Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Breaking Habits Part Three: Tolerating the Distress

Image result for don't give up for what you want mostThis is part 3 in our series about Breaking Habits. Did you miss the last post? You can read about it here.

Now, we know that we have a habit we want to break or change. We understand that there are steps we can take to do this, and we have a plan for how to achieve this. But then, like most new things - we start to make changes, and we feel uncomfortable. Worried. Anxious. Distressed. Angry. Fatigued.

On one hand - we want to make the changes. On the other hand, we try to make changes, and we feel distressed. We so desperately want to keep up these new habits, but the discomfort and unfamiliarity is not pleasant. We want to go back to the comfort, the familiar. 

Deep down, we know that the old, 'comfortable' habits were temporarily. They provided us with relief in the moment, but not in the long-term. And yet, this instant relief or freedom from discomfort is luring. This is when we need to practice distress tolerance. It is only by continuing to practice opposite actions that we can create new habits to replace old ones.

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There are endless ways to keep yourself going in these times. One thing that is helpful to do is to remind yourself why you are doing this. Yes, you are not comfortable now. But these new changes are for your future happiness, success, joy, and health. So, you need to ride the wave. The discomfort, distress, and anxiety with these new changes are truly temporary, but you need to surf through them until they dissipate. Like a wave in a storm, if you try to resist it or fight against it, you will fall. But if you face the wave head-on and surf through it, you will persevere. 

Another thing that is helpful at these tines is practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion means being kind to yourself through your suffering - and not making it worse by criticizing yourself or your emotions. The next post will discuss this - stay tuned!

Task: how can you 'ride the wave' when making changes that you know are good for you, but uncomfortable? What can you do to help yourself tolerate the discomfort? 

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Thursday, 20 December 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Related imageWe'll get back to the series on breaking habits in the next post...because it is time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year!

You probably already know - Christmas is my favourite holiday! There is something special about the lights, gifts, carols/music, gatherings, etc. that fills me with joy. Of course, this is the season where we celebrate Jesus' birth, making it a time of spirituality and peace.

Image result for christmas quotes hopeAs I have grown, Christmas has changed - in a good way. As a child, I looked forward to the gifts and cookies the most. Now, these are still important to me now...but the meaning of Christmas has become deeper for me. Christmas is no longer simply about being surprised by presents; it is now a time of thanksgiving and reflection. As December comes to an end and we celebrate Christ's birth, it is an opportunity to look back on the previous year.

I am extremely grateful for the blessings of 2018. It was by no means an 'easy' year; we have all faced challenges, obstacles, and trying times last year. But we also had good laughs, peaceful moments, learning experiences, and joyous situations. I'm sure you can look back and identify that despite the tough times, 2018 was full of good times, too.

The birth of Christ brings a message of hope and peace. Jesus humbly came to earth to save us, to give us life. His birth is a time to celebrate. Christmas is a time to slow down, to enjoy the precious moments in life. To be grateful fir what we have (and sometimes, for what we don't have!).

This Christmas, I pray that you experience joy, peace, and hope as you celebrate with loved ones. I pray that your blessings fill you with gratitude, and that message of hope and joy through Christ's birth allows you to feel inspired as the year closes.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Breaking Habits Part Two: Where to Start

Last time, we introduced the topic of breaking habits. This is the second post, following the first.

Changing our habits is no easy feat. To try to change the way we act, think, or do things is challenging because we have gotten so used to our patterns and routines. But sometimes, we get uncomfortable with our routines or habits. We find that they no longer serve us, or are no longer what we need in life. So, we decide that we want to break these habits...but where do we start with this?

In my own life, I found that the first step to breaking a habit is to simply acknowledge that I want to change it. There is something that I don't feel comfortable with about this habit...I am comfortable WITH it - because it is so familiar to me. At the same time, I am uncomfortable with it because I no longer find that it helps me, or is useful at this time in my life. To recognize that there is a NEED for change is truly the first step. It is only in admitting that we WANT or NEED to change that we can begin to take steps towards this.

There are many reasons why we decide to change a habit. It can be because the habit is simply destructive to us, such as is the case with addictions like smoking, alcohol, etc. It can be because although the habit is comfortable, it isn't appropriate for our current life situation. For example, you may have always enjoyed eating salty foods, but now your blood pressure is quite elevated, and your health requires you to cut down on adding salt to your meals. Another reason for change might be because we are frustrated by the effects of our habits. For example, you might be used to buying the latest technology right when it comes out...but each year at Christmas, you find that you do so and are left in debt by the New Year...and this is clearly NOT advantageous. Whatever your reason for change is, one thing is clear: you want to change or break this habit. It may have served you at the time, but where you are in your life now...requires a change.

After you identify what you want to change, you can start to think about what you want to change about the habit...or the steps you need to take to find an alternative to the habit. Let's take an example: you are used to sleeping in until 11 AM each day you have off. However, you noticed that when you get up earlier, you are more productive and have enough time to do things for yourself AND spend time with you friends and family - which you value. But the thing is...sleeping in until 11 AM is comfortable for you...despite the fact that it is no longer effective for you to do so. You so desperately want to change this - you want to get up earlier than 11 AM. But you do it once, and although you DO have more time in your day and enjoy this, you feel a bit cranky at first. You miss your old habit of sleeping in. This new habit, although it has its benefits, is also very hard and somewhat distressing. It is a big change, and change can - and often always is - very uncomfortable. 
So, what do you do? On one hand, you enjoyed waking up earlier because you realized how much more things you were able to do throughout the day. On the other hand, however, making that change was uncomfortable...and part of you misses the old habit of sleeping in. Deep down, you KNOW and FEEL that waking up later is no longer something you want to do. But it is comfortable and familiar...while change is the opposite. How do you cope with this? How do you repeat the new habit of waking up earlier when it is painful and distressing to do so?

The next post will discuss this topic! Stay tuned!

This post's task for you: what habit do you want to change? Why do you want to change this habit - and what are the steps you need to take to do so?

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Breaking Habits - Part One

Many of us have habits, routines, or practices that we wish to change or 'break'. Often, we decide that we want to change a habit because it is 1) causing us distress or discomfort; 2) not serving it's original purpose any longer; or 3) we feel that there is a better way of doing things.

This post is going to be the first of a series on breaking habits. Stay tuned, because it is one of my favourite series here on the blog!

The tough part, of course, is actually CHANGING the habit. To stop doing what one has done for so long is foreign. On a more biological level, our brains have gotten comfortable with the previous habit. It has become 'standard' to us. So, changing things up is like a red flag to our brains - it has to relearn something new.

This applies to nearly any habit we may have. And although it is not simple, it is POSSIBLE. I have found that the best way to try to change a habit is not necessarily to ignore the habit or routine, but to reflect on 1) how the habit served you before (ex. what did doing xxx do for me?); 2) what kept the habit entrenched (ex. a certain place? being around certain people or objects? certain situations?); and 3) why you feel you would like to change or break the habit (ex. why is this something you don't want to be part of your life anymore?).

Even just thinking about breaking a habit causes some distress. We think, 'but if I don't do xxx, I will feel miserable!' or 'if I cannot engage in habit zzz, what will I do with my time? Or how will I cope with this situation?'. It is important to realize that having these feelings and thoughts in response to changing a habit is normal. Remember, your habits have become habits because your brain got used to them, they served a purpose, and now they are routine. So, expect that changing a habit will not be as easy as thinking 'Oh, I'll just wake up tomorrow and not have my morning cigarette. It'll be fine'. It simply does not work that way. Chances are you will wake up and think, 'I need that cigarette. I'll start breaking this habit tomorrow'.

Ah, the concept of 'starting tomorrow'. The issue is, tomorrow will not come when doing an action such as breaking a habit, which is tough, is concerned. We will always find ways to delay 'tomorrow'. Now. Now is the time to start thinking about what habit you want to break or change, and to commit to it.

Throughout this series, we will talk about:
1) How to actually START breaking or changing a habit
2) How to keep repeating this so that change is sustained
3) What to do when you feel like you can't go on or change

Think about something you want to change about your life - a habit or routine that you have gotten caught up with. Sure, for a while, that habit or action was likely helpful in managing an emotion, a need, or a situation in your life. But right now, you feel something in your soul telling you to quit it. To make a change. You're scared, but you want to try. I'm not an expert, but I know it is doable. Let's join together on this journey towards changing our habits and growing new roots. I hope this series is helpful and fruitful!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Do it for YOU!

Image result for make changes for youWe all have habits that we want to change, goals that we wish to achieve, and dreams that our hearts are set on.

I've personally struggled with understanding my reasons for certain goals and changes I have wanted to make. WHY am I trying to achieve XXX? Is it for ME? Because I want to be happy, healthy, and feel successful? Or is it because of OTHERS? Or am I doing this because I want others to leave me alone, to praise me, to think highly of me, or to talk about me in a certain way?

In all honesty, working through these feelings and thoughts are tough. Because let's be real: if we are not setting goals or changing habits for OURSELVES, we will never achieve them fully, nor will we ever feel satisfied or happy. Why?

When you set a goal or dream - and you are imvested in it because you truly believe that it will be helpful or useful, will make you feel more confident/happy/proud, you realize just how much you want this thing. For YOU. And so whatever challenges you may face, you set yourself firm. You have your eye on the prize and you will do this regardless of whatever happens.

Image result for brene brown story quoteBut if you do something because you want others to praise you (or to get off your back), you will not be fully motivated. Because people will never be satisfied. And because in the end of the day, others don't really matter. What if you were all alone? And no one was around you? Would you still quit smoking completely, even if your wife did not nag you each day to stop that cigarette? Would you do it because you don't want complications like lung cancer? Would you still go to work each day on time, even if your colleagues didn't praise you? Would you do it because it makes you feel proud that you overcame your laziness and did it, despite feeling down?

Thinking about goals, dreams, habit changes, etc. in this way is really helpful. Please note - sometimes, we need others to motivate us. We need them as a reason. For example, you might decide to stop using alcohol because it bothers your family and friends, and it makes you neglect them. But you should also be deciding to stop drinking because for YOUR health, it is not pleasant. And for YOU to be happy, you cannot drink and enjoy time with loved ones. As another example, you may decide to get a new job because your family needs money. This is motivating for you. But you are also doing it because YOU want to feel productive, successful. See the difference?

Image result for change is scaryGoals and habit changes can be better achieved when we have the support and motivation from others. But in the end of the day, you have to do it for YOU. When you are fully invested and motivated in a goal, you are more likely to achieve it. When YOU take full responsibility for this, you are more likely to do it regardless of whatever obstacles you face.

You can do this. I believe in you.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

'You don't always have to be busy'

Image result for you don't have to be busyI am the type of person who loves getting my work done. If I have a to-do list, I hate when things pile up on it. So, to avoid this, I try to get things done right away. This is super helpful and important - I mean, who wants to procrastinate and leave it all to the last minute? That only creates additional stress, rushing, and anxiety.

But at the same time, I am learning that it is OKAY to not always be busy. What do I mean by this? There are times (not many, but still...) where I have finished the work I planned on doing. Do I have NOTHING to do? No, of course not. But the 'most important things' on my checklist are done.

At these times, you may think that I deserve a long break. And I likely do, seeing as how hard I have worked. But taking a break feels so...wrong. I mean, why spend time doing NOTHING (or fun things) when I could do MORE work and get that done, too?

This is a difficult cycle to stop, and I am training myself to try to stop and take time to do 'fun things' or 'nothing'. I have so many hobbies and things I enjoy (SHOPPING!!!!), and this does not make me 'lazy'. In fact, when we take a REAL break and do things we like - rather than always work - we refresh our bodies and minds, and we become BETTER able to work later.

Image result for take time to relaxThe feeling of 'laziness' always enters my mind when I allow myself to do 'nothing'. But I am learning to sit with this and remind myself that I have been productive, and part of being kind to myself is not working. It is relaxing, doing something fun, and not being 'busy' with work. It is being busy with myself, my hobbies, my self-care.

We all struggle with this - certainly more when we are overworked or stressed. Remind yourself that it is okay to take a break when you need to recharge. It is alright to take some time for yourself, to step into quietness, and to do something fun. As long as you are able to manage your duties and responsibilities, taking breaks and 'not being busy' is not only helpful - it is necessary.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Living According to Your Values - Part Two

Image result for life align values Last time, we talked about why and how our values influence our decisions and choices. We know that our values - what is really important to us - shape our priorities. This helps us make decisions for ourselves.

But sometimes, we are unable to live according to our values fully. This can happen for many reasons: life may not give us many choices, we might feel unwell or stressed, we have conflicting thoughts and emotions, etc.

For example, let's say you value spending time with friends and family. But life is really busy with constant work duties, long hours, and things to do. You begin feeling stressed, you are not relaxing or sleeping enough, and you feel 'down'. Because you have so much to do - and the fact that you feel kind of 'down in the dumps', makes you either go to work, or come home and 'crash'. As a result, you have not spent much time with your loved ones, nor have you relaxed in a while.

Of course, this makes you feel frustrated and even more stressed. You are unable to do other things that are meaningful to you. Your values of family-time and relaxation are being bypassed. This is a terrible feeling! Being unable to live out these values produces anger, resentment, and sadness.

Now, how do we change this? How do we help make your life more aligned with your values? Of course, you might not be able to take time away from work to be with your family. You cannot simply 'not work' because you don't feel like it. But that is not what I am implying.

Image result for life align valuesTo truly align your life with your values, you need to be creative. You might not be able to skip work, but can you, for example, take 2 hours one night a week to be with your loved ones? Can you get extra work done in the office so that you need not bring it home? Perhaps you can schedule a weekend to relax, away from work? Or maybe you can talk to your boss and ask for an extension?

We know that life doesn't always work our way. And that is what makes it challenging. To live according to your values requires us to focus on what is meaningful, edifying, and satisfying to us. It means understanding that we don't always 'get our way' in life, but regardless, we can do our best to prioritize our values.

It is helpful, in difficult moments, to consider your values, why they are important to you (ex. why is XXX valuable? What does it do for you in life? For your mood, health, etc?), and what you can do to make them an active part of your experiences. The more you practice this, the more you will notice yourself becoming more resilient, happy, patient, and calm.
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