Updated: Jan 11
Welcome to January, the first month of 2023! This is the time of year when people resolve to make changes in their lives. After reading a few self-help books and learning the habits of successful people, I decided I wanted to pick up some new, healthier habits. I say “habits” plural, but I knew I should start with only one at a time.
The first habit I wanted to start was to meditate every day. I had attempted this before, but it never stuck. I knew that starting with a small increment of time was the way to go, since my #1 excuse for not meditating was not being able to find the time. This is a common excuse for people who are beginning new, better, habits, be it exercising, reading, practicing piano, learning Chinese, or getting a massage once a week. We are all so busy, and finding the time to begin something new can be a challenge.
When I first started my meditation practice, I did it for 10 minutes a day, right before I left out the door for work. I tried this for a while, but I found myself thinking about the day ahead, feeling antsy like I was running late, and not able to fully get in “the zone.” I needed to do something different. I realized that a better time for me to meditate is before I even get out of bed, before I make tea, take a shower, get dressed, pack my lunch etc. While I am still in bed, lying comfortably on my back, I turn on my phone, set my timer for 10 minutes (which I have now increased to 12 1/2 minutes) and I focus my sleepy eyes on a place on my ceiling. Just as my brain is getting switched on for the day, I meditate.
I am proud to say I have been doing this for almost a year, and I notice the benefits. Meditation is helping me to work through stressful situations, stay more focused on my goals, and something I didn’t expect….it’s helping me to sleep better.
Another habit I wanted to start was exercising. I have always lived an active lifestyle, being a mom and living off-grid, hiking and dancing occasionally. These days I spend most of my weekends hauling brush, splitting wood, weed-whacking, gardening, and doing other work on my property. This kind of exercise feels good and gets my body moving and my muscles sore, but it is not regular, daily cardio.
I had started the habit of exercising daily a few different times, but had not been successful at making it stick. The truth is, I don’t enjoy exercising just for the sake of exercising. (The only heart-pumping activity I REALLY enjoy is dancing at Phish shows. ;) But…over the years I have tried to start a daily regimen of running, yoga, trampoline, and even summer-time swimming in the high school pool. One thing I realized is that I need something I can do at home, in the morning, before I go anywhere. I am not a good candidate for a gym or pool membership or yoga classes.
I decided to jump on our trampoline every day. It’s free, at home, and something I can do before I leave for the day. What finally got my exercise habit to stick was tacking it on to a habit I already did. This is a great idea, BTW, for starting a new habit. Even if the habit you already do is something like brushing your teeth or making your bed or pouring a cup of coffee….add the new habit right after the established habit.
For me it works like this…. Immediately after I finish meditating, I put on my sweatpants and sneakers and head down to our trampoline. I don’t brush my teeth, look at my phone, make tea, or anything else I normally do to get going in the morning. I just head down there, set the timer (I’m now up to 12 1/2 minutes with that too) and do jumping jacks while looking up at the redwoods. It’s almost an extension of my meditation because I am silently jumping, still waking up to the world.
Starting a new habit is not easy. I learned that I can not negotiate with myself each day. I can’t have a conversation about why I am doing it or not. I can’t even bring up the topic in my head because excuses will follow. Instead, I am disciplined and determined to DO the thing, even when I don’t feel like it.
Learning from the past is also helpful. Knowing what has worked (and not worked) before is crucial. Make changes based on this knowledge. I learned that I need to meditate BEFORE I get out of bed. I learned that I need to exercise at home, rather than going to a pool or yoga class.
Another tip is to try and make it fun and exciting for yourself. If your resolution is to drink 64 ounces of water a day, get yourself a new water bottle. If it is to exercise, buy yourself some fun new leggings or running shoes. This is a good way to motivate yourself and get started, but it will not sustain a new habit. (That’s where discipline and determination comes in.)
One more great tip for starting a new habit is to make a mantra out of it and say it over and over. Think of WHY you want to start the new habit, and include the way you FEEL in your mantra. I got some help on this from a book I read (habit books referenced below.) My exercise mantra is “I am healthy and strong. I love my body, and I enjoy taking care of it.”
I have changed my life by adding two little habits to my daily routine. As time goes on, I intend to add more minutes onto each of them and also pick up more good habits. If you have been wanting to make a change in your life, start small. Little, positive tasks add up to a long, happy life!
Tips to begin a new habit:
Start with manageable bits of time
Make it fun or exciting for yourself
Tack a new habit onto an existing habit
Do not negotiate with yourself
Make a mantra about how you want to feel as a result of your habit
Say (and write) your mantra all day long
Change what isn’t working
Check out these books:
Badass Habits by Jen Sincero
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, productive year!
-Molly Hildenbrand, owner and head formulator at Be Rooted