5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year

Reading Time: 8 minutes

A warm welcome to 2020! I hope you are as excited as I am about the new year. 

In this new year, we get yet another chance to

be curious and explore all that life has to offer us

make a new beginning 

make things right 

celebrate our achievements

learn from our mistakes

learn to let go of what no longer serves us

 

Opportunities or challenges?

There will be many happy and enjoyable moments this year but at the same time, there will also be many others which are difficult and challenging. Many of these difficult moments will actually be opportunities masquerading as challenges. The point is not “if and when” these will show up but whether you and I will be well prepared to greet these situations with the right frame of mind. Either way you may be all set to start this year on the right note and incorporate some healthy habits in your life that are long lasting. 

In this article and the next, I discuss some steps that you can take to create healthy habits, motivate yourself right from the beginning and BECOME the person you need to be in order to sustain those changes in your life. There are many books and articles on these and other related topics and I have been greatly inspired by them. I have tried my best to encapsulate the core essence of these amazing resources in these blog posts as well as draw from my own experience as well as that of my clients in my health coaching practice.

Habits and outcomes- the connection

In fact, you may already be working on or at the very least be thinking about some kind of goals, resolutions, healthy habits that you would like to build upon in your life. While I am not an expert on these topics, as a coach I guide my coaching clients to incorporate and sustain healthy habits as they work on their health and wellness goals. The main objective to bring about some form of transformation in the areas of their life that they are struggling with. As my clients start moving towards their goals, they soon realise that it is indeed our habits which determine the outcomes in our life both good AND bad.

As Aristotle had said

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit"  

In my last post, I had touched upon some key reasons why many of us never end up taking any action in spite of having the best of intentions. In this post, I go one step further and give you some action steps to help you remove as much friction as possible and make it easy for you to make changes that you need to in your life.

Let go of the controls

Before we can get started however, there is something that we all need to come to terms with. The reality is that we have much less control over the outcomes of the efforts that we put in than we think we do. In other words, inspite of putting in our best efforts we may not get the results that we want and some times, things can also go wrong. Ignoring this reality and trying to control ALL the outcomes all the time can be both tiring AND frustrating. 

Yet, this is exactly how we approach most of our goals- with an extremely tight and clenched fist. Rather than focus on our efforts and our response to a situation we end up focusing on things beyond our control. However, the truth is, some times it is only when we let go of the controls that we actually start seeing the results that we want in our life. 

There is a lovely story that illustrates this point in a book that I read recently called “The Inside Out Revolution” by Michael Neill. Robert C. Kausen, a teacher and consultant had shared this story with the author many years ago. 

The story goes like this....

“He was telling me about a friend of his from high school who was training for his pilot's license. 

During his first solo flight, he lost control of his Piper Cub “trainer plane” high above the ground.  The more he tried to bring the plane back under his control, the more wildly it spun, and his conversation with the tower went something like this:

Pilot: “Mayday! Mayday! I've lost control of the plane—please advise!”

Tower: “Take your hands and feet off the controls—I repeat, take your hands and feet off the controls!”

Imagine yourself for a moment as that young pilot. You are spinning wildly out of control, clearly heading for a devastating crash, and the person who’s supposed to be looking out for your safety and well-being is telling you to let go of the controls of the plane.

Is he insane?  Does he have some kind of a personal vendetta against you that you don't know about?

Pilot: “Negative, Tower—repeat, I have lost control of the plane!  I'm trying everything I know to do to bring it back under control but I can't do it!  Please, just tell me what to do!”

Tower: “This is a matter of life and death—Take your hands and feet off the controls—do it NOW!”

What the young pilot didn’t know (and the air traffic controller clearly did) is that trainer planes have a self-righting mechanism built into them.  When you let go of the controls, the plane levels itself out. Once the plane is back on an even keel, the pilot can take over again and steer the plane back to safety—which is exactly what happened in the case of Robert’s young friend.

So how does this apply to us?”

 

As Martin Luther King Jr had said

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”. 

You will soon realise that taking the first step and building momentum is key to getting started. No matter how small that step is, it is important to get going in the right direction. It is very common for many of us to simply constantly attain the knowledge required but fail to take any action whatsoever. And as time goes by, they lose confidence and fail to act upon the opportunities that come their way.

Here are a few action steps for you to get started

1. Take an inventory of your current habit system

You already have a system in place which may or may not be working for you. If your system is designed to produce negative, self limiting beliefs and self defeating patterns in your life, you need to become aware of it. It is time to take a good hard look at where you are in your life right now. As the habits expert James Clear says “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”. 

This means that you need to ask yourself these questions

Which of your current habits is standing in your way of reaching your goals? 

Which new, healthy habits will allow you to make the changes you would like to see?

 

2. Start small

Research shows that it is beneficial and effective to start small if we want to be successful at long term behaviour changes. It is indeed necessary to start with small steps which will require as less willpower as possible and is relatively easy and painless for you. Many of us are under the misconception that people who are able to achieve their goals and sustain healthy habits have much more willpower than they have. But this could not be further from the truth. It is not willpower but the small, incremental changes that we make every single day leading to small regular improvements counts in the long run.  

It is the same for you- whether you would like to lose weight, build a new business, write a book or anything else for that matter. Indeed, small changes made over long periods of time (think 2, 5, 10 or 20 years) have a compounding effect and have a huge impact and the same is equally true for bad habits

So as you read this, ask yourself, What is that one small step that you will take today, tomorrow and every single day after that will help you move towards a goal that you have set for yourself?

Some examples of this are “working out 3 times a week for 30 min”, “going for a walk even if for 15 minutes every day”, “having healthy meals every day”

3. Build new habits by stacking them on habits that you already have

It is much easier for us to stick to new habits when we connect them to a habit that we already have. This idea is called habit stacking. As human beings, we all decide what to do next based on what we did just finished doing. Habit stacking simply takes allows you to take advantage of this aspect of human behaviour. 

In real life it could look like this. You could incorporate a routine of stillness or meditation in the morning by saying “ I am going to sit down for 10 min in silence every day after I have finished brushing my teeth”. By linking it to a current habit that is already well engrained in your life, you make it easier to incorporate and sustain new habit.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work

-Stephen King

4. Design your habits for success

The quote from Stephen King is one of my favourites. It means that we do NOT leave it to chance to see if we can stick to a new habit. On the contrary, we design our environment to set us up for success by leaving obvious visual cues and drawing our attention to certain habits.

In my own life, I incorporated a new habit of oil pulling (the process of cleansing your mouth with cold pressed coconut oil for dental health and hygiene) by simply keeping a small bottle of coconut oil right next to my toothbrush and toothpaste in the bathroom. By having visual cues like this in your surroundings you can dramatically increase the chances of sustaining a new habit. Indeed, many people I know leave their workout clothes and shoes right next to their bed so that they can see them when they get up in the morning.

Ask yourself this question- What is a visual cue that you can use as a trigger to remind you of new habit that you would like to sustain in your life?

5. “Celebrate the small wins”

And last but not the least, ensure that you take out time to celebrate the progress that you are making on a regular basis. We are often so focused on our goals and the end result that we forget to take the time to celebrate what we have achieved irrespective of how big or small it may be. Many of the changes that we are seeking will take time and it is important to find some way to measure and celebrate our progress to keep us going.

One easy way of doing this is to get an empty glass jar and deposit a single bean (or any other small item like a pebble, dried peas etc) every time you take an action and/or complete a task you had set out to do to. This makes your progress visual and gives you the impetus to keep you going. Indeed, I use a variation of this in my coaching practice by asking my clients before each and every session this question

“What are you celebrating this week?”

In the end, the objective of setting goals and working on healthy habits is NOT to change ourselves or "fix" ourselves. It is simply to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of reaching our true potential and fulfil our dreams. You will find that as you change the way (or the system) you move towards your goals and not just the goals themselves, you start seeing results that are long lasting and meaningful.

(My next post will cover this aspect in more details; watch out for it next week!)

Celebrating your unique self

Reading Time: 6 minutes

For the past several weeks I have been writing on the topics of self worth and self compassion. I have touched upon various facets of our lives that contribute to our sense of self worth and self compassion which include topics like resiliency, self acceptance, choosing yourself.  (You can read them HERE)

In the last post in this series, I want to celebrate all that makes you, well, YOU!

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We often tend to overlook aspects of our lives that make each and every one of us unique and worth celebrating. We often focus too much on our shortcomings and all the things that we need to work on and improve about ourselves. As someone who believes in self growth and that we need to be constantly moving forward, I need to be careful not to ignore what is already working well in my life.

I know that self development on a consistent basis is the key to improve different aspects of my personal and professional life. However, I have also realised that there is often a hidden danger in this. If I only look at all the things that need improvement in my life, I can very easily overlook all that I have achieved and the person that I have become over the years. I try and avoid this pitfall by using my strength of gratitude as a way of appreciating all that I have and by fostering self acceptance towards myself to keep my self worth intact. However, this is something that I need to constantly work on, it does not come naturally to me.

As you think about what I have written above, ask yourself these questions-

What makes you unique?

What makes you stand apart from others?

And in what ways are you "whole" today? 

One of the pitfalls of working on ourselves to improve our situation and moving towards the peace and happiness that we are searching for is that we can end up becoming fixated on the notion that we are somehow "broken". A feeling of inadequacy can creep in unknowingly as we look to self help offerings to "fix ourselves". Also, we can even up missing out on the happiness and fulfilment that is in right in front of us at this moment as we embark on a self improvement journey.

So today, do not look for all your flaws and your perceived imperfections. Instead, take out some time and see if you can

STOP...

seeking approval from others in order to feel valued and see if you can find ways to give yourself what you are seeking from others

comparing yourself with other people and start living life on your own terms

competing against yourself and instead, look for and embrace your strengths AND your flaws

We spend most of our lives trying to fit in, moulding ourselves in the space that is available to us.  Girls (even more so than boys) are conditioned to do this right from the start and this becomes a way of life. Later, as women, we learn how to say the right things, in the right manner and at the right time. We learn how to modify our behaviour to please others and keep the peace. With time, many women start to lose their identity and often reach a point in their lives when they no longer know who they really are or what they stand for.

I see this often with my coaching clients (who are mostly women in their mid-thirties to early fifties) who are struggling to give themselves the time and effort that they need to work on their health issues. As a part of working together to reclaim their health, we peel back the layers gently one by one so that their true self is revealed and they can connect once again with the innermost part of themselves. They realise that in order to heal, they need to treat themselves with dignity and respect and that they deserve the same love and kindness that they give their families.

Becoming free of disease is NOT the same as being truly healthy. If we are to truly heal ourselves in the true sense of the word, we need to work from the inside out

This means becoming aware of the nature of our thoughts and then working on developing the right mindset to give our bodies what it needs from us to heal. I find that often, this means that at the very least we need to simply stay out of its way. And then as we become more aware we find that we start treating ourselves with the compassion and respect that we deserve. And with time, no longer do we feel like indulging in activities and thoughts that bring out the worst in us or harm us in any way. We start celebrating all the ways that we shine and stand out from others.

More importantly, we start embracing our imperfections and our quirks. The way that we laugh with abandon, our inability to remember names (I definitely struggle with that!), our need to keep everything in perfect order, our tendency to worry or overanalyse- whatever makes us "one of a kind". 

If you struggle to know what makes YOU unique, take out some time and ask yourself these questions

What are the things that I value most in my life? 

What makes me really happy?

What brings a smile to my face just by thinking about it?

Which activities/hobbies do I try to fit in whenever I get the time? 

You may find that as you write down the answers to these questions, you have rediscovered a part of yourself that has long been forgotten. A part of you that helps you to rediscover your passions and sets you on an exhilarating journey of self discovery. A journey that takes you away from a life lived on autopilot to a life lived with intention and meaning.

(You can read my earlier post on related topics of finding your purpose and self acceptance here and here)

This path of self discovery also helps us release old patterns of limiting beliefs and old patterns which are no longer serving us.

WE...

no longer beat ourselves up for making mistakes or feel ashamed by our flaws

embrace our strengths, our weaknesses and all our imperfections

celebrate every small win and understand that failure teaches us a lot more than success ever could

no longer try to become someone we are not in order to fit in with the crowd

we find the strength to present ourselves to the whole world just as we are- imperfect and unique

I hope that this series of posts have made you think and has encouraged you to travel within yourself to look for what you may be seeking from your outer world. And I hope that you realise that you are indeed WORTHY - first and foremost of your own love and kindness.

I get it, this path is not easy. I have travelled the same path that you may be on right now. It has taken me some time and much effort but over time I have learned to embrace all that makes me "different" from others. I am no longer afraid to show up just as I am, my imperfections are there for all to see. I now realise that none of us is broken or damaged- we are exactly who we are meant to be. It is up to us to keep searching for this WHOLENESS, for this will set us free.

As the poet, author and activist Maya Angelou had said so beautifully

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high.”

~Maya Angelou

Book review – Kitchen table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

Reading Time: 2 minutesBook review – Kitchen table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

Rachel Naomi Remen is an amazing doctor but more importantly a healer who has touched many lives and healed countless of people through her work and writings. Her own suffering from a then incurable and painful Crohn’s disease taught her much more than her medical degree had ever done. Her grandfather, a rabbi, had a huge influence on her even though he died when she was only seven years old and contributed much to what she became later on. Over time she also learned through her experiences what life is really about even in the face of great difficulties and pain. Through her close proximity to death due to her own health and that of her patients she realised she had a choice when it came to closing off from life to deal with her pain or to embrace it all and live fully. She has written books like Kitchen Table Wisdom and My grandfather’s blessings.

This book is a celebration of life and our connection to others through their stories of love, joy and happiness, pain, suffering, freedom and letting go, the  mysteries of life and especially death.

Kitchen table wisdom is collection of different stories about healing and love, resilience, strength in the face of pain and suffering. Telling each other stories around the kitchen table is how wisdom used to get passed along from one generation to another and through families and friends. In our modern hectic pace of life we have lost a lot of what used to be our way of life and of connecting with others and. This book is a celebration of life and our connection to others through their stories of love, joy and happiness, pain, suffering, freedom and letting go, the wonder as well as the mysteries of life and death.