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A trick for making a habit happy

If you're following along with my last few posts chronicling how to get unstuck with starting a new habit, Friday I talked about how to approach your plan to start with a new habit (or break an existing one) and gaining awareness of urges to go rogue from the plan. Instead of acting on that temptation, allowing those urges to be there and pass. This is the key to overcoming the intense desire to sabotage yourself.  

For me, there is another piece of the building habits that I think is crucial to mention, because it can impact not only your experience of the new activity, it can transform the outlook of your whole day. If it transforms or slightly impacts even just the days you preform the new habit going forward, then it can potentially improve your whole LIFE


Your. Life. 

You're not allowed to roll your eyes and stop reading after I say this word... process the urge, damnit.

Really, no joke, push through. I know it's every where... pick 3 things, create a journal around it, feel it everyday. You are like deaf to it by now. It's the truest most amazing advice and yet my eyes glaze over a little each time I read it, but seriously this little secret piece that I really encourage you to infuse into your new habit is this: graditude. 

I know. Seeeeee, you don't want to read on! This graditude isn't about guilting you for complaining or because "you should be thankful" this is really a different angle. Stay with me.

From bitchy to bliss-y

Okay, so "bitchy" might be a little strong here, but as you start the new habit, work to break the stuck cycle, if you had one, I mean this inital phase of habit building is the bitch of it. All the things are uncomfortable. Period.

  1. The discomfort of feeling the crappy feeling of temptation (or urge) without acting on it... just letting the discomfort be there and pass
  2. Putting yourself into discomfort of some kind of new behavior. Which, likely this new behavior is tied to some delayed gratification (not all instant) and some effort 
  3. It's simply a change in your usual activities.  

Brains don't typically get amped about change. You can feel like your whole life, or one area of it is in the shitter, try to make changes towards making it better and I'll be damned if the brain doesn't get all "oh now but wait..." on us "the shitter isn't soooo bad". 

It loves familiar. No matter how awful it is. It will fight for it. 

As you are new to anything, the brain sort of adds discomfort on top of the aforementioned discomfort, whether it's working out or what suddenly might feel like "choking down" 8 additional ounces of water (can we get an eye roll for the brain on this one!? I mean damn). You are likely to find some mental discomfort in taking the action...

UNLESS you train it on purpose

Years ago, I read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Now, I'm not privy to all the goings on of Marie's decluttering TV show... nor do I care. I caught wind it didn't have quite same flavor of emphasis on graditude and joy as her book's voice, so I'm avoiding the show to preserve my own take on what I believe is one of the most life changing rituals I've ever adopted:

Saying "thank you" to my laundry. 

Oh geeze, I fear I might loose you on yet another loop of this article, but stay with me.

Graditude is one of the strongest, most powerful emotions we can feel as humans. I think it's impossible to avoid brushing up against the emotions of peace, fulfillment, love and joy as you skyrocket through the feeling of true, deep, abundant gratitude.  

But I'll be damned if cute, little ol' precious Marie suggesting I thank my laundry as I folded it didn't push me into not only enjoying laundry and the experience of my clothing, but also into thanking all kinds of other inanimate objects in my life years later... I cannot lie. 

Think about it with your favorite t-shirt. It might go something like this while I'm putting up laundry (a typically mundane, pain-in-the-ass task) and scanning my shirt to be sure it's clean and in good tact: "Oh, I love you shirt. I'm so thankful for how your soft, gently worn fabric feels when I wear you and how it lays, fits and feels on my body... You make me look good no matter what I put on with you! I'm so glad I went ahead and spent full price on you all those years ago. Thank you for not staining after I splashed soy sauce on you yesterday. You are my favorite."

Just me or does that not feel so much better than "OMG I hate doing laundry, I wish you'd fold yourself."

Applying this practice to your goal activity 

I noticed last summer that during the ritual wiping down of the water rower after use in my workout class, that I had started thanking it in this same way as the laundry, but it usually went something like this: "hey you... I really appreciate that ass kicking today. I am not your biggest fan, but I sure do appreciate the challenge you offer me that makes me stronger every time we meet."

I'm not a rockstar on the rower. But gaaaw... thanking it make me feel like a beast. Even if it won. And it did. Daily. But. I noticed how much it changed my experience of the exercise, my whole workout experience, and even my drive home.

This practice conjured up several things:

  1. Respect for the "opponent":  yes, I did kind of see this exercise as the "bowing" ritual they do at the end of a martial arts match. The act of thanking the challenger for the opportunity to experience the challenge they offered as growth. It's acknowledging that with those moments in "the fight" you are gaining muscle, exposure to a great lesson... and more than I can even articulate. Whatever the challenge is, be it mental, physical, emotional, and no matter how you might judge your own performance at it, the fact remains you are better, stronger or wiser for having fought this particular fight. This is why they say challenges make you stronger. If it was easy, every Tom, Dick and Harry would be doing this thing you are doing. The challenge is the gift.
  2. Acknowledges for yourself that you showed up for yourself. And you well know that it's easier to not to show up. But you did. Go. You.
  3. It reminds me that in the big scheme of life, the "negative" moments actually have some positive benefit. I believe this. Even the circumstances that feel the most negative. I don't always have to understand what that benefit is to appreciate it being somewhere in advance of it showing up. The goal you are seeking is this way too. You know that you have an idealized version of what results are on the other side of this goal (money, strong arms, healthier body, amazing body of work), but you also have some unexpected byproducts that will come out of working towards this goal habit... amazing learning and experiences associated with taking this goal on and achieving it.
  4. Graditude, as I alluded to earlier, feels like joy, peace, excitement, love all kinds of wonderful emotion... IT'S FABULOUS! Who does not want to feel fabulous!? You are the beneficiary of your emotions. No one else can actually feel the sensations in your body... just you. Create thankful thoughts... feel the rush of graditude. Why not build-in the feeling of complete bliss as you do this new activity? This ritual can counter the discomfort around doing the activity, allowing the "urges" and your brain's resistance to change by infiltrating your system with endorphinsdopamine and serotonin. Remember, these sensations are exactly what makes the negative habits hook us... Keep yourself hooked on this good one with feeling thankful.
  5. Reminds you how capable you are. As opposed to how much you lack, or how you should have been doing this thing all along... naw. That's pointless and feels shitty. Celebrating what you are doing and have now inside of you as being able and strong, and exactly where you are suppose to be, right now... I can't think of a better way to silence the "should" thinking.
  6. It's a celebration. It marks the moment in time as a win. You are training your brain to see this activity as important, life enriching and meaningful. You're also reinforcing the positive behavior and outlook. So you'll find you also have a new mindset of graditude for other challenges in life. Which, hello... that's beats being a victim of a challenge any day.
  7. More happy thinking and feeling means... more happy thinking and feeling! I mean... create. more. happy. Period. Yes. Let's do that. Result: more happy thinking and feeling {insert sloppy, yet joyful adult cartwheels!}.  I mean really... result is: workouts are joyful and laundry isn't so bad. Hell yall, I'm winning.
  8. Practicing belief ahead of time, before actually having tangible results... It can put you in touch with believing in yourself and the outcome of the goal. This is so important. You are becoming a person who {insert habit and goal}. This is a process. Today, you are not a person that can run 2 miles, makes $100k, weigh 130 pounds or win design awards. You are becoming a person that thinks, feels and acts like a person with that result. Believing pushes you into feeling capable of adapting all the nuanced ways of the person who has those things. Practice belief often. Graditude ushers in belief.
  9. Repetition and elevated emotion are the best ways to build habits. And not just good feeling because you are feeling good whilst going for it, but it is EFFECTIVE for sustainable, long term habit building. If you are going to become a person that weighs 130 pounds, and you're going to want to be 130 pounds for more than a week, you are going to want to keep this habit and others around it for, well, ever. Enjoy them. Celebrate them and who they are pushing you to be.
  10. Keeps you in touch with higher purpose. Gratitude is kissing cousins with purpose, or the why behind your desire. It is the result you want, but it's really the bigger more meaningful associations that tie right on to your emotional heartstrings.  Why you want this result? What does it mean to you? How is it impacting the world? Your legacy? Remember: Strong emotion + repetition = unconscious and effortless
  11. Spreading the feeling of thanks. Thanking one thing and enjoying the joy of that feeling will naturally send you into a tailspin of gratitude-ing all the things.... yourself, the weather, the air conditioner... on and on!  

Speaking of on and on... I mean I cannot stop with this fantastical list, but I'm gonna rip myself away... because I realize I'm skating around the "how"...what to actually thank. 

"So, what should I actually thank, Holly?"

Well, I'm glad you asked. I have some ideas...

Triggers. Habit triggers.

You are building this habit to be natural, automatic and mindless. Think about the activities you have to do around this activity: do you have to put tennis shoes on? There you go: Thank your shoes as you put them on and take them off. I bet you a nickel you'll thank them as they carry you through the activity. And you'll notice how incredible your own feet are. All those bones, all those tendons... not just carrying your body, propelling it forward in the ways only human feet can... AhHhmaZinG, yo.

If you are committing to read 10 pages a day, thank the book, it's cover, the pages. If it's digital, thank the phone you read from or the notebook you take notes in. The desk you sit at.  I think having a physical stimulus you have to touch to engage in the task means you're less likely to forget to do it. PLUS the elevated emotion associated with this repeated activity will make it all habitual. Which is to say effortless and unconscious. 

Drinking extra water: thank the water cup you are taking extra sips from, appreciate it as you sip and set it down between sips. Thank the water itself -  hey, 38% of the worlds population doesn't even have access to clean water! HOLY SHIT! You are so blessed! You not only get to drink it, but you waller around in it, flush it down the toilet, and run it down the sink! Make it cold AND HOT!  What a wonderful fabulous gift! Love this water and the way it feels in your body as you drink it.

Side note: This might be where we can screw up gratitude: we add guilt. (Yes I double colon-ed). Avoid the temptation to turn this into something to be "guilty" over and get sad about those that don't have something.  That attitude doesn't actually help anyone, and steers you AWAY from graditude and love of what you do have. If we all really truly appreciated what we had on a deep meaningful level, we'd change the world. At the very least, we'd change our experience of it.

Loving the well-worn, sale bin mistakes, or less than ideal stuff. 

Try to pick an object that you have to have contact with consistently in the habit. It doesn't have to be a fancy, new and/or great thing.  In fact, I actually like to pick something that is old and worn or isn't in ideal condition and a little harder to love. Even better. You have to work on a deeper level, conjuring up positives and even a little compassion for the thing. That extra work always going to be to your benefit.  Thank your experience of owning this thing for what it's taught you about your ideal version of it, about shopping, for being an asset, a partner to you as you master this habit... perhaps you couldn't do the habit without this thing. Thank this thing for being faithful on this journey, for what it allows you to do. Shoes, pens, cups, and raggedy sports bras. Thank you all. You are, after all, what I got.

Your brain is your most powerful muscle.

It doesn't have to be an actual thing that you thank. Is there a difficult hill on your run route? Delicious donut you really want to eat in the middle of the table? Thank this challenge like I thanked the rower. 

You're acknowledging that it is not only a marveling masterpiece of its kind, with all its multi colored sprinkles or soaring, near 90 degree angle heights... but that even with those assets, you are still the holder of the power.

Repeated, incremental exposure to this thing only makes you stronger, better, faster, right? The more you respectfully acknowledge this thing's power, you're also nodding to the commitment you've made and your power over this thing (even if it's a reach right now).

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

I couldn't have said it better myself, Ralph.

Always thank yourself. 

You are an incredible human. Just humans are unbelievably great. Our bodies are cooler than the most advanced machines, our minds stronger than a billion dollar computer. The fucking finger nail on my left thumbs astounds me since I regularly try to cut my thumb tip off while chopping dinner. Thank you left thumb nail for saving my thumb tip on the reg. I really do love you so. The nail alone is incredible, I'm not even to the joint, function of the thumb itself and all it allows me to do, hold and experience... including offering glowing or gloomy approve ratings. (Two thumbs up, thumbs).

The object to decide to love is just the vehicle to remind you of graditude. But you showed the F up, boo. Fabulous job. Kudos! That is really what minimum baseline  planning is all about. Slow, consistent positive action over time creates compounding interest of wins. That, my friend, wins the race of you becoming the person who does the epic shit you dream about. You could have stayed in bed, ate the donut, skipped the water or the reading time. But you showed up instead. 

This graditude practice is the celebration you deserve.

Whatever you thank, build in a thank you to yourself. Even better, when you snuggle up to bed at night give yourself a little "thank-you-for-today" self-love as you close your eyes. Revel in all the big and small accomplishments of today as you appreciate the cold sheets and your cozy cocoon. 

You are the creator of your reality. Thank yourself for showing up to own that truth. Future you will thank you. 


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