Habit creation in the making. This is REAL.
I wrote last week about how I believe that it is within each of us to create and recreate and change and destroy and replace our own habits. I also promised that I would share with you insights into how I have recently created some AWESOME new habits and replaced some old unhelpful ones in my own life.
On Monday I started writing about just that – and about half way through it didn't feel right. It had a “I've figured out how to make my life perfect” kind of tone. It wasn't REAL. So I scrapped it and started over.
Every post I've written so far has been honest and true, but this one feels a little deeper still, so I’m going to issue a warning – the amount of ME in this post makes me UNCOMFORTABLE. What I've written here is a REAL look into how I am learning to create habits that SERVE me and to TRASH those that don’t. Its also a REVEALING of my FEARS and some of my current STRUGGLES with habit creation. And lastly, and most challenging for me, it is a plea for your help.
I've made a number of major personal changes in the past seven or so months, including, getting in touch with what’s important to me, negotiating an alternative working arrangement at my law firm, learning how to start a blog and use social media, learning about innovation in the legal profession, conducting interviews with real change-makers, being vulnerable and sharing my secrets, making real connections, telling my family, close friends, and all of you about my struggles with bulimia, and learning to truly LIVE a from a place of POSSIBILITY.
I've also developed some AWESOME new habits that have enabled me to make those changes. I've developed habits around my mental practices, including, setting a daily intention; noticing when my thoughts are limiting me, putting me down, or setting unrealistic expectations for me; speaking my truth instead of an automatic response; and writing gratitudes daily in my journal. I've also gotten into the habit of drinking more water, not drinking diet pop every day, not constantly chewing gum, shutting off my mind at night, regularly getting 7 to 8 hours sleep, and most importantly to me, getting rid of my habit of purging.
Before these new practices became habits that stuck I had tried MANY different things that failed. For years I failed at creating new habits and getting rid of old ones, to the point that I believed my habits were who I was, and I just had to learn to live with it. I now know that this is not true. And what I've learned through the trial and error process is that the surest way to fail at habit creation is to have UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Starting too big, or with more than one habit, and expecting yourself never to slip up, will inevitably lead to failure.
Not surprisingly, some of the best ways to create a new habit and have it stick are just the opposite. Start small, TINY in fact. FORGIVE yourself if you miss a day, and keep going. Its also important to learn to create AWARENESS around your thoughts and feelings and how they affect your habits. When it comes to habits, not only is awareness where it all starts; awareness is where it continues, and where it succeeds. Be aware of the negative voices that tell you its too hard or that you should give up. Observe them. Set them to the side and just keep going (this is by far the hardest part of habit creation).
Another trick – only pick habits that are MEANINGFUL to you. If you can’t instantly and consistently visualize how the new habit will make you happy you won’t stick to it. Know your “WHY” and make sure it’s a powerful one. And finally, get some ACCOUNTABILITY. Share your goal with a friend, post it on Facebook, tell someone you will pay them $50 or clean their apartment (or some other task you despise) if you miss two days in a row. And when you have achieved the new habit consistency for a month go out there and spoil yourself!
These are some of the strategies I've discovered and employed to create the new habits I've described above. Making them stick has by no means been easy. There have been many misses and restarts along the way, and each new habit had its own unique challenges for me to overcome. So far, the most difficult habit I've managed to eliminate is purging. (This is where my earlier warning comes in. For all of you who get a little uncomfortable around the topic of bulimia, or candid discussion about addictive behaviours and coping mechanisms, you can stop reading now, or, you can – and I hope you will – choose to challenge yourself to read on and join me way out here, where life gets real, outside your comfort zone.)
Bulimia is an incredibly powerful mind game to break. It is complicated. Overcoming it involves a lot more than simply breaking the habit of eating for reasons other than being hungry and breaking the habit of purging afterwards. It involves rejecting a sense of self worth that is based on appearance and what others think, rejecting a lot of false beliefs and assumptions around appearance, weight, exercise, food, and control, and bringing awareness around personal thoughts, feelings, and actions. Overcoming it involves getting rid of the SHAME and the fear of not being ENOUGH.
I have dug deep and tore apart many of those false beliefs, assumptions, and unhelpful thought patterns. I am becoming more and more aware of my thoughts and feelings as they arise and am able to act with conscious choice more often than I ever have before. My mind now regularly sits in a place where I am enough. As a result of all of these efforts I have found the courage to break myself of the habit of purging. Something that for years I could not do. And although I have also made great progress in breaking my habits of overeating unhealthy food and eating for reasons other than hunger, this habit still needs some changing.
I still sometimes reach for unhealthy food when I am bored, feeling overwhelmed, rejected, scared, or overtired. So far, I have been unable to completely replace the act of eating with a different habit that serves me such as going for a walk, having a glass of water, or calling a friend. This is the habit I am currently struggling most with changing. And so, I am trying the only thing that I haven’t had the guts to try yet – I’m asking for a little help and some accountability.
For the next month – I’m going to post a picture on Instagram of everything I eat. Yes, EVERYTHING. By the end of the month, I hope to replace my afternoon chocolate bar habit with afternoon ice water and my evening cookies with a Kits Beach sunset walk or practising a piano sonata. This is a huge undertaking for me. What I eat is still somewhat of a secretive thing for me. It still carries a degree of shame. And so, as much as it terrifies me, I hope you will help me out in this challenge by following or stopping by my instagram profile once and a while and keeping me accountable. This is one of my most ingrained habits and I intend to fully overcome it.
Check out my instagram food accountability challenge here: http://instagram.com/trashyourstress.
If you've read through to here, I thank you for joining me outside of the comfortable topics of discussion, and I hope you will take something valuable away from what I have shared. As you can see, my life isn't 'perfect'. I've got more changes to make, and I’m taking it one day at a time. And that’s ok. That’s what habit creation (and life!) is all about.
I encourage you to take an honest look at your own habits. Pick one that is no longer serving you, and pick something AWESOME to replace it with. Start small and NEVER GIVE UP.
Here’s to us all becoming the MASTER of our own LIVES.
p.s. For more insights and inspiration from someone who has mastered habit creation, check out Leo Babauta, and his blog at http://zenhabits.net/archives/. And check out my inspiring friend, and fellow lawyer, Susi Masarweh, who is currently exploring habit creation with a journey of 52 changes – one change a week for a year! (http://fiftytwochanges.com/)