Wednesday, January 27, 2010
For those of you who were on this teleclass (How to Get Hooked on Healthy Habits
) did you go to the place you thought of in our visualization? Did you really go there?
There are places that just hold a special place in your heart. Here in Maine, we have the blessing of living by the ocean, with an incredible coastline. There’s a place in Rockport that I have always loved with a dirt road that snakes along the coast. I never get sick of going there. It smells like cedar trees. Last fall, I developed a habit of going there to run. During the run, there are two places I stop. First is a tiny, wooden, open-air chapel with a rough stone floor that overlooks the ocean. I do a meditation there in which the sounds of the ocean and the wind blowing the tops of the pine trees anchors me into the present moment. I watch my breath until the wind and the view actually crowd out the yakyakyak of my thoughts, and then I ask for guidance. After that I run again until I end up at the place where big, smooth boulders tumble down into the surf and I stop again and do yoga, stretch out and look at the lobster boats on the sparkling water.
I’ve done this ritual in all seasons and at all different times of day and I cannot tell you how addicted I am to it. I cannot wait to do it again every time, even right after I finish.
So what’s the secret of getting addicted to good things like this instead of to self-destructive habits?
We typically use a combination of carrots and sticks on ourselves, but the WRONG carrots and sticks. For example, we’ll use a stick of guilt to get ourselves to go for a run on a treadmill and then use a carrot of a sweet treat afterwards because we’ve “earned” it. OK, so first, let’s talk about the carrots we should NOT use to get ourselves to exercise or eat vegetables or create time for ourselves:
A glass of wine, A double cappuccino, a piece of pie, zoning out to junk TV, indulging in any addiction such as gambling, smoking, shopping or food.
Why is that? Why not use those things that create pleasure to motivate ourselves to good stuff? Here’s why; they keep you from being connected with yourself.
Alcohol, junk food, TV and addictive behaviors are a way to escape from your present moment. That will not only ultimately make you less happy, but you are basically setting an appointment in your date book for a date with another craving
and then you will have to deal with THAT. You’ll either have to resist it or give in to it, but either way, you’ll have to struggle with it and then THAT is the feeling that will be connected with exercise or vegetables or whatever good habit you are trying to adopt. Make sense? If your enticement is an escape, it won’t work long-term.
You want the enticement to be something that makes your heart fill up with joy or makes you glad to be alive. This is what will make you addicted to it.
Now let’s talk about sticks. The way we often strongarm ourselves into closing that gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do is often we guilt ourselves into it. We shame ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’ll be going to this party later and someone will ask or we want to avoid feeling ashamed by the size clothes we’ll have to wear or, our husband made a comment about what we were eating and that’s motivating (hey, whatever works, right?) Low self-esteem CAN be motivating to change our habits for the better. IN fact, that is the feeling that fuels the multi-billion dollar diet industry. And yet, we all know that diets don’t work! This is exactly why.
Again, with low-self-esteem, letting guilt or shame drive your good habits, you are making a date with backlash. Low self-esteem—and believe me, I know about low self-esteem— inevitably results in self-destructive behavior. I had such fragile self-esteem when I was younger and such a well-established habit of talking to myself with self-loathing, that harming myself with food felt “right,” normal and even cathartic, in a way. For a while there, so did punching holes in my body. I pierced my own ear once when I was about 15, went in to show my mom and she was beyond mortified. I later pierced my own nose (insane- don't recommend it), then my eyebrow and navel and I share this with you because I think it demonstrates how I was casting around for balance and was willing to sort of “cleanse” myself with pain, but couldn’t see how to hop on the track that went steadily towards the light. I kept getting caught in eddies.
But now I can honestly say, at 39 years old, that I have figured out how to get addicted to good habits and stay on track. Biting your nails or charging more than you can afford on your credit card or dieting til you hurt yourself or binge-eating food injures you. Self-hatred is extremely powerful AND it’s so unpleasant you want to escape it. You want nothing more than to escape your present moment—with—guess what-- A glass of wine, a double cappuccino, a piece of pie, zoning out to junk TV, indulging in an addiction such as gambling, smoking, shopping or food.
See how this works? It’s a self-destructive, self-perpetuating cycle! One thing to note, however, is how clandestine negative self-talk can be. You can seem to be and really be very confident in other areas of your life, and yet negative self-talk can creep in around food without you noticing.
Now go back to that feeling in that visualization we started with when you were touched by something awe inspiring. Can you find that feeling again right now? You feel how life-affirming that sensation is compared to the low-self-esteem feeling?
When you are trying to make habits stick and turn into permanent lifestyle change, you need to choose different carrots and different sticks.
The crucial key
is that the carrots must make you feel CONNECTED to your life and to your magic and to your present moment, not disconnected. Instead of a glass of wine or TV or cake, you associate the new good habit with gratitude and happiness, the feeling of being connected to yourself and to nature and to your family or friends. You ever notice how people who LOVE to cook often had someone they loved dearly who loved to cook? So they had to hang out in the kitchen if they wanted to be with this person.
-- Want to know the only stick that should ever motivate you
? Ready for it? There’s only one. It’s pain
. Pain is an inevitable reality of being a human being. You will have physical pain. While of course it is unpleasant and you want to escape it—if in THAT moment of experiencing pain you STILL don’t escape into a disconnecting behavior—the pain will work magic on your life.
"Illness is the most heeded of doctors: to goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey." Marcel Proust.
Pain is the single biggest and most reliable fuel for permanent lifestyle change
. It is absolutely our friend. When you remove the guilt and shame and self-hatred, you are left with pain. Guilt and shame and self-hatred are the enemy. They are self-indulgent habits and they are not hard wired into your brain or body. You can become aware of them and then ruthlessly banish them from your thinking.
They cajole you into thinking they are useful because they sometimes motivate you to do healthy things, but they are lying to you. They are shylocks. You are borrowing your motivation from them at your peril, because they will inevitably come knocking at your door, with extortionate demands. They will sabotage your real progress so you keep paying them.
This is why even if you feel bad about yourself in the present moment, it’s not true and real. It’s not real in the way that the wind is blowing in the trees and the waves are crashing on the rocks right now. It's not real like a real dog licking your knee trying to get your attention. It’s not real in the same way physical pain is real. Feeling bad about yourself is a mirage inside your head that the people who love you don’t agree with.
Talk to yourself with consistent respect and self-love, be motivated only by pain and stay connected to the present moment and you, too, will climb steadily towards the light.
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