Deciding to be happy

I’m almost half-way through 2017. Soon I will have to take stock of where I am in The Do-Over Project. Where am I succeeding? Where am I…not? Where do I have to pick up the pace? Am I accomplishing what I set out to do in this experiment?

I’ll get to that in another week or so, but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about my initial thoughts on why I started this experiment.

I wanted to be happy again. Simple–but not easy. I’ve had a couple of tough years (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) and I felt it was time to take back my life.

But could I just decide to be happy again? That’s one question I’ve answered for sure in the last six months. I won’t make you wait until next week to find out what I’ve discovered…the answer is…

Yes. It is possible to simply decide to be happy. No matter where you are in your life. No matter what has happened to you. Actually, it’s the most important decision–before you set a single goal. There has to be a decision to do something differently.

But it’s not easy. In fact, the decision is very, very hard, because it means that, like me, you’ve accepted you need to take responsibility for your life. You have decided to take control of your life.

It takes me back a few years to my fitness instructor days. In order to get people into the habit of fitness, we needed to understand an individual’s readiness to change in order to meet them where they were.

We used the Transtheoretical Model (Prochaska & DiClemente), which identifies six stages of change:

Precontemplation (Not Ready): People in this stage aren’t going to take action. There’s no sense setting up a fitness routine, for example, for a precontemplator.

Contemplation (Getting Ready): People in this stage want to change. They understand the pros an the cons of their behavior, but they are often hung up on these, making them ambivalent and keeping them stuck in place. They are likely to procrastinate.

Preparation (Ready): People in this stage intend to take action in the near future (say, a month). They have typically already taken some action in the past year. For example, they’ve joined a gym or are seeing a psychologist. These are the people ready for action!

Action: People in this stage are making specific overt changes.

Maintenance: People in this stage are working to prevent relapse. They are increasingly confident that they can do this! They’ve learned that they can. But they still have to keep at it, because relapse can sneak up.

Now, this is simplification of a much more complex theory and I am in no way an expert in this area, but it’s important to think about (for more information, just google “stages of change” and you’ll find many resources). Where are you in your own process?

For me, I’d say I’m in the early stages of Action. This is when I have to be hypervigilant in my efforts and I know this, which is why I’ve given myself a year. I want to really get it under my belt. I want to be a Maintainor.

This theory points to something very important about making the decision to change. While it’s arguably the hardest decision, it isn’t the only decision.

Unfortunately, you still have to do the work! I still have to do the work. If I want to be happy, I have to back up my intention with action. I’m getting there, but I still have a lot of actionable items!

Here’s to action!

Tracy

 

 

Patterns, patterns everywhere!

As each week of the Do-Over Project passes, I am more and more convinced of a single truth: change happens when we interrupt the negative patterns in our lives and don’t interrupt the good ones.

Humans are creatures of habit. We want habits because they make life easier for us. Like driving a standard vehicle. At first, it’s hard as you pay attention to every little detail of driving. After a time, you just do it.

It’s important that some stuff in our life is automatic. How would it be if we had to pay attention to every stroke of a toothbrush or every step we take in the dressing process?! When some things are automatic, it frees up our brain to do other stuff. Like when I’m running. I don’t have to pay attention to every footfall, which frees my brain up to solve problems (or let my creativity spin stories as move along.

Of course, too much automatic thinking is also a problem. That’s why mindfulness training has become so popular. We’ve become a society that multi-tasks everything and pays attention to nothing. Shoveling food into our mouths mindlessly helps drive the obesity epidemic. Driving while distracted by cellphones and radios and friends talking has led to more than one car accident.

But back to my original thought…some automatic habits are good–especially if they’re good habits!

How can we use this automatic ability humans have to create good habits? It’s understanding the role interruption plays in habit-forming.

For example, when I started my new job three months ago, I had to keep track of every moment between the time I woke up and the time I left the house, lest I take too long on one task, which would make me leave the house a few minutes late and, invariably, miss the bus.

Now the alarm goes off, I go through my routine without ever checking the clock because I can feel when I’m falling behind. My morning routine has become a habit.

Interrupt my routine and failure is sure to follow! Let’s say my husband has a dentist appointment in the morning and doesn’t leave until after me. Now he’s underfoot in the bathroom, hits the coffee maker before me and just generally makes a nuisance of himself (I love you, dearheart!).

If he lost his job and was now underfoot all the time, we’d adjust and make it work. That would now be our habit.

So, to create a new habit or get rid of one you don’t want, you need to interrupt the pattern.

If I was a pack a day smoker and one day ran out of cigarettes and couldn’t get anymore (say I was iceberg surfing in Antarctica and there were no corner stores), my smoking habit would be interrupted.

Maybe the next day there’s a supply drop and I get more cigarettes, but because my pattern was interrupted, I at least have the idea that it’s possible to be smoke free. Maybe I go back to my smoking habit or maybe I don’t, but once I know something, I can’t unknow it! I now know I can do without cigarettes. The simple act of interrupting the pattern made me mindful of another choice.

Like most things in life, being mindful (even temporarily) of your patterns is the catalyst for change.

With the Do-Over Project, the act of writing in my journal every day is becoming a habit. When I interrupt the pattern, I feel like I’m missing something in my day. If I interrupted my habit, say, for a week, it would be much more difficult to start again (anyone who’s ever stopped exercising for a time and tried to start again can attest to this!)

So, if you want to start a new habit, get a pattern started and don’t interrupt it. If you want to stop a habit, go ahead, break that pattern!

You don’t have to be perfect at it. Just the act of breaking the pattern once is enough to at least get you thinking mindfully about change and that’s how it all starts.

Here’s to making and breaking habits!

Tracy

creatures of habit

Husband challenge: Part deux

I accepted my husband’s (Pierre) challenge yesterday and let my subconscious work on the connection between apples and change overnight.

It turns out apples and change are not random topics after all! They’re really quite connected.

When I think of apples, I think of the fall when it’s time to go and pick them from the orchard. I love roaming the rows of different varieties and taste-testing them all. Some are crisp and sour, others are softer and sweet; some are naturally small, which Image result for apple picturesother varieties grow fat; some are green and some are brilliant red. I was looking for Spy apples last fall and, when I asked the owner of the orchard where they were, he said they don’t grow them anymore because it takes too long. Aw! So some varieties also grow faster than others!

It’s all very interesting when you think of people and change. We’re all human, and thus very similar, but what differences we have too! The varieties are endless. That means that change is different for each person too. Some people embrace change, while others avoid it like, well, wormy apples! Some people take their time, others jump right to it.

Whatever our comfort level, we need to meet ourselves where we are (a vast human orchard!) Just because Louis next store seems to be one of those fast changers, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, because you’re not!

In the end, what we all have in common is that we won’t grow at all, unless we plant the seeds. Then, depending on temperament, background, environment, opportunities, etc., we grow. At some point, if we continue to nurture ourselves, we will blossom. If not, the worms, bad soil, drought, etc., will get us!

But it doesn’t end with blossoming. We have to continue the nurturing process, because there are many years of blossoming within us–if we keep at it. Eventually, we all bear fruit. And, if we continue to nurture ourselves, we’ll continue to bear fruit year after year.

That’s why we cannot grow stagnant as we grow older. An old apple tree doesn’t bear as much fruit as a young tree, and the farmer has to work a little harder at keeping it healthy, but that old tree still has lots of juicy apples to deliver–don’t underestimate it!

So, my apples, the moral of this story is: continue the change process, it’s completely natural, and you will reap the rewards–for a lifetime!

 

Husband challenge!

No, I’m not being challenged (or challenging others) to find a husband!

I was talking to my husband, Pierre, about the blog post I wanted to write last night–I hadn’t actually thought of a topic and I was too tired to come up with one after a long work day.

Pierre challenged me to come up with a topic tonight, let my subconscious work on it overnight, and then write it tomorrow night when I’d be full of ideas.  He gave the example topic of  “apples and change”. My job would be to let my subconscious explore a connection between two seemingly random ideas. What an interesting idea!

Since I’m about change this year and doing things differently, I said, “I’m game!” Maybe this will create a new habit that will make me think about change in new ways.

I’m stealing Pierre’s topic directly and I’ll let you know tomorrow night what I discovered about “apples and change”! What an adventure!

Cheers,

Tracy

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