Losing the Habit

Every night after my children go to sleep, my husband and I sit down and watch a little TV before we go to bed. Its an innocent little habit that really hurts no one, not even me. However, while we watch that little slice of  entertainment, I am also, almost always, indulging in some sweet treat. Hm, now that sounds innocent enough too doesn’t it. Now let me tell you the full truth of it. It is never a normal size treat, it isn’t a taste of something sweet, heck it usually isn’t even one portion. We are serious about our gluttony around here. Just a few days ago, we actually had an ice cream eating contest, he had smores ice cream and I had triple chocolate death ice cream. I am proud to say he won the contest by eating the entire carton while I could only manage half (never fear I did finish the remainder the following night. No ice cream shall go bad in this house!)

This is a habit I have had most of my life, even before children. There is something about winding down from the day, slipping on my comfy clothes, kicking back with a good show and stuffing my face with desserts. I believe this habit makes me happy. I feel like I deserve this one little moment of pleasure because the days are so hard. I justify the habit because I work out on a regular basis and for the rest of the day, everyday, I eat very healthy. Lots of veggies, fruits, lean protein ect. Surely that means I can indulge in this one little, tiny habit of over indulging in craptastic food right?

Letting go of habits can be extremely difficult. Especially when you might have gone to great lengths to justify the habit as I have above and continue to do on a regular basis, nightly in fact. But not all habits are good for you and no matter what justification you give them, it is time to let them go. So how do you let go of something that you think is working for you when it is really working against you?

I want to feel good and be healthy. My family has not been blessed with the best genetics and my mother was a mere one year older than me when she had a heart attack and triple bypass surgery. So I am eager to remain as healthy as possible and I truly believe that at least part of that equation is in my hands. I control the daily maintenance of my body with lots of really good habits. I drink lots of water, take my multi-vitamins, I don’t eat fast food, I get regular check ups, I workout at least 4 times a week, I make our dinners from scratch, we eat lots of whole foods, I have only 1 twelve ounce soda a day. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, I never have. I have lived in terror of heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes for as long as I can remember. Complete terror I tell you. So with all those good habits I have managed to create and maintain, you’d think limiting sugar and stupid yummy evil desert would be right up there on the list.

Well, honestly I have tried. Lots of times, and sometimes I succeed for awhile, sometimes even months or a year, but invariably I always slip back off the wagon and the little fat girl from childhood who still lives inside me will make brownies or stop for an innocent cone and the next thing you know I’m having “cake offs” with my husband while we watch The Biggest Loser- true fact, not joking. What is a cake off? that is when I ask my husband to get me a Pepridge farm chocolate cake and he brings home two and says lets see who can eat theirs the fastest. He’s very competitive my husband. Maybe the competition makes him feel less guilty? But I digress.

So clearly letting go of habits is a tough one and I imagine it is tough for just about everyone, if the habit is bringing you some kind of pleasure or fulfillment. Bad habits are the most frustrating thing to let go of when you are trying to live intentionally. The main reason is that YOU are holding you back. You are the big road block in the way, you and you alone control the creation and maintenance of habits. If a habit isn’t working for you, or is preventing you from attaining the life you want, then you must find a way to let it go. Life will provide you with plenty of obstacles between you and your goals, don’t let yourself be one of them.

The best way I have found to let go of a bad habit is by replacing it with a good one. It is extremely difficult to cut out a bad habit and just leave a hole. What will fill the place of the hole if you don’t consciously choose what to put there? I will tell you, the original habit will just seep back in, or a new equally terrible habit will sneak in. Its funny how habits that are bad for you are easy to start and hard to quit, but habits that are good for you are often hard to start and easy to quit.

If I don’t make a purposeful decision of what I will do instead of the bad habit I almost always fail. The only exception to this is life threatening things where the fear of a negative result motivates you to change suddenly and without problems. My son being diagnosed with Celiac Disease was all I needed to go Gluten free. Bam! Overnight the house and my life was purged of gluten. My son’s life was at stake, it was an EASY change to make. I can almost guarantee you that if I had just tried a gluten free diet for weight loss or because I thought it was healthier, I’d have failed the first Friday I couldn’t eat pizza. I promise you that is what would have happened. Tell me it’s killing my kid and I drop that habit like a freaking live hand grenade. Not in my house! Oh hell no!

The first step to letting go of bad habits is identifying them. This can be tricky but if you look at the areas of your life that don’t seem to be working well, or have prevented you from moving forward, you can usually find a bad habit skulking around. Want a promotion but keep getting overlooked? Maybe it is because you are habitually late getting to work or you eat in every meeting? Finding it hard to lose the last 5 pounds? Maybe it is habit of taking just a few candies from your coworker’s candy dish every day. Most failed attempts at reaching our life goals can be traced not to your own inadequacies but to a simple habit that prevents forward momentum.

Once you identify your habit, find an alternative habit to replace it. This is usually something either similar but better or something completely opposite. For me, I find riding the stationary bike in our living room prevents me from eating, or even wanting to eat. I have also found that not watching the tv but reading or playing a game is a good way to break the cycle too. Want to be on time for work? Start going to bed earlier. Want to resist the candies to lose the 5 pounds? Try bringing a health snack, avoiding the cube with candy, or taking a walk outside when you feel the urge to eat.

I don’t think my nightly habit is the worst thing in the world and on some days I really do feel like I might crumble into a million pieces if I don’t indulge (my emotional eating is a topic I am certain we will cover later). However, I also made a bet with the hubby that I’d get 4 pack abs before him and I’ll never beat the snot out of him if I don’t let go of my need to binge. I’ve moved our recumbent bike to center stage in the living room as a reminder to ride not eat, so far I haven’t done so. Letting go is tough, and for me, letting go of sugar is the toughest.

What habits are holding you back? What do you need to let go of? What new habits will you start to fill the hole left behind?

High points this week: On the road to financial recovery, learned that sometimes confrontation is a really good thing, almost accomplished a head stand in yoga, stepped in poop but found some beautiful flowers, and was given thoughtful gifts out of the blue :)

 

 

 

Beliefs in the Road of Intentional Living

Beliefs often make up a huge part of who we are or how we define ourselves to others. Be it spirituals beliefs, beliefs about relationships, family, money or just morality and ethics, we are all driven at our core by our beliefs and their structure. There isn’t very much you do in a day that isn’t spurred on or influenced by your personal belief system. I can’t count the number of times a day I say or think “I believe…” and I’m not counting the “Facts” one knows to be true, I’m just talking about my personal belief structure.

Perhaps, this is why it is so difficult to change or let go of beliefs. They are usually very grounded in our soul and were instilled in us at a very young age when we were pliable and easy to influence. At some point in life most people become very rigid and not open to change, which makes letting go of beliefs that no longer work for us a challenge.  However, if you are ever going to attain an Intentional Life you almost HAVE to be willing to look at your beliefs and let go of the ones that really don’t apply to you or are inhibiting your growth toward your goals. Often these are beliefs we obtained from our parents that really are not a proper fit for us, but we cling to them anyway because “that is just how things are”. In actuality those beliefs, while possibly nice or good for most people, could be what is preventing you from true happiness and the road to intentional living. To live intentionally you must have beliefs you chose intentionally, as opposed to those chosen for you.

Here is an example from my life, I held a certain belief related to family that was basically family should support you and help you in times of need. I clung desperately to this belief because it is what I was told, it was what I had always done for others in my family, and the belief that it was true is very comforting and gives a warm fuzzy I wanted desperately to believe in so I would feel less alone and less like I was twisting in the wind with all external forces working against me. However, in 39 years of living I can count on maybe one hand the number of times my family has actually been there to help me in tough times. Worse still, I can narrow that down to about 3 people who meet the requirements of my belief. So the belief wasn’t really true, and it was creating a lot of disappoint for me as family would habitually and regularly disappoint me by being selfish, unapproachable, or down right cruel. When I got married I continued to hold to my belief and hoped that maybe a family with less mental illness than mine would support my belief better. Interestingly enough, I find the belief is still not holding true and the more I share this with others, the more I hear that others share my experience; so while not universally true, family being unsupportive is just as likely as family being supportive.

So where does that leave me? Clinging to a belief that family will be there in tough times, then family isn’t there in tough times, then I am disappointed and fail because I don’t have the support I counted on in my tool box. Its all very hurtful and creates feelings of anger and distrust. So I have the option of continuing to cling to this faulty belief, or I can let go of the belief and create a new and improved belief that goes something like this:

 People who truly care about you and love you will be there for you when you need them without judgment or persecution.

See my original belief had a fallacy of logic in it. It assumed that the group of family included only people who love and care about you. Unless you have the world’s best family (kudos to you if you do), I think we can all see the problem there, it is false. Not everyone is going to love you, or act selflessly toward you, simply because they share your DNA or even your belief that they should.  However, by definition, people who love and care about you will likely support you and act selflessly toward when their life allows it. Beliefs that need letting go often contain a fallacy in logic, which makes them easy to spot. If a belief makes an assumption in order to be true, you can bet it probably has a fallacy of logic in it too. (I love logic)

Unfortunately for me, I have spent a lot of time and many tears on this specific belief and trying to let it go. As I get older and have built a family of my own, I have gotten better at making the mental and emotional shift away from my original belief about family. It isn’t perfect yet, but it is far better than it used to be. Some may see this as a pessimistic view of life, the alteration of my belief in this manner, but to me it is actually very optimistic. I haven’t said no one is ever there to support me, I have simply redefined who is there by using real world experiences to support my change in definition. This has led to an overall greater satisfaction in life and more realistic expectations of family. For me, this is a happier way to live. I haven’t removed expectations, I’ve just changed the name of the game to reflect what is really happening. You can believe something all you like, but it rarely makes it so, and often leads to dissatisfaction.

Just the other weekend I told my friend Dink that I would rather fill my life, and my children’s lives, with chosen family members who really care about us, than to waste time and effort on blood family that can’t seem to see past their own needs. My kids deserve an awesome family and if I have to let go of my original, and frankly antiquated, definition of family in order to provide them with one, that is exactly what I will do. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t managed to fully let go of this belief, it is hard to change your hard wired center, but I work on it every day and I am no longer surprised or hurt when family disappoints, sad I agree, but a necessary shift for me so I no longer feel the stab in my back. My belief that I need to let go of this belief is further supported on a regular basis, which helps in the letting go process. Nothing like being proven wrong on a daily basis to make change easy.

There are other beliefs that people hold that limit their intentional life or severely inhibit their personal growth. Some of these I have touched on before, like believing you are a victim, or have bad luck, or are guilty of something. Certainly believing you are a victim or that you deserve to be victimized is something one should let go of. Broad definitions of belief that impact your self-esteem or ability to act outside your comfort zone need to be addressed first. I think everyone can benefit from letting go of at least one strongly held belief. I know it sounds terrible, but if you really look at your life, and the ways in which you are unhappy, or areas where you experience un-fulfillment, you will probably find a big old useless belief sitting in the road blocking your way forward.

If a belief inhibits your ability to be happy, or it results in your sacrificing something that makes you happy, you must let it go and replace it with an improved version of the belief.

I’m not talking about commandments or the obvious beliefs that help society run smoothly. Certainly the belief of ‘thou shalt not kill’ is a nice one for all of us, even if you aren’t religious. However, if someone is trying to kill or harm you, then the belief structure quickly changes and it now become acceptable to kill, doesn’t it? Not guilty by self-defense. This is a shift in beliefs, a modification to address a wider variety of options and outcomes. So sometimes, instead of letting go of a belief completely, you can just make modification that result in a better belief.

Almost by definition beliefs can’t just go changing on the fly willy nilly, or they cease to truly be beliefs. However, beliefs that no longer work, are mucking up the system, or creating undo damage to your life are not necessary, and should be let go of or modified. What beliefs do you hold fast to that really inhibit your growth and future happiness? Share them, I bet you aren’t the only person stuck.

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What I’m Reading: Remember Me? By Sophie Kinsella If you have ever hoped to just wake up a better version of yourself, it is an interesting light hearted read with a lesson about what you may have to sacrifice to be this so called improved version.

What I’m also reading: The Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness by Britt Reints. This woman was brave enough to do what I have always wanted to try, a cross country road trip with my family in an RV for a year. I’d love to be this much of a risk taker, and maybe when we have less dogs I’ll be brave enough to do this. What a great education for my kids, seeing the land they call home up close and personal.

Inspirations from the ether: In Pursuit of Happiness , The Happiness Project

What I’m listening to: Screaming children

New thing learned today: Septic systems are far more complex than you think, and there is a lot of money to be had in poop. Note to my children, if you plan to be rich, plan to wade in shit.

Getting Un-Stuck from Useless Patterns of Mass Destruction

There are two things I absolutely adore about my husband- okay there are more than two, but for the sake of this post, there are two- the first is he is incredibly patient and laid back. I mean seriously laid back (notice the chaos of the picture above and the man just sat there smiling through 30 minutes of this failed attempt at a family photo with dogs). Which is a good thing because while I can be like that, I’m not always, so it’s nice to know there will be a level head around when mine is on fire. The second thing I love about him is his ability to change and break patterns in his life with seeming ease- bastard- I mean love of my life. I used to think people didn’t change, or rather couldn’t really change their core behaviors and patterns of life, my husband has more than proven me wrong. But even though I have this amazing role model living in my home, I have struggled with the ability myself. I can’t seem to let go of patterns that aren’t working for me in favor of more productive or at least better patterns- even when I know they aren’t working!

Patterns is an interesting word and I suppose it can broadly cover all the areas of letting go I plan to address. It could relate to bad habits, or patterns of shopping, or conversational patterns with family and friends. So if this post seems vague on how to let go of patterns then I apologize, but I think it has to be somewhat broad because it can apply to so many things. What I am primarily talking about are all your life patterns that help you navigate and interact with the word around you. Many of the patterns you do everyday can actually inhibit or outright prevent your happiness even when they seem to be productive on the surface. In addition, many patterns can be hard to let go of because they are comfortable and “known” even if they aren’t healthy or are even self-destructive. Consider the pattern of women who always choose abusive men for relationships. Obviously not good, obviously shouldn’t do it, but it is comfortable and what they know. So no matter how terrible, it is the option they often choose. What you’ve always done is easier to continue doing because there is less fear in the known than the unknown.

I’ll give you an example from my own life. I work from home, and by that I mean I do actual work from home that a company pays me to do, not that I “work” because I am a mom. So essentially, I have two stay at home jobs, I am a mother to two boys ages 3 and almost 2, and I work as a technical writer for a government contractor. When I wake up in the morning I am lucky because I do not have to set an alarm, fix my hair, or put on uncomfortable clothes to then hit the highway and a long commute to the office. I wake up naturally, for the most part, and I stay in my pjs or sweat pants all day too. :) I’m not ashamed of this fact. But because I work from home there are other pressures I have to contend with that wreak havoc on my brain on a daily basis. When I wake up I am a flurry of activity and multi-tasking. I pride myself on being able to “do it all” and then more even I didn’t know needed doing. If I don’t have a load of laundry in the washer and the dryer, the trash taken out, two kids up and clothed, 5 dogs fed, email answered, and work related issues addressed by 9 am then something is wrong and I am convinced that this will translate into a terrible day where nothing is going to go right. This is my pattern, get everything done in a hurry so I can… do more stuff in a hurry. Seriously, by the time my husband strolls in from work at 6 pm, this house is spotless, clothes are clean, folded, and put away, the gluten free made from scratch dinner is ready to eat and on the table, my work is usually complete with deadlines met, the children are alive and more or less unscathed, the bills are paid, and I am still in my pajamas.

Now, some of you might be applauding me for my super woman capabilities, others might be skeptical that I am lying, but there are a few of you who already see where this is going… that pattern of behavior is not good, it isn’t working for me half as well as I think it is and empty laundry bins are not as important as engaging with my children and truly enjoying my day. If you go back up and read the list of things I got done, you will see that not one of the items was truly for me, not one of the items directly benefited my children beyond alive and unscathed, and at the end of it all I never feel accomplished or content or peaceful or even happy. I usually feel harried, resentful, angry, annoyed, and frustrated. Yet the very next morning I will do the exact same pattern of behaviors because there is something broken inside my head that equates the number of chores completed with my self-worth. I’d like to let go of this pattern. I’d like to un-stick myself from this ridiculous self-imposed rat race that has my children frightened of me and my husband binge feeding me ice cream in a failed attempt at soothing the savage beast that has become his wife.

Off Topic- the ice cream diet does not work- even if you skip dinner in preparation. It will only leave you with the sugar drop twitchy eye, and a muffin top.

So how do you let go of patterns in your life when most of them derive from real world needs or assimilations? I mean clearly my laundry needs to be done at some point, though clearly it doesn’t need to be done daily, or before 9 am or arguably even by me. Letting go of patterns and getting un-stuck is something best attacked in small bites. It takes time to find new patterns and to discover what actually works best and creates peace in your life.  Remember the goal isn’t to just find a different pattern, the goal is be happier and find a place of contentment. The goal is find patterns that increase your enjoyment of life, so you don’t want to hastily adopt new drastic changes because those might be just as useless as the ones you are trying to stop. If I just stopped doing everything I do at home then I can tell you with absolute certainty my house would fall apart, I’m not joking. But if I adjust things a little at a time and find new patterns to address the underlying issues then I can change the pattern and replace it with a healthier more useful model.

If the hubs can do it, so can you! Though remember he is remarkable, just ask him and he will be happy to tell you all the reasons why. :)

For me the morning pattern sets the tone for the whole day, and the tone wasn’t working. So I made a deal with myself that I would change just one thing each week to see how it felt and whether or not the house actually fell through a sink hole because I didn’t wash bottles right away. The first week I started getting up 30 minutes earlier than usual so I had time to check in with work and address issues there before my kids were even up. This allowed me to not only feel less hurried but I was able to get a few small tasks done and feel instantly accomplished (I will likely always crave a sense of accomplishment). Once this is taken care of I can get my boys up, change diapers, make yummy carrot muffins (I tell them are cupcakes) and read them a book. That’s right, the second week I started sitting my flannel clad butt on the couch and read to them. It turned out to be a really nice way to start the day. They munch on their food making adorable eating noises only people under the age of 4 should make, and I get to connect with them first thing in the morning so they KNOW they are important and rank high on my to do list (instead of somewhere beneath laundry and trash). Once the book is done, I will often read a second one(living la vida loca over here) or I will get their help in rounding up laundry. Now they feel important and I still get my clothes clean. Since we do this every morning it means 1 load a day and no piles of clothes or daunting days of load after load. They help with the trash and even feeding the dogs (which I could argue isn’t helpful, but I won’t).

By the time my mother arrives to watch them so I can get in my real work of the day (that which I get a paycheck for) I feel relaxed and connected to my kids. I don’t feel frazzled or anxious and they don’t feel ignored and unimportant. Its 9 am and maybe I can’t say I got everything done, but I can say I didn’t have to yell at anyone. Hm… better, right?

By changing the pattern of the morning, and how I approached the tasks I wanted to accomplish, I was able to change my whole day and still get the majority of stuff done in a timely manner. One of my Intentional Identifiers was to be a better mother, more connected, less easily frayed. I changed the way I feel about my kids and they changed their interaction with me. There is a lot more thank you mommy and way less spitting than before- for those of you without kids, 3 year olds spit a lot, I mean like a lot a lot. I didn’t just do it all at once, and I didn’t even really make a plan. I just changed a little bit at a time and I kept making minor adjustments until the new pattern worked better. I have let go of my old morning routine and I think it is safe to say no one around here misses it.

Bottom line is change is hard, even change that creates something better or grander or more spectacular. Anytime you let go of something you are really saying “this no longer works for me” and that is a scary thing to admit. You risk your sanity, your happiness, and sometimes your relationships with others when you make the leap of faith involved in letting go. I think letting go of patterns can be easy because you can do it just a little bit at a time, see how it feels, marinate in it if  you need to before adopting it as a new pattern. If you do it slowly enough, you probably won’t even notice the growing pains involved in changing your core life patterns. The balance is taking your time and massaging the details around to fit but not going so slowly that you really aren’t making progress and you slip back into the old pattern. Or worse you make abrupt changes and you can’t stick with them because your hardwiring never had a chance to catch up.

There is a lot of peace and contentment to be found with letting go of useless patterns. Things you probably don’t even think about or take for granted that it is just “the way things are” can have a profound effect on your mood, your happiness, and your life. If you are stuck in a pattern that isn’t working for you, maybe never did work for you, I encourage you to adjust the pattern until a new one fits. After all, my husband can’t be wrong! (or so he tells me)