Changing bad habits is hard work. Whether it’s to lose weight, to improve health or to have a better quality of life, it takes constant awareness and strong self talk to stay out from the rut of old habits. But there’s another important aspect to changing habits: you need to offset the feelings of deprivation and loss of a lifestyle by experiencing periods of joy. This is even truer for the person who has a strong attachment to some unhealthy habits.
Become the observer of your thoughts
Being the primary caretaker to my aging parents while deeply missing my children and grandchildren who all live a flight away – my life was way out of balance with too much negative energy creating a vortex in my soul. I had to make a conscious decision to bring more joy into my life which required lots of self-reflection. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now was a huge source of inspiration and perspective. It helped me to find the positive in my day-to-day life and bring more focus to the present.
There’s a saying in health coaching: negative thoughts stick like Velcro and positive thoughts stick like Teflon. Our minds play negative thoughts over and over while the positive thoughts disappear in a flash. Eckart Tolle believes it’s the incessant thinking by our mind that causes our suffering. It’s our mind that creates a screen of judgments, labels and images that interfere with true relationships. And it’s when we can separate from our thoughts by just observing them, not judging or owning them, that we find peace. Tolle calls it “observing the thinker”.
Why is it important to observe self-talk? Viewing life circumstances through a filter distorts reality and “awfulizing” happens. Awfulizing is a term used for imagining the worst possible scenario in a situation which can lead to negative feelings of anger, anxiety and depression. These aren’t good feelings to have as you head to the grocery store or don’t feel like cooking. Before you know it ice cream, chips or cookies get in the cart, or you make a beeline to KFC (my husband’s favorite).
If you can detach from your self-talk and become the observer of it, you will find that the distance that’s created in your mind will deflate the emotion. I go a step further. When I can’t let go of a negative thought I say this loving kindness meditation I learned in yoga:
Let me be filled with loving kindness
Let me be well
Let me be peaceful and at ease
Let me be happy
Bring joy into your daily life
Emotions drive our behaviors. Feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness are powerful drivers for overeating or binging on chips, ice cream or candy. Detaching from those strong emotions and filling that space with joy makes it easier to stop bad habits. It starts with letting go of expectations so that peace and acceptance can come. Then it requires finding and filling your daily joy bucket. For me it meant accepting my life circumstance without judgment, reconnecting with my faith, doing some volunteer work, getting a puppy and learning how to play the ukulele!
Here are some other ideas you could consider to fill your joy bucket:
1. Volunteer. Giving to others gives right back to you. There is nothing more energizing than helping someone or working with a group of people for a cause. Here are some websites that can connect you with the right opportunity:
- VolunteerMaine.org lists opportunities to work with the elderly, with events, being a tour guide at the Norlands Living History Center or as a student academic volunteer. http://www.volunteermaine.org/
- Find opportunities here to work in the community, with individuals or even pets. https://www.volunteermatch.org/
- United Way has openings for tutoring students, helping with Habitat for Humanity, mentoring or coaching. http://www.unitedwaygp.org/join-us/volunteer/
- At Maine Medical Center there are options to volunteer in elder services, the resource center, the boutique shop, and many other locations. http://www.mmc.org/volunteer
- Portland Adult Ed has a need for volunteers to help with the ESOL program both in the classroom and doing individual tutoring. http://www.portlandadulted.org/pae2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=234&Itemid=46
2. Be creative. Take an art or music class or even try welding! Check out these websites for some wonderful opportunities:
- Find different art classes including drawing or painting, or even consider welding, music or cooking classes to get your creative juices flowing. https://maineadulted.coursestorm.com/category/arts-crafts
- SMCC offers drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and even printmaking classes at their South Portland campus as well as satellite locations. https://my.smccme.edu/ICS/Academic_Departments/Fine_Arts/Drawing_and_Painting.jnz
- For those who are 50 and over, USM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) offers a variety of 6-8 week-long classes including art, music, and many academic classes. http://usm.maine.edu/olli/olli-courses-and-lectures
- Get your exercise while having fun with tap, ballroom or hip hop lessons at this Westbrook location on Spring St. http://avantmaine.com/
- Take art classes in Kennebunk with this nonprofit that offers etching, watercolor and painting classes and workshops for all ages. http://rivertreearts.org/
- Take stained glass classes at one of several locations: Pheonix Studio in Portland, Maine Art Glass Studio in Lisbon Falls, Treehouse Glass Studio in Freeport or Stained Glass Express in Manchester, Maine.
3. Get a pet. There’s nothing like the unconditional love of an animal. You don’t have to pay a fortune to get a furry friend. Here are some places to look:
- You can choose from any pet imaginable, from dog, to bird, to reptile at PetSmart. http://www.petsmart.com/live-pet/
- Westbrook Animal Refuge League has a wide assortment of pets that need a home. There are also humane societies in Brunswick and Lewiston. https://www.arlgp.org/
It’s hard work to lose weight, stop smoking or quit some other bad habit. You must monitor self-talk, manage your stress and balance all that hard work with positive energy. Finding hobbies or outlets to bring joy into your daily life will keep your energy flowing to do the hard work. And it’s a heck of a lot more fun!