit. I was in the performance of meditation, rather than meditation itself, with the idea that if I appeared as though I were meditating, I would get the outcomes of meditation as well. But it doesn’t work that way.
But I was committed to my setup—even hanging a sign outside my door, decorated with a lotus flower, that read: Do Not Disturb, Meditating. Even my teenage son knew the deal: He was not to come in when I was meditating with the lotus flower sign on the door.
Then, one afternoon as I was sitting in my meditation room with the music playing and the candles burning and the crystals doing whatever it is they do—just waiting for meditation to happen—my son came through the door and began talking to me.
In an instant, I whipped my head around and yelled, “I’m f*cking meditating!” He just stood there staring at me as I turned back around and sighed heavily, my brain protesting loudly. I cannot believe he did that, I thought to myself. I’ve gotta get back into the Zen moment.
But then, my son quietly walked up behind me, put his hands on my shoulders, leaned down to kiss me on the top of my head, and said, “Namaste, Mommy.” Then he walked out of the room and shut the door.
I felt like the biggest jerk in the world.
So what, you might be wondering, does that have to do with New Year’s resolutions and forming healthy habits?
Many folks believe they have to become a member of some exclusive club to make a fundamental change in their lives—like they have to join the Meditation Club, capital M to meditate. You might think if you don’t dress or speak a certain way or light incense and use crystals, you’re not someone who meditates. (This can apply to anything—joining a gym, asking for a promotion, beginning a new business venture, pursuing a new educational opportunity, starting a new relationship, or becoming a parent. Often, we get preoccupied with performing the thing, rather than just doing it.) But that mentality has got it totally backward. It’s just another manifestation of the ego.
Truly reaping the benefits of meditation started with me making the simple decision to sit every single day, whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes I wake up, and the last thing I want to do is shut up and sit—sometimes I’m tired and feeling out of it, or the weather is cold, and I just want to curl up with a blanket and my coffee. But, through continued repetition within a theta brainwave state, I made sitting a habit—and it changed my life.
I don’t always know what’s going to come of it or if I’ll discover anything on any given day. But by showing up every day, whether I want to or not, I know the rest of my day will show up differently, too.
Healthy habits are formed—and unhealthy ones transformed—when you start showing up for yourself.
But don’t get me wrong—it’s not easy. Every day, habits dictate 40-45 percent of what you do; most of the time, folks are unaware of their habits and where they originated in the first place! This is called a “habit loop,” and by identifying yours, you’ll be able to create new routines that will lead to new, healthier habits. (And you might even stick to your New Year’s resolution.)
A habit loop works like this: You’re just going about your day when you’re struck with a craving. Usually, this craving is for a feeling, but identifying that takes some pretty serious internal excavation. More often than not, cravings present as the desire for a giant cheeseburger or a shopping spree at your favorite shoe store or an extra-large martini at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. You have to dig pretty deep to realize that a Big Mac™ or new Louboutin’s are a stand-in for happiness or fulfillment. Nonetheless, your craving produces a behavior.
That behavior becomes your habit.
When it comes to habits, most people only think of two elements: The craving and the behavior that attempts to satisfy that craving. In fact, the most critical aspect of any habit—and your ability to change it—comes before your craving even begins?
The most fundamental component of any habit loop (your built-in trigger-reward response) is the stimulus that cues your craving in the first place. That cue is the thing that happens before the trigger. But here’s the critical part: You cannot identify that cue from your conscious mind.
That’s where mindfulness comes in—you begin to wake up and, on a consciousness level, become more aware of the stories you tell yourself and the habits they generate. The more aware you are, the more data and information you can identify and process, the more you understand about yourself and your patterns, the more agency you have over changing them.
So, HOW ARE HABITS CHANGED, then? Try the following fill-in-the-blank exercise.
When ______________________, (CUE) I will ______________________ (ROUTINE) because it provides me with ______________________ (REWARD).
First, notice what’s going on with the habit you want to change. For example, your fill-in-the-blank might look something like this:
When John mentioned the “guys trip” he wanted to take over the holidays, I gave him the silent treatment for the rest of the evening because it provided me with feelings of power and control around my insecurities about our marriage.
It can be tough to get that honest with yourself. But the second step is a lot more fun—I promise.
Once you’re clear on what’s driving your unhealthy habit, make a plan for what you’ll do to change it. For example…
The next time I’m feeling insecure about my marriage, I will sign up for my favorite spin class because it will provide me with a healthy space to clear my mind before having a conversation with John.
Arriving at a place where you can be consciously honest and self-aware enough to complete the above exercise requires a practice of shutting up and sitting. Just like going to the gym to work out the muscles in your body, you have to sit every day to learn to work your mindfulness muscle as well.
Once the process starts to take form, you’ll become aware of the behaviors needed to change your habit—and it won’t happen on the first try. Changing a pattern takes a commitment to repetition until you’ve replaced the old habit’s neural pathway with a new one. But as you begin to notice what healthy behaviors need to replace unhealthy ones, you will develop a new working model for your life. You’ll see yourself as a change agent in your new story and discover increased alignment in your life. But it starts with showing up to your life in a different way, rewiring your habits, and enjoying the healing outcomes you create.
Want to learn more? There’s a book for that! Click here to take the first step towards greater awakening, awareness, self-love, and personal transformation.
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