Routine

August 24, 2009

That is the crux of what makes habits difficult to change: They are not so much a function of your attitudes, preferences, and beliefs, but instead they tend to be cued pretty directly by the environment you are in. ~Wendy Wood, cognitive psychologist at Duke University, in Rabiya S. Tuma’s “How to Take Control of Your Habits,” Yoga+ Joyful Living, Jan-Feb. 2008.

Taking control of habits is a recurring theme for me (Challenge to Myself), so I am always alert to new ways to think about establishing better habits, particularly around eating and exercise.

This weekend I was traveling, and so found myself eating out, choosing junk food, not exercising, and sleeping too much when I got home. This occurs more often than I would like, and I have said for a while now that I need to establish more of a routine so that I don’t find myself having to make decisions on the fly when I am tired, hungry, stressed, or otherwise vulnerable.

Habits are useful ways of preserving energy. Tuma writes, “Investigators have found that constant vigilance or attention to our goals, and the need to repeatedly inhibit ingrained responses to the cues around us, can be exhausting.”

Tactics that work to build new habits, according to Tuma, include changing the context (I’ve stopped driving by the DQ on my way home!), keeping goals realistic, and paying attention. Creating a new situation (for example, exercising regularly with a friend) and linking two activities together can also help. “After you brush your teeth, head straight for the meditation cushion. After a few weeks of this, the very act of brushing your teeth will prime you for sitting.”

Now I understand better why I have been craving more routine in my life. It is exhausting having to make conscious choices too much of the time. I have started attending yoga twice a week on my way home from work, so that is definitely a start. I think I will make a list of a few more healthy habits I can build in, using some of the tactics recommended in this article.

How do you stay on track with healthy habits?


New Year’s Challenges

December 29, 2008

If I leave my writing for one day, it leaves me for three. ~Madeleine L’Engle

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~Julia Cameron

Despite Julia Cameron’s words, I have decided to participate in the somewhat controlled Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009. Within this very loose framework (the creator gives full permission to participate stress-free–that is, however and whenever you like), I hope to enter that process of creative surrender more often in the coming year.

My first act in the CED challenge will be to create a list on this blog of as many possible creative activities I can think of that I might like to try this year. I hope you’ll add your creative ideas to the list when it’s posted in early January.

In addition, I’ve signed up for The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge at Zen Habits. This requires a pledge to practice something, anything, but only one thing, 10 minutes a day for 30 days. I figure surely I can work in 10 minutes of yoga every single day during January. Don’tcha think?

So rather than resolutions for the new year, I am giving myself two challenges. No one has asked, but I’ll confess to having fallen off the strength training wagon I committed to here. It seems like a great program, but it’s just not right for me, I discovered. So I am going to call that not failure, but learning!

Will you set challenges for yourself in 2009?


Challenge to Myself

November 7, 2008

It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges…intent has to be translated into action…Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Commitment to healthy living has been a theme in several previous posts (Commitment, Focus, Healthy Habits, Health, Healthy Habits Redux), and I am returning to it today. I am so good at planning, but so often fall down in the follow-through. I’m banking on the fact that posting my intention here–once again–will help, as it gets more embarrassing each time I proclaim an intention and fail to live up to it!

There have been times in my life when healthy routines were habitual and I couldn’t imagine going a day without them, so I know I can get there again. This morning I discovered Growing Stronger, an online book that I hope will help me get motivated and stay with a fitness program long enough to get back into a positive cycle.  It is incremental, gentle (for older adults, after all!), and includes a 12-week workbook to chart progress.

So I hereby congratulate myself for being willing to get up, recommit, and start over. I know exactly what I should do, and the time has come to muster enough energy to do it! I ask for your expressions of support for my efforts–whether you wish to just whisper your encouragement to the universe, leave comments on this blog, or join me in my challenge.

Namaste, and with gratitude.


Simplify! 10 Tips

September 16, 2008

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Does it seem to you as though everything is getting faster, more frenzied, and less personal? I am convinced that the frenetic pace and complexity of our modern lives detract from its quality. I want to remove unnecessary complications in my life, to single-task with focused attention, and to pace myself on a human time scale, with plenty of time for rest and reflection.

Suggestions for simplifying one’s life pop up everywhere these days. Here are a few of my own ideas. Note that I don’t come anywhere near practicing all of these, but they sound good! Perhaps I’ll adopt one at a time for the next several months.

1. Register at Catalog Choice and “opt out” of all the catalogs you no longer want to receive through the mail. This is something I actually have begun doing. It works like a charm, is good for the environment, and reduces the temptation to buy things you don’t need.

2. For every item you buy and bring into your house, move two items out. I confess I stole this excellent twist on the one-in, one-out idea from Leo over at Zen Habits, where you’ll find a myriad of organizational tips and ways to reduce clutter (as well as some very cool quotations!). Bought a new belt? Discard or donate two old belts or other accessories that you rarely wear.

3. Keep only one calendar for all activities (work, family, and leisure), and write everything in pencil. Make this a calendar you can carry with you at all times. If it will accommodate a to-do list, even better. That’s a good place for your list/log of activities. Keep your current address/telephone directory in your calendar also, and you’ll have it with you when you need it.

4. Buy greeting cards and even gifts ahead of time and keep them on hand, so there is no last-minute rush when you suddenly remember that a friend’s birthday is this week. I love pottery, and when I see something I like, instead of buying it for myself, I buy it to have in reserve when I need a gift for someone. I have the fun of buying it, but I’m not wondering what to do with it later!

5. Use your public library instead of buying the books you want to read. If you have the money and believe that buying the books is simpler (since you don’t have to remember to return them on time), donate them to the library after you’ve read them.

6. Develop a wardrobe of simple basics and invest in a few highlighting accessories to change your look. Gray is a good foundation color, and I don’t think you can go wrong with black and white, either. I read somewhere that Jamie Lee Curtis is wearing only black and white these days. Simple, huh?

7. Cancel your cable or satellite contract. We recently did this, and now use Netflix to get the movies and TV shows we particularly like. Not only are we no longer subjected to annoying commercials, we save a lot of time we used to spend channel surfing dozens of channels with nothing worth watching! Think you’d miss your local weather? Explore the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, or your local TV channel online.

8. When you get gifts or chachkas you don’t want or need, see how quickly you can pass them on to others. Keep these potential giveaways in a special place and raid your stash as often as you can. People will love to see you coming with their latest “prizes!”

9. Be very, very selective about what you collect and choose to keep. I am getting better all the time at appreciating things without having to own them. How many shells do you really need from your beach trip? I have some shallow shelves above my desk where I keep a few (small) items that are meaningful to me. Otherwise, I try not to collect things (of course I can say this only if we don’t count books and music!).

10. Keep a “tangent journal.” This is an idea I (again, shamelessly) lifted from another of my favorite blogs, Write to Done. But it doesn’t have to apply just to writing. Use it for reminders to yourself, to capture great ideas you hear about, or to record interesting things you’d like to know more about. Or better yet, instead of creating another journal, use that to-do list in your calendar!

How have you simplified your life? What are your techniques for keeping your composure in this whirling dervish of a world?


Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me your suggestions for wording for my sign…


Healthy Habits Redux

August 25, 2008

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do. ~Confucius

I had such good intentions of practicing healthy habits, losing weight, getting fitter, in my post of May 17. Things have not worked out the way I envisioned them then, but today I am again eating well, doing yoga, meditating, and loving what is. For I know that these practices are a series of choices, moment by moment. I am starting a tiny journal (a Moleskine Cahier to be exact) to record my motivation, resistance, and success. I can’t imagine what life would be like for me without the ability to chart, to write, to record!

On another topic entirely, our Night-Blooming Cereus bloomed last night! I always feel like I am witnessing a miracle when that happens. There are more buds, and I hope to take a picture tonight for tomorrow’s blog entry. Meanwhile, here’s another blog devoted entirely to this extraordinary member of the cactus family, including some beautiful digital photos by Professor Robert Fovell.


Health

July 27, 2008

Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. ~B. K. S. Iyengar

If I’d known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself. ~Leon Eldred

When I was very young (no older than 5, I’m sure), I spent one afternoon learning to ride a bicycle–under conditions that were hardly ideal. At that time, I didn’t have a bike of my own, so I learned on a 26″ model that belonged to my older sister. Luckily, I was a long-legged kid, so I could (just barely) reach the pedals. But I had no access to pavement, only a grassy slope on which to practice. Over and over, I fell, I got up, I walked to the top of the gentle hill, got back on, and tried again. I wanted to ride that bicycle more than I wanted anything that day.

An alarming thing happened at Pilates class last Thursday. I began sweating and shaking, turned pale as a ghost, and thought I would either throw up or faint, I wasn’t sure which. I know blood sugar dips, since I have had to pay attention to those for many years, and it wasn’t that. I attributed it to overdoing when I was depleted already, possible mild dehydration, and forgetting I was out of shape and no longer 18 years old. But the more disturbing thing was that it happened again Friday night, when I awoke from sleep in that condition. I am feeling much sturdier today, but am resolved to see my doctor.

There is a rash of health-related problems in my family at the moment. Stroke, dementia, and pancreatic cancer, to name a few. And it makes sense that illness in those close to us (and especially those close to our own age) can make us feel vulnerable and anxious about our own well-being. It feels impossible to separate the effects of the mental state, the worry about health, from those of the physical condition itself.

I have practiced healthy living only sporadically at best, and it is not for lack of information. I know what eating plan works for me, what things I should avoid (sugar, alcohol, the high-fat foods I love so much), what exercise I enjoy and am most likely to stick with (yoga), and what helps in controlling stress (mindfulness, connection to others). Yet I have fallen down on this grassy slope over and over, and I have to think it is because of some inability to fully commit, to want health more than anything. Though what could be more important in this life than what opens the gates of the soul?


Healthy Habits

May 17, 2008

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.  ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the weekend of the public declaration of my recommitment to taking good care of myself. Starting over. Again. I have just returned from a public library directors’ meeting, where I ate a pecan-studded brownie chock full of chocolate chips the size of Manhattan. Not to mention the wine, lasagna, key lime pie, and other assorted deadly comestibles I consumed during the trip. And of course no exercise beyond bending my elbow to eat all this great stuff.

Although I have started over many times in this attempt to take better care of myself, I now believe I can succeed in sustaining this effort. I have a better understanding of the reasons I indulge, I have more resources than ever to draw on, and I know firsthand the benefits of being fit. In addition, I understand–with my whole being, not just my brain–that health and fitness (like life) is the result of a series of moment-by-moment choices.

So, in order to hold myself accountable, I have set some goals. By the next public library directors’ meeting in September (seems as good a target as any), I will have lost 15 pounds, will be practicing yoga and meditation, and will be habitually exercising (at least 4 times a week).

How do you maintain healthy habits? Let’s support each other!


Experience

May 4, 2008

Zen is essentially about rebirth from the experience of Being. Zen teaches us…to “taste” divine Being in the here-and-now. But to have this experience and have it validly, we must first discard the old consciousness, which has hardened into habit and determines the way we think and act.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

Discarding the old consciousness…changing habits…not the easiest of tasks, but one that will keep us fresh, I think. I am drawn to poetry when it surprises me–with unlikely juxtapositions, unusual or melodic words, or unexpected rhythms. Perhaps such poetry plunges me into experience, the Being that Dürckheim talks about.

I was disappointed when I attended a poetry workshop with Amy Clampitt several years ago. She critiqued my submitted poem harshly, complaining (as best I could understand) that the world didn’t need another poem about a photograph, and that what I needed was experience.

Here is the poem. Tell me what you think.

After the Fishing Trip, 1953

Swayback with the weight of a child
unborn and of salt-water bass
hung by the gills on each middle finger,
my mother poses with painted fingernails
in front of an empty playpen on the grass.
Her eyes are deep, black,
and I wonder who caught those fish.
My father (I imagine)
snaps the picture and takes the fish
to slit their stomachs on the scaling table.
Perhaps he frees a lucky fiddler crab
that needs no help to find its way home.

 

 


Power & Love

April 14, 2008

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of my personal hot buttons is feeling powerless, ineffectual. This is one of those things I have known for some time intellectually, but I know now on a deeper level. It is time to claim my own personal power, regardless of any external conditions in which I find myself. I have been operating with the old (and now useless) behavior patterns of self-protection from my childhood, afraid of my own power.

I don’t believe that I’m alone in my ambivalence about claiming my own power, especially among women. Power is considered a dirty word by so many! What does it mean to claim my own power? I think it means equanimity in the winds of change, with the willingness to yield and bend when that is called for. I think it means standing up for justice (actively loving) when that is needed. Its foundation is a feeling that I have a right to take up space, that I belong in the universe–fundamentally, a love and sense of justice that include (even) me!

What is your relationship with power?


Change of Habit

February 11, 2008

“Yep, son, we have met the enemy, and he is us.”  ~Pogo

[Here I had copied the Pogo comic strip/Earth Day poster, 1971, from Wikipedia-see it here.]

I have just returned from three days at the Okefenokee Swamp, home of the beloved Pogo. Alligators basked in their muddy depressions on the peat “blow-ups”, great egrets and white ibises sailed over the cypress trees, and a tannin-colored wake followed our tour boat on Billy’s Lake. The Swamp is a National Wildlife Refuge now, but a logging company stripped most of the oldest cypress growth in the early 1900s.

Yet life abounds in this swamp, and I was reminded of the restorative properties of being outdoors. So why did I spend so many hours indoors in our cabin–knitting, playing Rummikub, and sitting with friends? Because part of my objective was rest and change of habit, taking a break from the usual. That I did. Now I want to find the entire run of “Pogo” and read it as an adult! 🙂


Watch the thought

November 28, 2007

The thought manifests as the word;
the word manifests as the deed;
the deed develops into habit;
and habit hardens into character.

So watch the thought and its way with care,
and let it spring from love
born out of concern for all beings.
~the Buddha

Again, we are talking about mindfulness I believe. To what thoughts are we giving energy? I used to have this poem on my bulletin board at work. What better management meditation? A reminder to focus on others’ well-being, to give attention to where an organization or relationship is going rather than where it’s been.

What are the habits that by definition I take for granted? Are they habits I want or habits I would rather not have? Increasingly, I am able to develop habits of kindness toward myself–love and concern for myself as well as others (“all beings” after all–not just you, but also me). And that frees my energy to be present for others.