Making Change a Habit

After 27 years of life, a pattern that now seems so obvious has finally revealed itself to me. While I’ve always heard that change is the only constant, it seemed equally as natural that we will inevitably resist and detest this constant change. How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish things could stay this way forever”? I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. However, even if it were possible to avoid change in our lives, should we?

I’m reminded of when I learned that despite having clear ideas about what will make us happy, studies show that we don’t have very good judgement in that regard. We don’t know what will make us happy. It’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around. I feel so sure that this or that will make me happy. I almost don’t even realize it when I acquire said thing and am still just as unhappy as before. I thought working from home would be a dream come true, but it turned out that I’m actually much happier coming into the office every day. Despite clearly remembering this baffling realization, a few months after coming back to the office, I find myself hoping for another shut-down so I can work from home again. I can’t seem to convince myself that being at home alone every day actually makes me feel depressed and more anxious than usual.

This strange dilemma is similar to the way I view change. I assume most people would say that they don’t like change. Evolutionarily, change is an obvious threat. If we’re able to survive with the way things are, change could potentially be catastrophic. Our minds and bodies are inclined to try to hold on to what has been working for us up to this point, even if something else may work better. As long as we’re alive, change seems like a big, unnecessary risk. I think this is one of the complexities that make modern day society so difficult for us to navigate. It is not an accurate reflection of what our minds and bodies were designed for.

I mentioned in some of my recent posts the new habits I have added into my daily routine to promote mindfulness and self care. While I initially felt an immense positive impact from these changes, after a month, they have begun to feel lackluster. This is the pattern I have finally noticed within myself. I am constantly concocting new plans and habits that I believe will help me live a happier and fuller life, more in line with my values. These changes are always amazing for the first week or so. Then they start to seem ineffective. I find myself back where I started. I fall back into the mindless hum of habit.

I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps what is making me so happy at first isn’t the specific tasks I’m including in my day, rather the change itself. Although the habits I’ve cultivated are mindful, I wasn’t being more mindful simply due to the actions I was performing. It’s much easier to be mindful when you are doing something new. Perhaps I wasn’t less anxious because I wasn’t watching TV while I ate, but because I was doing things differently than I normally would.

I’ve often had the feeling that intelligent minds are more prone to anxiety and depression. I believe this is due to the effort that we have to exert to stimulate our active, easily bored brains. Not many of us are willing or able to make that effort. I’ve always detested challenges as well as change. I don’t know if that was innate or a result of my early environment, but it is a misguided opinion nonetheless. I need to be challenged, I need new, novel experiences and information to make me happy. Now the issue is how do I go about intentionally including these things in my life.

When we’re growing up, we have little choice in the matter. There are lots of consistent changes that come our way which we have no control over. Maybe our parents move or get divorced. We have to go to a new school. We suddenly have a new sibling. Whether we are resistant to change or not, we know there is going to be a lot of it we’re going to have to deal with. Once we are adults and have more control over our own lives and environment, it becomes easier for us to avoid change. Often we even avoid changes we want to make out of fear. Stagnation may be unpleasant, but it is safe and that is our prime biological imperative.

After trying for years to cultivate healthier habits, there is one I have been missing. This month, I’d like to try to make change a habit. In order to break free from what has become a quite oppressive daily schedule, I think intentionally doing at least one thing differently or trying something new each day would be an excellent way to invite more mindfulness and mental stimulation into my day.

10 Facts About Chameleons

Balancing Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Routines

When I look up tips for coping with anxiety or self-care ideas, I often see people talking about setting up morning and nighttime routines. Creating routines has always been something I am easily able to get excited about. I think new habits are much easier to stick with if you structure a set time and order to do them. Not only that, having a strong self-care routine to wake up or wind down at the end of the day can be a great way to help ground you and alleviate anxiety. It always feels good to do something for yourself with loving intentions.

I’ve been tempted to add a more structured nighttime routine into my daily habits in order to help me break away from my disordered nightly eating habits. I also think it would be nice to set aside a few extra moments of meditation and mindfulness in the evenings as I tend to get especially anxious later in the day. The only thing that’s holding me back from creating this new routine is the OCD tendencies I’ve become aware of lately.

I honestly can’t say how long this has been a problem for me. It has only become clear since the pandemic hit and I was alone in my house for days at a time. I think the reason it took me awhile to catch on to these unhealthy patterns is because I never really thought of OCD presenting in this way. Whenever I imagined OCD, I thought about people doing very simple repetitive things like turning lights on and off a certain number of times. I never really imagined that more complex, in depth (otherwise healthy) routines could become obsessive compulsive. Yet that’s what it feels like. I feel compelled to do certain activities each and every day, usually in the exact same order, or else I will feel off balance and extra anxious.

I know that OCD and anxiety are very closely related to one another and often overlap. Anxious feelings are what compel someone with OCD to perform certain behaviors. These behaviors are then rewarded by a decrease in anxiety, thereby creating a cycle of reinforcement. Plus I know that these mental health problems often have a genetic component. My mother has anxiety, but she also has ever increasing symptoms of OCD. Although her habits are more what I normally think of, such as checking the stove or the locks multiple times before being able to leave the house.

I would be interested to hear what a therapist would have to say on the subject of healthy routines and people suffering from OCD. Is there a way to integrate a routine that won’t become unhealthy for people like me? I am always very selective with any routine I begin to practice. I know that very likely it will soon cease to be a pleasant, healthy habit, and become a mandatory, anxiety producing part of my day. Instead of feeling like I am doing something kind for myself because I want to, it starts to feel like just another overwhelming obligation.

I have thought of one possible solution to this problem, but I don’t know how practical it would actually be. Perhaps if I were able to create a cycle big enough, spanning a long enough time period, like a whole month for example, I wouldn’t get so obsessed with performing identical tasks. However, I don’t know that this would really make a difference. It feels like I would be less attached to a behavior I only performed once a month, than one that I do every single day. For example, if on the 14th of every month, I take myself out on a date, it might not give me as much anxiety if that didn’t fit into my schedule one month.

Part of me thinks that is a very clever solution, but another part of me wonders if I might just be moving the goal posts. My gut tells me a therapist would prefer that I work on the problem in a different way. I know it’d be more helpful to actually start seeing a therapist and just ask about it, but we all know I’ve been trying and failing to get myself to go to therapy for years now. There just aren’t many therapists in my area that actually know what they’re doing. The good ones I do know either don’t accept my insurance, or are unable to see me as a client because we know one another through work.

For the time being I am interested to here what you all think about this issue. Do you believe routines can be healthy for some people, but unhealthy for others? Is there a way that someone with OCD can develop a healthier relationship with personal routines? Do you have any experience with this dilemma? What have you found helpful? Also, if anyone reading this happens to be a therapist, I would absolutely love to have you weigh in and give me your opinion.

Morning Routine High Res Stock Images | Shutterstock

Veganniversary

Nine years ago today, on my eighteenth Easter, I began the transition to a vegan diet. It’s always tough for me to know what to say when people ask me about when I became vegan. I probably wasn’t actually fully vegan until a couple of years later. More like a vegetarian, trying to make it to vegan. But I still want to give myself credit for those years I spent figuring things out. I’m not sure if other vegans count that transitional period as part of their vegan life or their pre-vegan life. I suppose some people might not have stumbled so much in the beginning like I did either.

My point is that I think intentions matter. I’m not trying to justify the support I gave to a monstrous industry out of personal weakness. I’m just saying that as an online community, vegans can be pretty ruthless to one another. I use to be one of these more ruthless vegans. I couldn’t help but lash out at vegetarians or vegans with “cheat days.” When it comes to such a serious and heart-rending issue as the lives and wellbeing of billions of animals, it’s only natural to get a little heated. However, it is also easy to turn a blind eye to our own past failings.

This post isn’t about calling out other vegans or myself. It’s about reminding myself and other long-time vegans out there not to forget where we came from. After nearly a decade adapting to this lifestyle, it can be easy to forget how impossible the change once seemed. Even though now it can be frustrating to hear people asking you the same ridiculous questions that they always have, keep answering them kindly. Keep being patient, even when you’d rather scream. A kind, thoughtful answer may not make the questioner go vegan, but a harsh response is guaranteed to turn them away from the idea entirely.

If you’ve read my other posts you may wonder why I even bother to care anymore. After all, I’ve said many times that I believe it’s too late to save the planet and life on earth as we know it. So why continue being vegan? Why do I care if other people go vegan or not? The simple answer to that question is suffering. I have always been sensitive to the idea of suffering. The mere existence of it is what caused me to lose my faith in a loving, all powerful god. And if there is no god to protect the innocent, I will. Or at the very least, I’ll do my best not to contribute to their suffering.

The crazy thing is that it doesn’t even feel like a conscious effort any more. I think one of the hard parts about going vegan is making that mental connection each time you decide what you’re going to eat or buy at the store. In the beginning making the right choice causes you pain because it makes you reflect on your impact in the world and the immense suffering and injustice that exists all around us. It is tempting to turn away, fall back into old habits, avoid thinking about it entirely. However, once veganism has become that comfortable, familiar habit, these painful feelings are reversed. The other day someone asked me if I would ever eat meat again. The idea alone left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to look at the meat section in the grocery store. Those “foods” are a painful reminder of the atrocities humanity perpetrates on our innocent brethren. To eat a piece of meat is to eat a piece of flesh. It would be a willful decision to cast aside everything that I believe in in a way that it never was before going vegan. It would be simply impossible for me, painful even.

This drastic shift of consciousness that a vegan lifestyle elicits can make it hard for us to relate to the meat-eating masses. It’s tempting to try to forget that I was once one of them. When people ask me, I want to tell them that veganism was never a difficult choice to make, that it was always easy. But I am always honest instead. I tell them that it was hard for a long time. I tell them that I initially transitioned for selfish reasons, not out of a moral obligation to the animals I was eating. I tell them about the foods I miss eating and haven’t been able to replace. I let them know all of this. But I also let them know that despite all of that, becoming vegan was worth it. Becoming vegan was the best decision I ever made in my life. I would say I’m proud of that decision, but it just seems ridiculous to take pride in not harming others when that should be the default.

So if you are reading this post and you are not vegan, know that I don’t harbor any hatred or resentment towards you. I certainly don’t consider myself better than you, like a lot of people assume vegans do. What I hope you take with you from reading this is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Choosing a salad instead of a steak at a single meal is a reason to rejoice. Deciding not to add cheese or a creamy dip or adding a non-dairy creamer to your coffee or switching to a plant based milk at home, these are all wonderful, meaningful steps to take that make a difference. And I don’t mean make a difference for the world necessarily, I mean they make a difference for the animals. It may seem like an abstract statistic when we think about meat and dairy sales, simple facts and figures. An output two digits smaller than the year before may seem utterly insignificant, but just remember that those numbers are lives, sweet, precious babies, like the pets your have at home. And these small choices make a difference to them. So just do your best. Do whatever you can, no matter how small. If a mentally ill, eighteen-year-old can go vegan on Easter and still being going strong nine years later, anyone can do it.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

The Monotony of Life

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.

Breathing Through Discomfort

As my yoga practice continues to grow deeper, it is slowly saturating every corner of my life. It is amazing to be able to integrate this knowledge into my day. One of the invaluable things that yoga has brought to my life is an awareness and connection with the breath. There is so much power in the breath.

At first I began to concentrate on my breathing during my daily workout. Just like in yoga postures, I am often able to find a beautiful balance of effort and ease (sthira and sukha) as I am doing vigorous exercises. The connection to my breath assures that my muscles receive all the oxygen they need. Instead of focusing on how difficult my workout is, I am able to focus on full, deep, and steady breaths. I experience less discomfort (often even finding pleasure) as I push my body to its limits. In addition, time seems to fly by as I find a flow-like state. I find excitement and gratitude for what my body is capable of.

After seeing the benefits mindful breathing could have in my physical experiences, I began to utilize it to benefit my mental state throughout my day as well. I started to notice my breath in moments when I was experiencing something emotionally difficult. I realized that when I am feeling extremely stressed my breath is very shallow. Sometimes it even feels as if I am holding my breath! Once my mind has shifted to my breathing and I begin to breathe slowly and fully, I immediately feel much calmer and less overwhelmed. It’s incredible how much this has helped me cope with challenging emotions. Even my experience of mundane daily tasks, like vacuuming and doing the dishes, has become more pleasant.

I am still struggling with and improving my awareness of my breath every day. I am so grateful that my yoga journey continues to give me new perspectives and new things to focus on in each moment. I am so excited to be able to share the things I learn and give my future students the life changing gifts that yoga has given me. I am so lucky that in a few months I will be certified to teach this ancient, beautiful, and profound practice. Until then I am going to continue learning and growing and enjoying this beautiful journey.

Just breathe. ♥