Habit is what keeps you going.

As we all know, I’ve been pondering habits and their place in our lives for a while now.

(Wednesday is the last day to save $10 on Simple Secrets for Healthy Habits!)

And one thing I’ve been thinking about is our common-sense conception of habits and how this notion (like most others) has a shadow side as well as a bright shiny side.

One thing I’ve noticed as I listen to people talk is that they are much more likely to identify and talk about their ‘bad’ habits than their good ones.

I’m guessing you’ve heard it (and probably done it!) too. We talk about our caffeine habit or our Facebook habit, or even our habit of losing our keys.

We don’t tend to talk about our ‘good’ habits. The way we floss every day. Or make sure we have our kid’s favorite cereal in the house before we go to the grocery store. Or wave to the neighbor as we’re walking the dog.

Maybe that’s just part of not wanting to toot our own horns, but I think it gives us a distorted idea about what habits are and how incredibly useful they can be.

One of the elements of habit that definitely has a light side and a dark side is the idea that they are actions that we perform ‘mindlessly.’

Mindless vs. Automatic

This notion definitely has a bad rap, but change it up to ‘automatically,’ and you can see that perhaps this isn’t always a bad thing. After all, with so many decisions to make and actions to take in a given day, it’s kind of a relief to have some things happen ‘automatically.’

It would be a real chore to decide every day how to brush your teeth. But at this point, you have a pretty-well established habit. So you put the toothpaste on the brush and go. You don’t have to think about whether to brush the top or the bottom first.

Things that happen habitually also tend to happen without a lot of resistance. This can be a bad thing (as when you habitually reach for a cookie after every meal), or a good thing.

Can you remember when something (like getting into a car-seat) that elicited great resistance from your child eventually didn’t? It finally became a habit to buckle up, and once that happens, the resistance may not disappear altogether, but it dramatically diminishes.

Perhaps you can think of some change you’ve made in your own life that was a struggle at first, but eventually became habitual, and the resistance finally smoothed out. Now the behavior is ‘second nature’ and it’s so much easier!

Be mindful so you can be mindless.

Here’s how I resolve this paradox.

I think we need to be mindful in the creation of our habits, and then let the mindlessness or automaticity take over. I honestly don’t want to have to think about how I brush my teeth, or whether I’m going to the gym in the morning. I know that if I let myself think about it too much (especially at 5:35 when my alarm goes off!), I can come up with all kinds of reasons that sound very persuasive at that hour to stay in bed. So I circumvent this process of thinking and instead rely on my habit.

Don’t think… Just throw.

–(Bull Durham)

Research into high-performance bears this out. The best free-throw shooters perform the exact same series of movements each time they step up to the line. Plenty of thinking has no doubt gone into each aspect of the activity, but when the time comes, they are no longer thinking about where to place their feet, how to hold the ball, when to release it, etc. At that moment, thinking is not helpful!
For more on this, see Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code.

 

So how about you? Is there something in your life that you’d like to become an easy “mindless” habit?

Let me know and I’ll either reply to you personally or write a post about it!

 

And… one more time:  Wednesday is the early-bird registration deadline for Simple Secrets to Healthy Habits!  Register today and save $10 on this action-packed, fun-filled workshop that will send you home with strategies you can use over and over to create healthy habits that stick!

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Somewhere above the Goldfish!

by Liz on March 7, 2013

“I don’t have to be at the top of the list, I just want to be somewhere above the goldfish.”

This was a comment a mom made some years ago in a workshop I was leading and we all laughed because she’d captured something so true and yet so wrong about a mom’s life!

I’ve been pondering this situation this week, because I’ve heard from a handful of women something along the lines of, “That workshop you’re doing looks really great. I just don’t have the time.”

And I just want to say to them, “Sweetie… No one is going to give you the time. You have to be willing to take time for yourself.”

But this isn’t quite right. Because this way of formulating it make it look like a zero-sum game. One of those situations where if one person gets something it is necessarily at the expense of someone else. This is the way things often look to us, but I think the reality is much more complicated.

There’s a reason the flight attendants always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others with theirs. Our instincts, socialization, training, whatever have us inclined to always put others first. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others.

Given our socialization and so on, making space for ourselves in our own lives is really nothing short of a revolutionary act. And like all revolutions, it will definitely disturb the status quo.

But here’s the thing… just like throwing a rock into a stream can make a big splash, it doesn’t take long for the ripples to fade and the water begins to flow smoothly around the new object. Our worlds are very similar. When we make any kind of change from the status-quo, shock waves might ripple for a bit. But eventually they do smooth out and our lives and our families adjust to the new reality.

We can expect a certain amount of discomfort in ourselves (rendered as mommy guilt among other things!) and in others (crying kids and grumpy husbands are par for the course!). Again… This. Is. Normal. But if we can endure the initial discomfort, the payoffs for us and for our families can be huge.

I don’t think that any of us want to teach our daughters that moms belong at the bottom of the totem pole. And this is certainly not the message I want to send my son!

So… my question for you today is are you above or below the goldfish? And how’s that working for you?

P.S. If you’re in the Boulder area, I’d love to see your sweet face at the workshop I’m doing with my favorite fitness instructor. We’ll be showing you how to gently build sustainable habits for happiness and health!

Click here for all the details and registration!

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Changing Habits is Hard! (Or is it?)

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Overcoming Holiday Overwhelm: Make Adjustments

December 7, 2012

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Overcoming Holiday Overwhem: Make Requests!

December 4, 2012

Are you ready for a little tough love today? Let’s talk about asking for help. Or more to the point, not asking for help. I bet you think you’re doing your family and friends a favor when you try to do it all (even to the point of making yourself nuts in the process.) Well […]

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Overcome Holiday Overwhelm: Make a Plan!

November 30, 2012

This is where it all starts to come together! Grab your lists and your calendar because now it’s time to make a plan. Of course this will bear only passing resemblance to what will actually happen, but still. It’s good to have a plan! A flexible plan. With lots of white space included for the […]

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Overcoming Holiday Overwhelm: Break it Down!

November 28, 2012

One of the biggest reasons we feel so overwhelmed at holiday time is that we have things on our lists that are literally un-doable. We make lists of projects, but don’t often take the time to break them down into their component tasks. Which brings us to Step 3 of the Overcoming Overwhelm process: Break […]

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A Holiday Gift for You! Overcoming Holiday Overwhelm Podcasts

November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving is over and you know what that means. The insanity of the holiday season is upon us!  And what is billed as a time of peace, joy, love and celebration too often becomes a season of frustration, anxiety, hurry, conflict and overwhelm. It’s not a pretty picture! When expectations of a Norman Rockwell holiday […]

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