Breaking Good Habits

Image source: cogdogblog via Flickr

We often talk about learning how to break bad habits and forming new, healthy habits, and the topic seems to become especially relevant during the new year, when many of us are working hard to make new resolutions and make the next year better than the last. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about breaking habits both bad and good.

Why would you break good habits? Seems silly – if a habit is healthy or beneficial to you in some way, why would you want to break it? Simply put, a habit is something that you are automatically inclined to do. Rather than making a conscious decision, you are on autopilot mode. Your brain has already decided that what you’re doing is what you need to be doing right now, without you stopping to evaluate whether this is in fact the case — the very opposite of conscious living.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through life on autopilot. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting that you give up the good habit of brushing your teeth, but maybe it is time for a re-evaluation of the habits in your life and what they’re doing for you. It has definitely come to that point for me. You see, as I sit here I have a full-sized baby kicking at my insides waiting to come out any day now. More accurately, I am the one who is waiting. At nine months pregnant, my life is significantly changed; my yoga teaching is on hold, my yoga practice is significantly modified, my weekly runs are cancelled, and my to-d0 lists and objectives often go uncompleted because I am just too tired. I have lots of free time, but with most of my hobbies and regular activities currently unavailable to me, I have found myself feeling uninspired and left out lately, waiting to return to my regular life. There are only so many walks around the neighbourhood I can take.

After sitting around feeling bad about it for a few days, I’ve finally realized what the problem is: my good habits. Most of my regular good habits, like yoga and running, have become suddenly unavailable to me and I am thrown. My autopilot wants me to do things I can’t do at the moment, and because I’ve spent so much time listening to it instead of deciding how I want to live my life each day, I feel lost.

So it’s time to get creative. Time to put aside my habits and the life I’ve been living automatically, and decide each day what I want to do, where I want to go, and who I want to be.

Goodbye habits, hello conscious living. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go make a pillow fort in my living room.

I gave up coffee: why you have to fail to succeed.

I’d like to share something with you that I’ve learned: if you want to change a habit you have to be prepared to fail.

I love coffee. The taste, the smell, and the coffee shop scene all just draw me in like a fish on a lure. But I don’t drink it. In fact, I gave up coffee almost three years ago, and caffeine entirely more than two years ago – but before you go thinking that I made a ‘lifestyle choice’ so that I could be more ‘yogic’ or something, let me tell you: I did NOT want to give up coffee.

A number of years ago, I was what you’d call an average coffee drinker. One or two cups per day, a latte and a regular coffee perhaps, and everything seemed quite normal. But slowly over time, without noticing at first, I started to become stressed in a bad way. After trying the medicated route, I decided it wasn’t for me and started paying attention to my life to try to discover the reason for my stress. It wasn’t until I spent a morning in my office having an anxiety attack after drinking a large coffee that it occurred to me there may be a connection between caffeine and my anxiety problems. So I decided on a test: give up coffee for one week, and see how I feel.

One day and one massive headache later, I completely hated this plan. But, being the achiever that I am, I decided to stick with it anyway, and by the end of the week I felt okay. Not miraculous, but not bad. Still, I loved coffee and craved it so when the week was over, I went out and got a coffee. And boy did I feel awful. Shortly after drinking it, I felt stressed, incredibly anxious, and just all around bad. Immediately swore off coffee again, and as the weeks turned into months, realized that I was giving up coffee for good. Was I happy about that? No. But did I feel better? Definitely. And the farther away I got from drinking coffee regularly, the more I started to notice how other caffeinated drinks were affecting me too, so I gave those up too. And that was that.

Okay, it wasn’t quite that simple. Here’s the truth: during the first year or so, I probably had a coffee or decaf coffee once every six to ten weeks, when I was really missing it. The next year after that I maybe had a caffeinated drink once every few months. I was breaking my no-caffeine rule, but I’m glad I did. Because every time I broke it, I felt awful and remembered exactly why I quit caffeine in the first place. I would chastise myself: “Why did you do this? You know caffeine makes you feel terrible!” and re-commit with even more determination that next time, I would just say no. Because of this the lure of coffee became less and less appealing over time, as I became more and more determined not to feel like that again. Now I can’t even remember the last time that I had a caffeinated drink; I don’t consider it as an option anymore.

The point here is that I had to fail every now and then in order to succeed. Just like sometimes in yoga you have to fall out of a pose before you can get it right, because that’s how you learn where your limits are. We have to experience the bad in our lives in order to remember why the good is good. Failing reminds us where our limits are, and when too much is too much – something that you need to know in order to succeed.

So next time you are trying to accomplish something, don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, fail repeatedly. You’ll already be that much closer to success than the person who never tried.

The Best Way to Find Inspiration

Inspiration is a powerful thing. It can spur you to action in many ways, and can bring joy to your life; which is why I find myself looking for inspiration some days when I’m feeling lost and bogged down by everyday life. It can really be helpful to go to the online world and get inspired – there are so many great and inspiring blogs and websites out there these days. But what I’ve discovered over the past few years is that my best source of inspiration is my own life. Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? When things in my life are weighing down on me, I search a little deeper to find the inspiration in my life. But that’s exactly why it is so powerful. If I turn to others for inspiration, I may certainly get inspired, but I may also get a lot of other unwanted stuff along with my inspiration – more things that I want to buy, jealousy over what others have, and frustration about the things I can’t change in my life. On the other hand, by turning inward and recognizing that I can find inspiration in my own life, I might get some unexpected benefits – gratitude and perspective, for example. So while I do think that finding inspiration outside yourself can be valuable and is something I wouldn’t give up, the best way to find inspiration (whether that is for yoga classes, recipes, career choices, or anything) is to start by looking to your own life. What can you see there that inspires you? What can you imagine others being inspired by in your life? What are some changes that you’ve made in your life that you are proud of?

Some of my inspiring things:

I love to bake. I can hardly believe that something so pretty and yummy could be made by my two hands.

Cooking and eating healthy yummy food. It wasn’t that long ago that the only thing I could make for myself (and therefore often the only thing I ate) was pasta from a box. Seriously. My eating habits are better and I also appreciate food so much more these days. It actually tastes better too!

If I can do yoga, then I can do anything. Enough said.

The beauty of nature: not everyone is as lucky as I am to live in such an amazing, gorgeous place. But there is always beauty to be found somewhere, no matter where you are. Even when I’m in cities I collect a list of beautiful spots in my mind that I know I can return to; a tree lined street here, a park there, etc.

How Car Shopping Can Lead to Yogic Wisdom

Have you ever spent some time shopping around for a car? Have you noticed that as soon as you start getting interested in a particular kind of car, you start to see it everywhere? And you start to become curious about the kind of people driving that car? Well I have lately, because I’ve been shopping for a new car.

Though there seems to be this idea out there that yogis are earth-loving ride-my-bike-everywhere kind of people, I live in an area where I require a vehicle to get around. So, I’ve begun a search for the right car.

But here’s the problem with car shopping: instead of searching for a machine to get me from point A to point B, I am looking for a an identity.

My husband the mechanic suggests that I get something cheap (read: old) and fuel efficient (read: tiny). But my last car was brand new when I got it, so I have become accustomed to certain features. I have standards to meet, I tell him. I don’t want to go backwards. I immediately rule out any kind of truck because I am not a small town hick. Sedans won’t do, nor will anything that resembles the colour gold because I am not an 80 year old grandmother. I want a hatchback that is maybe a few years old – I’m a young, independent woman. I want a car that fits me.

I do realize somewhere in the back of my mind that my husband is probably right; I should get something affordable and realistic. A car is just meant to get me somewhere, not define who I am. But I push these thoughts aside for the time being and focus my search on a few particular models that I like, trying to see just how much I can squeeze into my budget to afford them.

Then one day in the midst of all this, I come across a section in Meditations from the Mat about Aparigraha where Rolf Gates talks about how his career changed and his car became unaffordable, but he had been unwilling to let it go because it represented “the last vestige of the prestige that I had enjoyed” in a former career.

Uh, oh. This sounds familiar. I have been doing the exact same thing. I have been holding on to this one last piece of my former identity, looking for a vehicle that will reassure me that I am still a successful person even if I make less money than before.

It’s time to let go. Yoga teaches us not just to let go of our physical attachments, but also to let go of the story of ourselves. My life is far richer than it ever was when I drove a brand new car, because I am not making myself miserable in an unfulfilling career just to pay for it. A vehicle doesn’t make me a small-town hick or a successful city girl; it just is.

So, perhaps I will consider some of those cheap old cars. After all, what good is it having a husband who is a mechanic if he’s got nothing to fix?