Tie a new habit to an existing one

“When scheduling a new habit, it helps to tie it to an existing habit.” – Gretchen Rubin

I wanted to get in the habit of writing in my journal every day. I take my mid-day break from work sitting at a table by a window where it’s sunny, relaxing, well-lit, and comfortable. I thought to myself, “What if I tie my daily break with my journaling?” So, as a test, I started leaving my journal out on the table with it open to the next page and an uncapped pen ready to go. I was so surprised. It was almost magical. I’d sit down at the table with my coffee and immediately pick up the pen and start writing.

I do find I have trouble writing in my journal on days off, though, because I don’t have that built-it habit of sitting at the table. But five out of seven days is awesome!

I also tied in keeping a tiny gratitude journal. At the top of every page when I’m getting started, I list three things I’m grateful for. Then I start journaling.

It works for me. 🙂

My journal is just a simple spiral-bound notebook. Nothing fancy. And I don’t set a goal for how much writing to do or what to write about. I usually just write randomly until my break’s over.

I find that I get all sorts of ideas from this simple journaling practice. Writing ideas. Life ideas. Ideas to share with others. It’s been one of the most fruitful habits I’ve developed this year.

How to Feel Better

I found an older notebook while decluttering today. I decided to look through it and see what was hiding in there. The first page had a little list —

How to Feel Better:
1) Clean your space
2) Eat something healthy
3) Play great music
4) Light a candle
5) Sleep a little
6) Drink a glass of water
7) Breathe

I took a few minutes to do all of these items, and you know what? It worked. I woke up from a short nap and after doing the rest of the list, and I’m feeling better. I wasn’t feeling awful, just sort of run down and a little sad. Now I feel more energetic and my mood has lightened considerably.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make a big difference.

Wardrobe Choices

I’ve been working my way through the book The Simple Abundance Companion by Sarah ban Breathnach. It goes with the daily reader Simple Abundance which I read many years ago. The books are about getting in touch with your Authentic Self, the inner you that can sometimes get lost in midst of life’s demands.,

Today’s reading was about selecting a wardrobe that reflects the real you and doesn’t just reflect the current trends and fashions, or the clothes you’ve been hauling around for years because they still fit.

I’ve been in the process of losing weight and have actually gone down two sizes. So I’ve been buying clothing, mainly at thrift stores, to keep me clothed in things that fit. My main question related to clothing right now is, “Does it fit?” I haven’t been asking questions about is it my style, or is it right for me, or does it express what I want to show?

But eventually I’ll be at the end of this weight loss journey and I’ll be looking for clothes that will stay with me for a while. Clothes that I want to have express the real me (still working on what that means for me). What sort of questions will I need to ask then?

In the Companion book, she has some questions that she suggests someone ponder when trying to find what wardrobe style will suit them. Some of the questions/statements include:

  • Does it make you smile?
  • What are items of clothing you have that make you feel beautiful? Do they have anything in common?
  • Which clothes make you feel relaxed and comfortable?
  • Check out colors at a paint store. Examine the color swatches and see which colors speak to your soul.
  • Everything in your closet should make you feel beautiful and/or comfortable.

The clothes that make me feel the most beautiful are a short-sleeved above-the-knee black dress, a long-sleeved dark gray A-line dress, and a forest green shirt dress. A favorite pair of boots gets worn with two of these dresses. What do they have in common? They’re all dresses. And simple, and pretty casual. Dark colors. I dress them all up or down with jewelry choices. Hm. I don’t think of myself as much of a dresses sort of person, but isn’t that interesting that I feel the most beautiful when wearing a dress. I wouldn’t have realized that without doing this exercise.

I feel the most relaxed and comfortable in jeans, long-sleeved t-shirts, and sweaters. Or jammies. But I can’t wear jammies out in public. Well, I suppose I could wear them out in public … but I don’t choose to.  😉

Next time I’m at the thrift store doing some clothing shopping to replace the clothes that no longer fit, I think I’m going to make a point of checking out the rack of dresses.

One Habit at a Time: New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve been told it takes four to six weeks for any action to become a habit. So, keeping that in mind, one way I’m going to insure my success at keeping my New Year’s resolutions this year is by working on only one new habit at a time each month. Then, if I’m inspired to continue, every time I turn to a new calendar page, I’ll work on developing a different good habit.

At the end of the year, I could easily have twelve new positive habits in my life. Once something’s become a habit, it’s simply a part of my life and not something I’ll even have to think about anymore.

Here are some sample goals and habits I’m planning to implement throughout the coming year (in no particular order — taken one at time, one per month):

  • Go to the gym three to four times per week
  • Spend time everyday, maybe half an hour, reading just for fun (I tend to read serious material, and I’m feeling I need to be a bit more lighthearted about what I put into my mind)
  • Spend time, probably half an hour, practicing self-care each day
  • Work on my latest writing project for half an hour everyday
  • Spend ten minutes each day decluttering

If I start the New Year off by attempting to do all of these things at the same time, I know I’d become overwhelmed, and then give up long before any of these activities became habitual and second-nature.

What’s the area of life you’re most concerned about? Exercise? Weight loss? Healthy eating? Getting organized? Saving money? Spending more time with your kids? Break your goal down into simple steps that you can easily manage, and then start working your way to your goal, one small step at a time.

As the old cliche’ says: How do you eat an elephant? … One bite at a time. By making small and consistent changes, it’s possible to change your health, your body, and your life.

Candy and “food neutrality”

I’ve been working on weight loss and getting control of my compulsive food behaviors this year. I have a friend who I talk with regularly about my eating-related journey, and she believes it’s possible to achieve what she calls “food neutrality” where the food doesn’t call to you or tempt you anymore. I haven’t been sure what to think about the idea of food neutrality, but I experienced something this week that makes me wonder if there’s some validity to the concept.

Eight months ago, I stopped eating sugar. Cold turkey. Even went through withdrawals of sorts. Mainly headache, body aches, and overwhelming cravings. The discomfort lasted about a week, and then things settled down. No more physical symptoms, but still having cravings that I battled everyday. I talked to my friend everyday during this time, and her encouragement really helped. I have remained sugar-free for more than half a year. Amazing!

Fast forward to now.

Two weeks ago, I bought two large bags of candy to hand out to the trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I put the bags into a large bowl, and set it by the front door. Now, to give some context, on previous years if I’d bought candy early, I would’ve eaten the entire bag all by myself, and then would’ve needed to buy more candy to hand out. I’m a bit of a sugar addict and binge eater.

But this year it was different. I walked past the bowl of candy (all favorite candies, by the way), and I felt nothing. No cravings. No temptations. When I would look at the candy bowl, it felt almost like I was just looking at a bowl of dirt. Something inedible. Not food for me at all.

Is this what food neutrality is like?

On the other hand, I found myself thinking about the upcoming holidays and all the homemade treats that show up. Will my candy neutrality apply to homemade baked goods, too? I honestly don’t think so. Just thinking about those items (which will remain nameless so I don’t trigger myself) sends me into cravings. But knowing how eight months of living sugar-free set me free from candy, if I make it through the holidays and get some more time under my belt, perhaps food neutrality will show up for other temptations?

In the meantime, I’ll start this month of Thanksgiving being grateful for making huge strides with my weight, food, and body goals. Oh, and by the way, I’ve lost twenty-five pounds! Slowly, but I think, healthily.

Comfort List

I’m not on a diet (currently), but I am trying to redefine my relationship with food.  For example, I tend to go to food for comfort rather than just for sustenance.  If I’m depressed or lonely or anxious, I reach for some ice cream or pizza or a big bowl of buttered popcorn.

When I talked to a friend about my tendency to use food as comfort, she had an idea.  Make a list of things and activities that bring me comfort, and then try to add more of those things into my daily life.  I can also pull out the list whenever I find myself about to turn to food for comfort.

I think it might be an excellent idea.

Here’s my first draft of my Comfort List.  I’m sure there are more things to come as I have time to mull it over.

  • Nature walks
  • books
  • cats
  • photography
  • collaging
  • naps
  • movies
  • lunch dates
  • birds
  • prayer/meditation
  • writing

So next time instead of grabbing a carton of ice cream, maybe I could grab a soft, furry, purring cat.  Or write a poem.  Or read a chapter in whatever book I’m reading.

Also, I made a list of the foods I turn to for comfort and cleared them out of the house.  In the past, that wouldn’t have stopped me from eating the items.  It just meant I’d make an emergency run to the store or to Dairy Queen.  Now, before I run to the store, I’ll try turning to my Comfort List.  We’ll see if it makes a difference.

Decluttering Update

I took down my Christmas things and sorted through the ornaments. I have a lot of ornaments. I was surprised to find an entire box full of ornaments that triggered negative feelings or sadness. I boxed them all up and will be donating them. They will be beautiful, but they need to be on someone else’s tree, not mine anymore.

I’ve started decluttering by clearing the shelves in my bedroom, clearing the drawers in two dressers, gotten rid of several boxes of papers, found important(!) papers, sorted through some games and puzzles, and began working with the drawers in my spare bedroom.

That sounds like a lot of decluttering, but it took place over the course of a couple of weeks, just doing a little big here and there. I never felt overwhelmed or hurried. I just took my time, set small and realistic goals for myself, and smiled when I was done. I find that smiling is proving to be an important aspect of this decluttering journey.

Even when I sorted through the ornaments that triggered sadness, I could still smile because I knew I was clearing space in my life, space that had been cluttered with negative feelings. Yes, I believe that even feelings have the potential to be clutter.

find the magic

find the magic
that will only come
through telling your story
the one you’re afraid to tell
you’re afraid to open that box
because you may never stop crying
sit in the sunshine
and write the story
in bits
and batches
prose and poetry
when the tears well up
close your eyes
let the sun warm your eyelids
and then try
to sing

– from Grief Song

Expressive Writing

Someone recently told me about a writing technique, Expressive Writing, that’s supposed to help a person to process difficult situations. It’s a three day process that requires twenty minutes a day. I tried it out and found it somewhat helpful, so I thought I’d share about it here.

On the first day, you write for twenty minutes (either typed or handwritten) about the general situation. Write whatever comes to mind. Let it flow out of you. You’re not writing for anyone else to read, so don’t edit yourself. After you’ve completed your twenty minutes writing time, reread it one time. Then delete it (or tear it up and throw it away if handwritten).

On the second day, do the same thing but this time spend time looking more deeply at an aspect of the situation. Once again, after you’ve completed your twenty minutes writing, delete it (or otherwise destroy it).

On the third day, focus your writing on the here-and-now. On the present time. On where things stand today. After twenty minutes, reread it, and destroy it.

And that’s it.

I chose to write about a very painful topic from a few years ago that had been haunting me lately. I’d been having nightmares and disturbing thoughts about it throughout the day. I was afraid that maybe writing about it might bring it too much to the forefront of my mind, and that scared me a little bit. Then I realized it was already taking up space in my day, and perhaps just focusing on it directly might give me a release of some sort.

I do feel a bit better after going through the process. I might try it with a different situation just to see how it goes. If there’s something haunting you, maybe it might bring some relief.

Self-Care Ideas

There was a short discussion about self-care in a Facebook group I’m in. I decided to make up a list of easy things I can do to take care of myself and bring myself joy. I reread the list and realized many of these things can be done while in isolation/quarantine.

I’m sure there are many more things, but this is just what I came up with from one quick brainstorming session:

  • breathe consciously
  • lie down and close eyes for two minutes
  • stretch
  • pick flowers
  • water flowers
  • play a game
  • check Facebook
  • have a big glass of ice water
  • coffee, tea, iced tea
  • collage
  • pet the cat/dog
  • read a book/magazine
  • eat a small tasty snack
  • take a moment to observe surroundings
  • imagine a favorite location
  • listen to a favorite song
  • meditate
  • dance
  • sing
  • look at beautiful photos
  • take a photograph
  • draw
  • paint
  • write
  • take a shower or bath
  • do yoga
  • get active
  • get out of bed
  • start a new hobby
  • change posture
  • use lotion or favorite perfume
  • get exercise
  • lie in the sun
  • doodle
  • pray
  • take a drive
  • play musical instrument
  • cook
  • make a gift for someone
  • go hiking
  • crafts
  • sightseeing
  • give self a mani/pedi
  • watch a video of a play or concert
  • watch TV
  • playing with animals
  • text a friend
  • put on makeup
  • crossword puzzle
  • shooting baskets
  • jigsaw puzzle
  • playing cards
  • take a nap
  • make a card for someone
  • play a board game
  • wear favorite clothing
  • give self a haircut
  • watch stand-up comedy online
  • work in garden
  • blogging
  • nature walk
  • birdwatching
  • playing in the sand
  • reading cartoons or comics
  • read sacred texts
  • memorize poetry
  • listen to favorite podcasts