I'm all about new habits these days. Really these last five years. It's pretty simple really, once you get the hang of it. I think humans derive comfort from routine, and yet those same routines, done day in and day out, often lose the ability to soothe us and worse, they can become killers. It's hard to change, I know (even though I just said, "it's simple really"). It's the thought of changing that is so anxiety producing and then the implementation of change is uncomfortable and unfamiliar - destabilizing. I get it.
And yet, without change, we atrophy and decay. We become dull - we even bore ourselves! So what should stay the same and what needs mixing up? And how do we get there? People often ask me what it was that made me take action and make hard, heroic changes in my life. Sometimes I say, "it was my daughter's sickness", other times I answer, "I met someone who reached a life-saving hand to me and I grabbed it”, and sometimes I respond, "I just decided to choose life." All these answers are accurate - a combination of adversity, professional help and a will to survive came together - a confluence that fueled change, petrol in my engine.
Do you wake up each day with a head of steam, thinking that today is the day you will take positive action, only to go to bed that same night with no forward movement to show for the day? What happened? Why are we so often unable to hold ourselves accountable? Why do we disappoint ourselves? What happened during the day that dulled the desire for change and neutered our will? What happened during the day to deflate our dreams?
Patrick used to ask me, when I was in a tough spot, "What would you tell one of your children?" That is a perfect thing to ask because we want the best for our kids and we are full of sage advice for them - always. We also understand their fears and limitations better than anyone, having seen them grow and take shape, but we also believe in their capacities - that with discipline, education, courage and compassion, they can accomplish just about anything. So why can't we apply that same lens to ourselves? - look at ourselves realistically but compassionately and apply a sprinkling of moxie, bravery and discipline and then go out and conquer the world if that's what we want?
I think the thing that happens during the day, that causes that day to get away from us, is a combination of a bunch of things: insecurity, self-indulgence, bad habits, filters that are too porous, lack of discipline. Filters that are too porous - the need to guard the portal of your life- what should you let in and what should you keep out? For about the last five years I have not had a TV in my house. I'm fussy about who I spend time with. I don't read trash. I don't answer phone calls out of obligation. I don't go to parties that don't interest me. I don't always say yes when I'm asked a favor of. There is just too much coming at us these days, hundreds of e-mails in our inboxes, news on the TV that crushes our spirit and causes incessant worry, too many phone calls, constant text messages. It’s too much!! It robs us of time, focus and the will to get the things done that are important to us!
Habits that don’t serve us well…we all have them. I don’t think it’s all that hard to change habits. It’s the gearing up that’s the hard part. OK, so every now and again you take stock and make a list of habits that are standing in your way. If you tell yourself, “I just won’t do X anymore” that doesn’t work, right? You have to replace the habit with a new one. It works. Adopt a “do” and not a “don’t” mindset. There was a time when I loved taking a cordial glass of Grand Marnier to my bath with me, but in time it was stalling my weight loss, I had to stop that beloved habit. I got some great orange tea which tasted similar and on the first night of drinking tea versus the liquor, I wasn’t so happy. The second night I thought, “This is good tea.” By the third or fourth night I was all about the tea and when I visualized my bath it was with a delicious cup of cozy tea. Lately I’ve swapped my maudlin morning coffee for hopping out of bed, brushing my teeth and grabbing Joey and then off to the beach with a stop at Starbucks for a latte. It’s a brand new habit that was strange at first but feels more right every day.
The challenge today is taking stock and deciding what you can do to support your dreams. Script your day and then guard your portal so that you can stay focused. If you have slipped into habits that are not shoring up your life, think about what new habits could replace them: a walk with a friend versus beers with him, bringing a healthy lunch from home versus fast food, shutting your Outlook and only opening it to read e-mails three times per day, telling your waitress as you sit down, “don’t bring me a bread basket and I would like one glass of wine followed by hot tea”.
Our dreams – they are worth working for – every day and with focus. Don’t let our crazy busy modern day life nibble away at your resolve. Guard your portal and only let in those people and information that support your efforts. Evaluate your daily habits – are they contributing to your welfare or sapping your will? If it’s the latter, replace them with new, better habits. Everything should be evaluated.