Moving into the New Year

December 30, 2012

Creating Habits of Happiness & Health

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Deep thoughts by Gandhi.

My father is by far one of the of the most habitual people I know.  From his morning exercises to his multiple-course, uber-healthy breakfasts to sitting down to work on his volunteer caseload for at-risk youth, he has a routine for most of life.  He is a carpe-diem, increase-your-happiness, no-excuses kind of person.  When I sat down to write this article, I asked him some questions about his routines, with the goal to gain insights into why he is so successful at creating positive habits in his life.

When I asked for the reasons underlying why he does what he does for his daily morning stretches & exercises (including 50 successive push-ups with impeccable form!), he replied, “because it’s good for my body.”  When I probed deeper, he retorted with a hearty laugh “Who the hεll knows?  You just gotta do it!”

Deep thoughts by my pops.

<Perhaps this is where I get my potty mouth from.>

Indeed, the habits my dad has taken on have been practiced for so many years, that he does not take time to stop to think about why he necessarily does them any more.  This topic, however, has been put under the research spotlight & I find it relevant to share as we head into 2013 with new intentions & goals for the days & months to come.

Please keep in mind that creating new habits takes time & conscious effort.

Let’s pause for a minute & think about the things you do repetitiously in your life.  How about taking a shower?  I think I can safely say that none of us shower like the Herbal Essences shampoo commercials.  Chances are, you wash your body in the same order, without thinking much about it.  Where do you start?  Do you go from your upper body & work your way down?  Left arm before your right?  Your brain goes on automatic during this familiar routine, unless, of course, something happens out of the ordinary like nicking yourself while shaving. < Boo!>

It’s fun & funny to ponder, right?  Y’all remember learning to type?  It was most likely painstaking to remember the finger configuration & where the keys were located.  It took a lot of practice to get that information in your brain (& body) so that you could type without looking or thinking about it.  How about driving?  Brushing your teeth?  Learning to undulate in dance class?  The list goes on & on; the point being that you had to go through a process over & over for it to become something you now do on autopilot.

In the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhiggthere, asserts that our brains chunk information together so that it becomes automatic, which, in turn, allows for the brain not to work so hard.  Seeing as how the brain takes up 3% of our bodies’ weight & uses 20% of our bodies’ energy, it’s no wonder our amazing brains wants to chill out when they can!  When the brain first learns something, it has to really work hard!  In order to create a habit within our brains, Mr. Duhiggthere shares that there is a three-step loop that has to occur.  It goes like this: cue, routine, reward.   And, then repeat many times.  For example, my computer beeps (cue), I check my email (routine), I am excited to see a new message, because it makes me feel connected (reward).  Pretty soon, I have a habit of checking my computer on a regular basis.

If this habit works for me, awesome!  However, if I am annoyed about how much I check my computer (even when it does not beep, because OMG, imagine if I somehow missed an email while I was making a cup of tea!!), I may want to change this habit.  Again, it is essential to be reminded that it will take intentional reflection & patience with this (new) process to make it habitual.

In order to make a change, according to Mr. Duhiggthere, I will need to create a new loop, in order to replace the old one.  I need to figure out the reason behind the desire for the cue.  I also need to brainstorm a new cue & routine, in order to make this change happen.  For example, if I figure out that the reward I want is to feel connected, I could put out stationary by my computer (cue), write a letter when I am feeling the need to connect (routine) & feel connected to the person I wrote to (same reward!).  I will have to repeat this in order to make the change more automatically looped in my brain so I keep on keepin’ on with it.  It will also help if I turn off the beeping feature on my computer so it does not trigger my old habit.  Fascinating, right?

Figuring out why we do what we do requires reflection.  It makes me wonder if most of the rewards we crave are, perhaps, connected to our emotional states, like happiness, connectedness, feeling loved, feeling fulfilled.

Buddhist Monk, Matthieu Ricard, shares his thoughts on habits of happiness & wellbeing.  He asserts that we oftentimes look outside of ourselves to find our happiness; however, what’s more essential is to focus on what is happening on the inside.   The mind translates the outer conditions to whether we focus on happiness or suffering, acting as a mirror that can interpret in various ways.  His experience & research is showing that mind transformation through meditation can help, over time.  Intrigued?  Feel free to peruse more thoughts on living your happiness & meditation.

With this reflection & 411 on creating habits, the areas I want to reinforce for 2013 seem relatively simple:  meditation & writing (gratitude journal, letters, my book).  If I have moments that I need reminders, I will go through the process of figuring out how to make them more habitual based on the 3-step loop process as well as use my dad’s voice as a mantra, “You just gotta do it!!”

What are habits you would like to shine your focus on, to bring health & happiness more fully into your life?

Wishing y’all a beautiful start to the new year, with moment upon moment of peace, love & connectedness.   And, lots of shimmies ; )

In happiness & health,
Heather

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Heather is advocate of creating healthy, happy habits in life.  She can’t wait to meet you on the dancefloor in 2013 to share in one her top healthy, happy habits in life: Shimmy Pop & Shimmy Pop Toning!  You can find more inspiration & information on Living Lusciously as well as working with her one-on-one for personal training & massage through her website, CreateYourOwnBeautiful.com.

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