A GREAT today

It’s been over six months since I’ve posted in this blog, and had pretty much left it for dead. I started this for a class assignment, and enjoyed the week or two I spent on it. Since then, I started other websites and blogs for friends and special groups, including Healthy Prediabetic to use what I’ve learned about diabetes to help other people who have similar diabetic tendencies. I haven’t posted very regularly there, either. With young kids, part of my life balance is attending to them and life while they are awake, and then catching up a little and resting/sleeping when they are not.

It’s interesting taking another look at this blog after a long hiatus, though, and reading the message of change. Change has continued in my life. For a while, I’ve been making gratitude lists at the end of the day. In the past week, I’ve expanded that so that it has become a daily inventory, or check-in. Part of this was inspired by Pat Flynn’s podcast interview with Hal Elrod where they talk about The Miracle Morning, Elrod’s formula for having an awesome day based on starting with a morning reflective time. He is a big fan of the Five Minute Journal, which I read about and adapted for myself.

Instead of buying another product (I have enough stuff!) I took the ideas from Hal Elrod and the Five Minute Journal, and write on those every night. I write about the following:

  • Characteristics of my Higher Power
  • Things I am GRATEFULfor today and things that made today AMAZING
  • Things I could have IMPROVED on for today. Rather than write these as past events, I write their corrections in present tense. For example, if I’d spoken to someone in an angry tone of voice, I might write, “I figure out when I need to postpone a difficult conversation, and wait to speak until I can do it constructively,” or simply, “I speak with respect.”
  • INSPIRING phrases to give me direction, from my daily readers or other spiritual literature
  • AFFIRMATIONS of who I want to be. I also write these in present tense, reflecting the hope of what I hope to be more like. For example, “I figure out the answers I need at just the right time.” “I am curious, creative, and compassionate.”
  • Lastly, I think and write what I could do to make tomorrow a GREAT day. This one helps me center on factors that are within my control, as well as how I can be loving to myself. Exercise and sleep are often on this list!
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    Grateful

    This past weekend, someone’s angry body language really triggered stuff from my past, so that I felt fearful, ashamed, and sad for the next day and a half.  But in program, I’ve learned to be gentle with myself and accept my feeling, rather than judging it or hiding it or trying to change it.  In my sadness, instead of isolating myself, I called a friend in program, who sat with me through my sobs, and read to me about the redemptive nature of tears and grief.

    Tonight, I went to a meeting, and the share touched me in a deep place.  The speaker shared so many things about pleasing God, finding hope and freedom, speaking thoughtfully, with gentleness and strength.  That spurred on lots of shares where people related to difficult childhood, and I heard my story reflected in other people’s shares, over and over.  Truth, recovery, and gentleness were palpable to me.  I am so grateful to my God for this generosity and gentleness.  What a gift to have a whole meeting that spoke to my heart.  We would all otherwise be strangers, but linked by common suffering, we now offer each other common healing.

    Acceptance

    And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

    Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God. page 417, Alcoholics Anonymous


     

    My sponsor told me to read this every day, while thinking of things I have to be grateful for.  Consummate micro-manager that I am, it’s not my m.o. to believe that things are exactly as they should be at this very moment.  However, I’m beginning to appreciate that all of life is a journey, even a “new and exciting adventure,” as my sponsor says, quoting Helen Keller.  Rather than trying to find the “answer,” I appreciate that every step of the journey is an opportunity to choose life, beauty, trust, faith, goodness,…

    I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to fix things that I am powerless over.  This quote reminds me to accept the people, places, and things I cannot change so that I can turn my focus to all that I can change.  On any given day, I can choose to believe that my Higher Power is generous and gentle, full of magic, wisdom, and secret powers.  My God is doing for me what I could not do for myself, and I am not alone.

    We are all together now

    A 12-step meeting that I go to ends with the following declaration:

    I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness, no longer must we each depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.

    One of the most powerful forces for my habit changes is the knowledge that I am not doing this alone.  I feel a sense of relief, knowing that others have challenges and limitations like I do, yet have rich lives.  Despite the brokenness of our bodies and minds, we have found a spiritual solution and a connection to a power greater than ourselves that enables us to live amazing lives.  Also, we gather together and find amazing support, love and understanding beyond what we’ve experienced before.

    In addition to this intellectual affirmation, I tend to assimilate to the culture I am in.  When in Rome, little by little, we tend to pick up Roman habits, whether it relates to body language, food, holiday traditions, or language itself.  Now that I’ve lived a long time in California, my transportation habits, style of cooking, and social habits all more resemble someone who lives in Silicon Valley than someone who lives in suburban Tennessee.

    So, by placing oneself in a community where positive changes are happening, we tend to mirror and imitate those positive changes without even trying.  Furthermore, if the community is supportive, we find encouragement to keep moving forward, and acceptance to feel good about ourselves, so that habit change becomes an exciting and loving adventure, rather than a grim necessity.

    As we say in 12-step programs,

    “Keep coming back, it works!”

    A magical prayer phrase

    While we were discussing what it means to turn things over to a Higher Power, my sponsor told me a great phrase that’s been really helpful to me lately.  When I’m anxious-worried-stressed-resentful, she says I can pray, saying,

    God, I’d like (fill in the blank) or something better.

    By doing this, she does not limit God.  I’ve found this to transform my perspective on situations so that I go from holding onto an outcome in a tightfisted way, to having an open, generous perspective.  Where before, I thought things needed to be a certain way, after I pray this way, I can imagine what “even better” could be like.  When I say these words, I affirm that God is good and powerful.  Just remembering these words makes me want to pray more, excited about what God might bring about in my life.

    My God gives me transcendent experiences, sparkles and surprises, and sweet gifts.  As I’ve remembered to pray this prayer these past few days, I’ve received some really nice gifts from God: reading an inspiring spiritual book, special notes, and love from friends.  For someone who has the habit of believing I don’t merit much attention, this is huge!

    Do you have any magical prayer phrases? 

    The new day begins NOW

     

     

    When it comes to changing habits, it’s often tempting to think, “Well, I messed up today, so I give up for today, and I’ll start all over tomorrow.”  Sometimes that’s an excuse to never make a good change, continuing to practice an unwanted habit today, and then not necessarily changing tomorrow, either.  One helpful idea I picked up from a 12-step daily reader is that any great idea can be practiced NOW.  And that day in which to make a positive change can begin at any moment.

    Rather than saying, “I already blew it; forget healthy eating today, I’ll do it right tomorrow,” I say, “That was not the choice I wanted to make, and I start over RIGHT NOW!”  This is often liberating–the change can begin immediately.  In practicing this, I have realized that we have choices every moment of our lives, and can always make a more loving, life-giving choice rather than one that is destructive.

    12-step programs

    Joined HandsThe last realm in which encountered habit change was in my involvement with 12-step programs.  When I first went to meetings for Overeaters Anonymous (OA), I was struck by stories of people who had once had disordered eating, yet joined OA and had lost weight and stayed at a normal weight for years, even decades.  As I kept going to meetings and reading their literature, I observed many different tools in use for changing habits, which echoed everything else I had read on habit change.  12-step programs are communities that are built around recognizing old habits that are no longer beneficial so that a person can have “a fuller life experience.”  Some of the tools and sayings I’ve appreciated are the following:

    • “Easy does it,” meaning not to make things too difficult and stressful.
    • Motivation and inspiration—need to have a good reason to do it, because change it difficult
    • “Act as if.”  It is suggested that a person can “act as if” something were true, whether that they’ve already integrated better habits and choices in their life, or acting as if they have a good and loving Higher Power who helps them lead a better life.
    • 12-step programs, also help build the ingredient of faith that Duhigg identified.  People at meetings frequently talk about the contrast in their life before and after entering the 12-step program, giving hope that change is possible.
    • 12-step programs are also a caring community of support for habit change.  People support one another by talking with one another about what they would like to change and telling about what has worked to help them change.   Because the programs encouraging rigorous self-honesty and support of others, they are a place people can return to without fear of judgment or criticism.  By continuing to be in the community, people get a chance to keep on practicing habit change.

    When God Talks Back

    An article in Stanford’s alumni magazine summarized anthropology professor T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford and the author of “When God Talks Back.”  I was particularly fascinated by a month-long experiment she directed, where she assigned participants to daily meditation, to imagination-rich prayer or to listen to lectures on the gospels.  She found that after the experiment, those who had prayed, visualizing themselves in connection with God in sensory detail, reported feeling closer to God, and that God was more real to them. In other words, spiritual experience can be enhanced by the daily practice of engaging our minds to imagine an unseen reality.

    Many lit candles

    Tiny Habits

    20lb dumbbell

    I also encountered Stanford Professor B. J. Fogg’s concept of “Tiny Habits.”  A self-labelled innovator, social scientist, and teacher, one of his aims is to simplify psychology in order to persuade people and transform lives.  He has a simple three-step formula for changing habits.  In step 1, one identifies a behavior to change.  In step 2, one “makes it easy” by figuring out how to reduce the behavior change into an easy step.  In step 3, one identifies a trigger for the behavior.  One of his examples is for someone who wants to get more exercise.  Step 1 would be choosing “more exercise” as the goal.  Step 2 could be setting “10 push-ups” as a daily goal.  Step 3 might be anchoring the push-ups to an already existing habit such as brushing teeth, so that the resulting thought and behavior would be “I do 10 push-ups after brushing my teeth.”  More about B. J. Fogg and his methodology of habit change can be read on these websites:

    http://www.success.com/article/tiny-habits

    http://tinyhabits.com/

    http://www.foggmethod.com/

    How this began

    About two years ago, I found myself reading a series of books and encountering collections of ideas that all centered around habits.  The way I kept encountering different books and ideas from disparate sources felt divinely inspired, as if this was a life lesson I was intended to learn.

    The Power of Habit, by Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg, struck me with disparate stories of NFL teams, brain-damaged older people, spiritual communities, businesses, and addictive gambling.  What all these had in common were behaviors that occurred almost automatically, because of prior learning, and that these “habit loops” become more and more automatic as they are practiced.  He explains the cue-routine-reward cycle of habits, where some environmental cue prompts a person to enact a routine behavior. Finally, an expected outcome, or reward, results.  In his descriptions of how to use this concept to change habits and addictions, he also explains that people who had the greatest success with habit and lifestyle change also had faith that change was possible.

    http://charlesduhigg.com/how-habits-work/

    Gears in the Head