Making New Habits Stick

kitchenIn our constant quest to a better ourselves, we look to adopt new behaviors and habits. But new habits are hard to adopt especially when those new behaviors don’t feel all that rewarding for the amount of effort we’re putting into it. Take for example my goal to declutter my office by going to a paperless filing system. This was a habit I tried to adopt last year and it involved changing completely how I processed bills and accounts. The new habit involved different steps of scanning, shredding and saving vs. slipping the bill into a folder and filing by year and month – something I had done all my life. So, sticking to this habit was harder because it actually felt less satisfying and the reward for my new behavior was not immediately apparent. I still have folders filled with old files (my purging process is going slowly) so I wasn’t seeing a less cluttered filing cabinet – I just wasn’t adding to it. I am happy that I was able make this habit stick. I attribute my success in adopting this new habit to having created barriers to the old system. Basically, I made it almost impossible for me to revert to old ways by not setting up new folders. The only thing to do when a bill came it was to follow the new paperless procedures. I can see the reward now and it’s great to see that my files are not growing and bulging with paper!

 

Another new habit that was a bit easier to stick to was to have a clear and clean kitchen at all times. This meant that dishes were to be washed, dried, and put away – as soon as they were dirtied. This differed from my current habit of letting things pile up during the day and cleaning up at once, either in the evening or the next morning. This new habit required carving time every morning to clear breakfast dishes before heading off to work, and cleaning up right after dinner instead of watching television. But it wasn’t only dishes that cluttered the kitchen. The island had become the repository of the daily mail. By week’s end, half of the island surface was littered with mail. Sticking to my goal of a clear kitchen became especially challenging on long work days when all I wanted to do was to go to bed early and leave the dishes until morning and deal with the mail on the weekend. But, I would make myself stick to my new habit even when I had no desire to do it. Fortunately, for this new habit, the reward was pretty immediate – a clean uncluttered kitchen – aaah! An unexpected plus was that my husband began adopting the same behavior and is pitching in to keep the kitchen spotless.

 

So I learned that to stick to our new behaviors and create new habits two things will definitely help: 1) eliminate access or create barriers to old behaviors and 2) focus on the rewards of the new behaviors. If the rewards are not immediately apparent, then create rewards! I want to gain muscle tone and maintain my cardiovascular fitness this year. I know it will take several months before I see results so I have created rewards for myself. For example, I listen to my favorite mystery books on my iPod when I go out for a run, and only when I got out for a run. My love for mysteries is a great motivator and reward that will get me closer to the real reward of working out.

 

Adopting a new habit is hard work and it takes time.  If you slipped up, don’t sweat it. Just keep at it and hang in there!

 

Much Love,

 

 

3 Life Lessons From 2013

questioningI know it is well into the new year and many of us are focused on working on our resolutions and looking ahead to lighter, richer, healthier, better version of ourselves. But, I’m not quite ready to close the book on lucky 13. Before I bid adieu to el Año Viejo, I feel it’s important to reflect on what life had to teach me last year. For me it was a great year with challenges, achievements, wins, and losses. Each small experience brought to me life lessons. Below are three of the big takeaways from 2013 that I wish to share with you:

 

Helping people make positive change should feel as good as spreading soft butter on warm toast

I love mentoring and coaching people to help them achieve their dreams. I mentored friends, colleagues, and students throughout my career as a natural byproduct of my work, but this year I was fortunate to have a job as a coach and work with people from all over the country. This summer I had a couple of coaching and mentoring experiences that were very challenging. The goals were not the issue, it was how I felt about the progress they were making. I felt frustrated and anxious at not being able to truly identify the best way to be helpful and have them move things along more quickly. I tried different tactics and continued to feel uneasy with my approach. I sometimes doubted my abilities as a coach and wondered if I was asking the right questions. Yet, other people I was coaching were making great progress and it was thrilling to see how each session was opening up new ways of thinking. In the end I learned this: people can only work on the things that that they are ready to face – and that goes for professional as well as for personal issues. It dawned on me that I have seen this kind of resistance to change in myself. When we are truly ready to deal with the barriers that hold us back then we become more open to help and more pliable to change. Those people who sailed ahead with a little bit of coaching were truly ready for it and helping them felt as good and easy as spreading soft butter on warm toast. For myself I learned that be most helpful to people I have to match their pace. If their pace is at a standstill, that’s as far as it will go and that is okay.

True friends are superheroes that show their superpowers in times of distress.

Some lessons come in the ways of do’s and don’ts. This is the case with this lesson. Throughout my life I have considered myself surrounded by lots of friends. The main reason for this is because I called everyone a friend. If I knew only a little bit about you then bam!, he or she was a friend. If we had done some work together or shared an experience, that meant we were automatically friends. You can see that I had set a pretty low bar to friendship and it came back to bite me. So the lesson for me here was don’t set the bar to friendship so low that I can trip on it and fall on my face 🙂  But, the real takeaway comes from the incredibly beautiful experience of seeing my true friends emerge by my side when I was facing difficult times. My friends (and I use that title very carefully now) have become larger than life superheroes in my life giving me their attention, support, love and constant reassurances. They have deflected negativity with one swoop  WOOSH!, crushed my self-doubt with a single blow CRASH!, and kicked fear right in the gut. POW! Their counsel, advice, and shoulders to lean on have been the most precious gift any one could receive. True friends, like Superheroes, are rare indeed.

Work towards what you want but let go of the outcome

I am a big believer in visioning. If you can envision what you want, I believe that you will get what you want. Where I get discouraged is when the path towards my vision seems to take me off course, or if it does not line up with the steps I thought it would take, or if it’s taking much longer than I thought. The frustration comes in when I feel I cannot control the steps or the speed with which I am making progress towards my vision. From the prior two takeaways I learned this: I cannot control the outcome. How things wrap up or end up are not for me to own because all who are involved share and contribute to that outcome. I can feel elated or disappointed about the result but it is not for me to own as if my actions alone were the catalyst. The best thing I did in 2013 was to surrender. To surrender is hard but also uplifting. To surrender does not mean giving up my power, rather it is a way to release my power from the box I had constructed around it. If you’re looking to feel lighter in 2014, try surrendering. It works!

If you would like to share your big takeaways from 2013, write them in the comments section and I will post them in a special page for all of us to read.

Feliz y Prospero 2014!

Much Love,

My 12 Tips For 2012

Happy New Year! I pray that all who read this are feeling whole, rested and ready for the new year. A new year gives us a fresh start, a do-over of sorts that fills us with hope and excitement for what is possible in our lives. As you start your 2012, consider applying one, two, or all twelve of these tips as you strive to achieve your goals. May you be blessed with inner peace, commitment and focus to realize all that you desire in 2012.

 

  1. Start off right

Aren’t we super busy? Our hectic lives force us to run from one thing to the next, like little robots. As we get busier we lose our mind/spirit/body connection. Start your day off right by reconnecting yourself. As soon as you wake up, or definitely before you walk out the door, practice slow deliberate breathing and set your intentions for the day. Pray to have serenity, focus and controlled energy to get through your day’s activities. Envision yourself finishing your day happy, successful, and fully satisfied with your achievements. If you do this everyday for just one minute, it will help you manage stressful situations and keep you focused. If you have the time to exercise, meditate and/or practice yoga in the morning, please do it as it will do wonders for your mind/body/spirit connection as well as your health and give you lots more energy throughout the day.

 

  1. Use your good china

Or use whatever it is that you are saving for a special day or for company. I have these great big wine glasses I use only when we have people over for dinner. The reality is that the true value of things is not in how much we paid for them but in how we feel when we use them and how they help us connect with others. My wine goblets are just dust collectors if they stay in the cabinet. We are reason enough to bring out the good stuff, and we can multiply their value by creating more memories with our friends and family.

 

  1. Make time for that one thing

It’s so easy to say, “I’m just too busy to ______.” I know it’s easy because I have said it so many times. Yet, I know that when I really want to do something, I will make time for it, even if it means getting up earlier, which is not an easy thing for me to do. We cannot add more hours to the day, but if we could, I’ bet my last dollar that we would still use the ol’ phrase, “I don’t have enough time.” This year, make time to do that one thing that you really, really have always wanted to do. Squeeze in time to do it, modify your schedule, prioritize, do whatever it takes to finally do IT – and you know what it is. This is the year to get it done.

 

  1. Immerse yourself in fun

D’you know what? We take life way too seriously. I am sure that when we’re on our way to the pearly gates we will think to ourselves – boy, I wish I’d had more fun. I remember how fun summer was when my brother and I played outside with other kids until we could no longer see the ball in the dark, or mom came to get us, which usually came first. We never wanted the fun to end. We need more of that in our lives. Make time to play with your kids, or to play with kids your age. Join a team, take up bowling, softball, tennis, anything that is just play and gets you to laugh and enjoy time with others. Play is great therapy for a busy mind.

 

  1. Do everything with enthusiasm

I know. Don’t hate me for this. It’s hard to be enthusiastic sometimes, especially when we don’t like our jobs, our co-workers, or we’re just plain tired. But, it’s been proven that even when we feign enthusiasm, it has a positive effect on our physiology, and it boosts our adrenaline and endorphins. If we approach our tasks with enthusiasm, it also has a positive effect on those around us. Yes, enthusiasm can be contagious!

 

  1. Smile more

Like enthusiasm, smiles are also contagious. Trust me, I have tested it and it works nine out of ten times (that 10th person just refuses to do it – she may think I’m crazy). When we smile we immediately become more attractive and more approachable. And, others will smile right back! I have tried it on my runs. As I approach another jogger I give them a great wide smile. Though most seem surprised, it is beautiful to watch an expressionless face transform into a smiling one. For that brief second, we have communicated in a very basic but deeply human way. Smile more and you will attract more people into your life.

 

 

  1. Do kind things for others

I believe that most people do nice things for others every day. It could be holding the door open for the person behind you, helping somebody with their bags, or just letting someone cut in front of you in traffic. But, I also think that there is an acute need for kindness now. Many people are suffering anguish and anxiety due to the economic conditions.  Is there something you could do to ease someone’s anguish? Could you help someone find a job? What kindness could you impart on someone who is feeling at an all-time low right now? These times call for us to go out of our way to be kind to one another. Consider putting on a few pounds in kindness this year.

 

 

  1. Take walks in the rain

Okay, I have the song “I’m singing in the rain” in my head now. For me, rain gets me to want to curl up under the covers and stay in all day. Rainy days usually bum me out. So why do I suggest walking in the rain? Sometimes joy can be found in the most unexpected ways. We have learned to associate certain emotions with certain situations – like gloom and sadness with clouds and rain. What if we challenged that? What assumptions/associations have we made that can be changed by changing what we do in said situation? A simple walk in the rain can be the start of change in the way we view and experience things.

 

  1. Love your body more

We all have parts of our bodies that we love less than our other parts. For me, that’s my stomach. But, why should I pick on my stomach, just because it’s stubbornly squishy and round? It’s a perfectly good stomach and I would be devastated if anything happened to it. So this year, I’m going to stop making faces at it and stop slapping it down to make it flatter. Nope, now I’m going to accept it into the whole of my body, and do good things for it, like eat more fiber, drink more water and take my vitamins. Hey there pretty tummy tummy!

 

  1. Make more friends

I think that when we were growing up it was easier to make a new friend. Now, with everyone communicating via email and doing things over the Internet, there is much less human-to-human interaction. Have you noticed that now all we see are the tops of people’s heads? Yet, the power of connectedness and having a good network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances is still true and essential to us. Strive to have more human-to-human interactions and make new friends. I recently tried this on a flight by offering the woman next to me a stick of gum. That started a conversation and connection with a woman who lives in my area and has worked in the same industry as me! We plan to get together.

 

  1. Burn incense

Really, you say? Yes, really. If you don’t meditate, burning an incense stick is a good way to get you to relax and let go for a few minutes. Find a soothing aroma that you really like, light it up and just breathe. Watch the plumes of smoke form patterns as they fill the air. Watch the entire incense stick burn, and as you breathe, try to pick out the nuances of the fragrances, like you would a sip of wine on your tongue. If you don’t find this relaxing, cut way down on your caffeine! But seriously, try to focus only on what is happening at that moment, and enjoy the feeling.

 

 

  1. Clean out the old stuff

For all you gardeners out there, you know that pruning and removing the old stuff is essential to allowing the new shoots to thrive. Sometimes we hold on to old stuff simply because we have room for it. But, old stuff just adds clutter and does not let fresh things in. Of course, removing old stuff is not restricted to the physical world; old ways of thinking, old disputes, old beliefs are part of our clutter. Are you holding on to some old stuff that is not useful to your anymore? That old stuff could be hampering fresh ideas and new things to come into your life! Commit to de-clutter your mind and your physical space this year.