Habits begin with a trigger - an experience that triggers or cues an impulse. The impulse will drive a response or an action. When the trigger shows up again, the impulse typically also arises and if the same response is acted out, the habit begins to develop.
As a relatively new dog owner, I am using the habit loop as a method to train the behaviours I want from my golden retriever. I want her to sit on her bed when I ask her to, so I reinforce that behaviour with a reward. The reward is a key driver of the habit loop.
When folks start Yoga or climbing, they experience the reward of feeling like they have accomplished something, a little excitement and even perhaps some connection with others, a shared experience. These experiences will cause a little serotonin, norepinephrine and epinephrine to be released, giving us some feel good vibes. The feel good experience makes us more likely to repeat the pattern and develop a habit of participating in the activity. We can also gain these little hormonal hits from things like watching a romantic movie or eating some comfort food. Where one option may be beneficial to our health, the Netflix and munching may be less beneficial.
If the sofa, Netflix and some snacks have become habitual during our lock down and mask-wearing era, it can be even more difficult to reverse the trend. We can try to throw a little self-discipline and will power at the situation, however, our reserves may already be on empty just dealing with working on a screen all day, minimal contact with others and stress when wandering around the public places as the numbers of COVID cases continue to rise.
Willpower requires energy. Consider the following equation Rod Stryker introduces in his book, The Four Desires; Creating a life of purpose, happiness, prosperity, and freedom.
Desire + Energy > Karma (resistance)
If we have a desire to change a habit, or a desire for growth, our effort must exceed, or overcome, the resistance, the obstacles. If we use an example of wanting to take caffeine out of our diet, we must apply effort when we feel the impulse to have caffeine. If we want to spend less time watching Netflix, we must overcome the desire to sit down and put on the next favourite series to binge watch. Not only must you resist the urge to sit, you must continue to resist the urge for sometimes quite a while. That takes energy. AND if Netflix was giving you the hormonal good feels, it now leaves you with time and a lack of feel good, or perhaps a sense of missing something.
So what's the solution?
As a recovered eating disordered person, I can tell you that focusing on what you can no longer do to get the numbed feeling means I had to sit with the negative, empty, fearful, difficult emotions.
As you sit with the emotions, it is helpful to examine your experience, your emotions with a little distance.
-- I recently learned this exercise from Pema Chodron's writing; ask yourself what colour you would give the emotion you are experiencing, what texture? If the emotion were a shoe, what would it be? If the emotion were a person, who would it remind you of?
-- Another tactic offered by Byron Katie is called The Work. You ask four questions, then turn your negative thought around.
It's a difficult place to stay and just be. But we humans seem to forget that we are not meant to be comfortable all the time. Growth happens when we get uncomfortable because we will find a method for moving through what challenges us.
So finally, focus on what you can do, what you have already done that has supported your choice.
Peace is never found in the future because you can only live in the moment you are in. If you focus on the moment you are in and recognize all you have in that moment, things are much easier to navigate. Expecting things to be different only cause continued unease.
In my own narrative of this activity, I often go to the experience of my marriage ending. Months of not knowing what would happen, the fear of living alone, the fear of sharing my son with someone who lives in a different country. The shame of being left.
It took months, but when I was introduced to this exercise, I was steeped in gratitude. Without the end of my marriage, I would not be discovering so much about what gives ME meaning. I would not have been discovering how to create a world I really wanted. I could see the shortcomings in my relationship honestly and armed with that wisdom, move into new more powerful relationships.
As I see it? The silver linings practice is a way toward gratitude. A way toward peace and appreciation of what is. It is a way to side step the ongoing rebellion toward what I don't want.
Questions have the power to open our mind; that is, the right questions have that power.
The wrong questions can put us into a defence of what we know and how we perceive ourselves.
Consider these two questions...
1) Why are you having coffee with your breakfast?
Immediately you may find yourself move toward the number of reasons you start your day with coffee.
2) What is your favourite beverage in the morning?
Perhaps now you consider other options besides just coffee. You might think about water or tea.
Yesterday as I coached, I was leaning into this idea when I asked the youth to consider the following two questions...
1) What do you get out of climbing?
2) How does it make you feel?
I proceeded to move forward with the second question first. I used my own example as I walked them through the next steps. My emotion was joy.
You can see I have a number of words that start to hint at the things that bring me joy... things like connection, laughter and play all hint at not climbing alone. Challenge, success and send lead me toward knowing I like the challenge, empowerment from climbing. Adventure and curiosity tell me I am not really a big fan of climbing same routes over and over. I prefer the uncertain outcomes.
I then referred to the first question - What do I get out of climbing? For me... as a coach, I get to understand more about movement, mental training and required strength. In other words, it gives me more wisdom I can share with someone I coach.
Now I am armed with some very key information as I decide what goal to pursue. I know it needs to give me the following -
- new learning so I can share it with clients
- be connected to climbing with people - no solo sessions for me
- challenge me - meaning be outside my current comfort zone
So... what's your goal? Think you know? Then once you write it down, imagine yourself completing the goal... really visualize that moment. See the area, the people, the route, hear the sounds, smell the smells. Be in that moment you know you have succeeded. What it really what you wanted? Did it give you the feeling?
Toward the end of the session I also asked the youth to consider what will be their biggest obstacle. Knowing the obstacle helps you to understand how you are going to stay inspired when the going is tough. And let's face it, if you have chosen a goal that really stretches you... it will get tough.
Not sure what you obstacle is? Don't worry... I'll help you find, just stay tuned. IN the meantime, share your goals... I would love to hear them.