As we end this year and start a new one, I believe the way that I can be the most helpful to you is to share with you what I’ve learned about habits. You see, behind the scenes, your habits are the unexciting backbone of your potential for vibrancy and strength. And my friend, you and I both know that when you are strong and vibrant everyone benefits!
Many folks don’t realize that, at it’s roots, yoga is about habits: letting go of the “bad” habits that interfere with your contentment + building new “improved” habits that will get you where you want to go.
If back in January 2015 you envisioned yourself making some new and improved changes but you didn’t get there, it’s most likely because you didn’t maintain the unexciting daily habits that are required in order to make said change.
The act of consistently bringing in and stabilizing improved habits is the backbone of positive change.
Habits gain momentum the more that you repeat them; repeating them again and again, over an extended period of time (say a whole year or more), is what it takes to reach your goals. Reaching your goals means becoming the better person you believe you can be.
But what if your big picture goals hinge on factors outside yourself so that your desires bring with them a bunch of uncertainty. Below are some of the desires I hear you (the bigger “you”, meaning all the people I get to work with) longing for:
- You want to feel confident about your health and good in your body as you age
- You want to have a positive outlook on life
- You want to create comfort and care for your aging parents
- You want to have a less stressful mindset amidst the complexities of living
- You want to raise healthy, stable children
- You want to keep the love alive with your partner
- You want to make a positive impact in the lives of your grandchildren
- You want to be financially secure within and uncertain economy
This small list of desires represents a few of the many areas of life that unavoidably contain elements of uncertainty. If any of those desires are true for you, you can create habits that help you achieve them. But first lets look at uncertainty because if kept unchecked uncertainty can be a ferocious saboteur.
NAVIGATING THE FEAR OF UNCERTAINTY
I’ve experienced my fair share of the gnawing whisper of uncertainty. Uncertainty can wear many masks: overwhelm, chronic busyness, worry, control freak, extreme fatigue, self-doubt, the martyr, frustration, anger, blame and so on. These symptoms can snowball (as they have in the past for me) and seriously get in the way of enjoying life.
Ultimately, the solution that got me to the other side was to slow down in order to prioritize getting my body and mind in a healthful place.
In terms of self-care, learning to create small, underwhelming habits has been a game changer for me. I’ve eliminated a lot of the inner turmoil that I’ve faced in the past and as a result I have more mental clarity and less stress; plus, a sweet side benefit is that I’m much more productive and innovative as I work towards creating what matters to me in this one precious life.
Here’s the deal: when everything in life seems to be swirling around you and uncertainty is everywhere there is always one place you can begin to initiate positive change.
Start close to home, really close.
Start with your own body. I promise: when you create daily habits aimed at caring for your physiology, and you maintain them, they will add up to you becoming the strongest version of yourself that you can be.
Even when faced with uncertainty you still have the potential to wake up each day feeling inspired and purposeful. Our sense of purpose is what fuels our goals and devours our doubt. BUT in between where you are right now and where you’ll be when you reach your goals, a lot of daily actions need to take place. The daily actions need to be series of habits designed to take care of your mind and body AND get you to your goals.
There is nothing more empowering than feeling strong, centered and purposeful from the inside out. When I am grounded with those qualities not only I am inspired and productive but I also have more of myself to share because I’m not wasting my finite energy worrying, blaming, controlling, overwhelming and angering.
Nagging uncertainty, the kind that causes you stress, often has to do with memories or fantasies. Memories of past mistakes and troubles cause you to doubt the possibilities of future thrive, while “what if” fantasies about the future cause you to worry.
In order to consciously eliminate the negative emotions and moods that are linked to your uncertainty, train your awareness to stay in the present moment more often.
HOW TO TRANSFORM A “BAD” HABIT INTO A “GOOD” ONE
It’s in the present moment that we get to experience the gift of being in a physical body. In the present moment we experience our senses: we use our eyes to see beauty, it’s our sense of smell that connects us with fresh air and our favorite food; we use our ears to hear the sound of the wind; with our tongue we get to taste flavors and with our flesh we feel touch.
Being connected to your senses while paying attention to the reality of the present moment is calming for your nervous system; in order to thrive you need your nervous system to be in a calm state MOST of the time.
Side note: I know that for some of you the experience of being in the present moment and connected to sensations isn’t safe or pleasurable and if that’s the case for you I want you to know that that can change; it will take patience and retraining but it can change. If you need help let me know if I’m not qualified to help you I can refer you to someone that is.
Back to yoga and habits: what if you could use your unhelpful, stressful emotions and moods that are associated with uncertainty to train yourself to stay in the present moment more often?
You can! Let me explain with the help of a little background info.
A big part of my training to become a Yoga Health Coach has been about behavioral science; behavioral science is all about studying how our brains develop and keep habits. A habit is an action that we take consistently without really thinking about having to do it.
Our whole day is made up of habitual actions. Like the phrase says, “we are creatures of habit”. Without realizing it things occur in our day that “trigger” our habits, for example: getting out of bed, brushing teeth, making coffee, looking at your phone, the way you put on your shoes, the way you drive your car, how you respond to your mate or kiddos, etc.
With each of those habitual actions something is giving us the “cue” or “trigger” to perform the action; the trigger is a subconscious reminder. I’ve learned from behavioral science that there are 5 kinds of habit triggers:
- Time of day
- A prior action
- Other people
Remember those unhelpful emotions and thought patterns that are associated with uncertainty? You can actually use them as a trigger/cue to remind yourself to take a moment to pause. To add a moment of being present into your day. To take a deep breath
Here’s the 4 part method for transforming an unhelpful emotion into an opportunity to practice being present:
1) Notice the unhelpful emotion (or pattern of thinking); such as worry, panic, self-degradation and self-doubt.
2) Pause, congratulate yourself for noticing. Seriously, if you want to change a bad habit you have to be able to realize that you’re doing it and retrain yourself to do something different. Rewarding your good behavior is key. Telling yourself “good job” makes it easier to catch next time.
3) Take a deep breath, or 5 all the way down into your belly and notice what your experiencing with your senses. I.e. – come into the present moment!
4) Choose a better action. Now that you’ve caught the unhelpful thinking pattern and you’ve come into the present moment you are ready to choose an action that will be more helpful than wasting your precious energy thinking in ways that don’t contribute to your potential to thrive.
If you practice this 4 part method for change you will be interrupting an unhelpful pattern of thinking and adding in a new pattern of thinking that is healthful and stress reducing.
Uncertainty is everywhere; it’s not going away but how you respond to uncertainty is completely up to you. In your response will you choose to build yourself up or tear yourself down?
- If you want to reach your goals you’ll need to change your habits
- Life has many elements uncertainty; you will have a better chance of establishing your goals if you learn to deal with uncertainty in a positive way.
- Uncertainty in life can cause a lot of stress for people because of the way they respond to it with unhelpful thought patterns and emotions.
- It is possible to retrain your unhelpful emotions and in doing so you’ll stop wasting you’re energy on stress.
- Run away stress is damaging to your physiology.
- Retraining your unhelpful thought patterns is a form of self-care.
- When your physiology is out of whack you are not able to offer up the best of yourself.
OVER TO YOU
In both yogic and Ayurvedic teachings we learn that it’s really not that easy to change patterns of thinking. We learn that it’s easier to change habits that have to do with the body (that’s why in the 4 part method above we take a deep breath).
According to yoga and Ayurveda we need to be strategic with exercise and food routines in order to align with your potential for thrive. When your body is closer to a state of homeostasis the mind settles down too; then it’s easier to catch and retrain the negative thought patterns.
According to Yoga and Ayurveda the point of exercising, doing yoga poses, eating right, prioritizing sleep and taking time for stillness is so that you can have a sweeter life and give more of your gifts to the world.
In this new year if you have goals to; lose some weight, exercise more, eat better, connect more with your loved ones, plan for your future and/or stress less you’ll need to retrain your habits.
Actions get you to your desires. Yoga and Ayurveda tell us that when you weave simple habits of self-care into your daily routines an amazing side effect will take place: you will have less struggle. Less struggle means more resiliency when faced with life’s uncertainty, more clarity when choosing which actions to take, more trust while watching life unfold.
So, as we look forward, which habits do you need to build and maintain in order to reach your goals?