We all have times in our lives when we intentionally want to change our behaviour for the better and create new habits for ourselves.
This could be getting in the habit of eating more fresh vegetables, and drinking more water. Or it could be exercising more and taking the dog for a daily walk. It could be work related, or spiritual, like praying every morning, or fitting more writing or painting time into your day. There are so many areas in our lives that can be improved and made easier if we create new habits.We all have times in our lives when we intentionally want to change our behaviour for the better and create new habits for ourselves.
This could be getting in the habit of eating more fresh vegetables, and drinking more water. Or it could be exercising more and taking the dog for a daily walk. It could be work related, or spiritual, like praying every morning, or fitting more writing or painting time into your day. There are so many areas in our lives that can be improved and made easier if we create new habits.
For some reason, we seem to be able to acquire bad habits without much effort, but getting into a good habit seems a little more challenging. I’m not sure why this is, because good habits make life better in all kinds of ways.
The goal is to make changes easy to follow until we’ve internalized the new behaviour and made it a true habit – something you do automatically without having to think about, like brushing your teeth.
So, how long does it really take to develop a new habit? It depends. It depends on your level of commitment, and on how big a change you want to make from what you are doing now.
When we are trying to make a change, what we really want to know is: how long do we have to tough it out until it gets easier. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel where we don’t have to try so hard to do things differently? In other words, when will this new behaviour of painting daily, or writing a thousand words before work, or eating breakfast become automatic?
While it will be different from one person to the next and even from one habit to the next, here are some ways that will help you get started. Yes, it will take some time to make new habits and replace old ones. But it will be well worth it in the end. Be prepared and determined to stick it out.
1. Decide What You Want To Do
The first step is to decide what you want that new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more, or write more, or eat better. Instead say something like “I will write for 30 minutes every single day”. Or, I will eat a salad for lunch three times a week. Deciding what your new habit will be and committing to when and how you’re going to do it is half the battle.
2. Replace an old habit with a new one
It’s easier to make a new habit than get rid of an old one so, try to replace an old habit with a new one. For example if you’re wanting to write every day, try replacing that half hour you spend reading the news over your morning coffee with 30 minutes of writing instead.
3. Make it incremental
If your current habit is to eat a massive bowl of ice cream every evening and you want to start intermittent fasting to lose weight or improve your health, you could start by switching from eating it at 9:00 o’clock, to eating it at 8:00 o’clock instead, then move that time to 7:00 o’clock.
Once that’s a habit, you could switch to eating an apple instead of the bowl of ice cream.
4. Stick to the same time and place each day
Habits will form faster if you stick to the same time and environment each day. Instead of trying to fit in sketching whenever, keep your sketchbook next to the front door or in your handbag, and plan to sketch for an hour after breakfast, or before bed.
Schedule your journalling time right after dinner at the dining room table.
Try to sit in the same chair each time you write a blog post.
5. Remind yourself why you’re doing this
A constant reminder of why you’re trying to change your behavior is also helpful. Remind yourself every day that you’re sticking to your writing schedule so you can finish your novel by the end of the year.
Or put up a picture to remind you that you’re saving a hundred dollars each payday so you can go to Paris at Christmas. Keep the reason why you’re making habit changed in front of your eyes.
Use a vision board, or simply post sticky notes around the house where you’ll see them all the time.
6. Decide to commit
The first few days after you decide to change a habit will probably be smooth sailing. You’re motivated and excited to get this done. At this point, sticking to your new habit isn’t an issue. But a few days in you might notice that you have slipped back into your old habit. You may start to second-guess why you even want to do this new thing.
For example, maybe it’s raining and you don’t feel like going for your walk. Or maybe your day just gets away from you and you decide to skip your journalling time. At times like this, it’s important to remember that you’ve make a commitment to yourself.
7. Schedule It And Put It On a To-Do List
Sometimes I simply forget to do that new thing I’ve been trying to make habitual. Maybe I slip back into reading the news in the morning, and forget that I had decided to write instead. Or I get busy with something and forget all about my plan to go for a walk everyday at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
If I schedule my new positive habits in my planner like any appointment, set an alert on my phone, or make them part of my daily to-do list, they will become something I do automatically much sooner.
8. Make It Public and Be Accountable
Let family and friends know what new habits you’re trying to establish. They will call you out if you don’t stick to your plan and can help get you back on track.
You may even go as far as sharing your plans publicly on social media, or write a blog about your new journey. Knowing that others read it and know about it might be just enough motivation to keep you going when you feel like throwing in the towel or slipping back into old routines.
9. Piggyback On A Habit You Already Have
Whenever possible, add the new habit to one you already have. For example, if you fix a cup of tea or coffee at 4:00 pm, and you want to get in the habit writing in your journal every day, make it your new ritual to journal while enjoying your tea.
It’s much easier to amend an existing habit or ritual than create an entirely new one. A routine will help you achieve this. Even before the new behaviour becomes automatic, a routine you already have will help you get it done without having to spend a lot of willpower or relying on daily reminders.
10. Make Slip-ups Costly
Here’s a fun idea. Put a jar on the kitchen counter and each time you slip back into your old habit or forget to stick to the new one you have to put five dollars in the jar. It will quickly help you remember to skip wasting time surfing the Internet instead of working on your project. For extra motivation donate the money to charity at the end of the month or hand it over to your spouse or children to spend.
11. Find A Partner and Help Each Other Along
Find someone with the same or similar goal. This could be a writing partner or fellow artist, a whole foods cook, or someone who shares a fitness goal. Keep tabs on each other and encourage one other to keep going. It’s much harder to skip if you know someone else is depending on you.
12. Make It A Group Challenge
If one accountability partner is good, a whole group is even better. And they don’t even need to be local. Find a supportive group online and challenge each other to stick to your new habit for the next 30 days. Not wanting to be the first one to give up will keep all of you going until you establish that new habit.
Give these simple little tricks a try. Keep using the ones that you find helpful until you have made new creative habits you can stick with without the help of any tools or support.
In the past week, a good friend of mine lost her father after a difficult illness, and a young mother I know lost her husband in a tragic car accident. Just today, another friend lost a sibling unexpectedly. Things like this happen every day. Sometimes it happens to people who are close to us, and sometimes to folks we don’t know, so it doesn’t seem to touch us.
But then one day, tragedy, disappointment, or loss shows up on your own doorstep. Someone you care about becomes ill. A friend dies suddenly. The business idea that was supposed to be the answer — finally — crumbles before your eyes. You lose your job.
A relationship is damaged beyond repair. A marriage falls apart, in spite of your best efforts to keep it alive. Children get sick. A teenager makes bad choices that you know will not turn out well, yet you’re powerless to do anything about it.
Things like these shock us. We’re not made to cope with tragedy and emotional pain but hello, there it is anyway.
I’m going to tell you a story from my own life:
As you may know if you've been following me for a while, in January 2017 my mother died. She had always been a strong, capable woman and we all expected her to live a good long time. But a simple accident set off a chain of health challenges that within a few months ended her life. We had always been close and for my entire family, it was a huge loss. Our beloved Dad had passed away only a couple of years before, so it all seemed like too much, too fast, too soon.
Within the span of the year, eleven more of my friends and family passed away. Yes, twelve people in one year. In the midst of all this, I was tasked with being executor on my mom’s will, a job that required a lot of me. During that year, my sister moved from living five minutes away to the other side of the country, an eight-hour trip by plane away.
My much-loved little church disbanded and closed its doors. My business suffered as the emotional and physical demands mounted up. By the time the year ended, I was buried in sadness, and physically and emotionally exhausted. I can honestly say that it took me all of the next year to stumble back onto my feet.
Sadness can feel like you’re carrying a heavy load on your shoulders throughout every day, and sometimes a bag of tears around your heart. You might be able to put the burden down when you sleep, but the moment you wake, at whatever hour, there it is waiting to be picked up again.
I’d like to stop here for a moment, and make a distinction between sadness and depression. Sadness is generally a reaction to a loss, disappointment, ongoing problems, or difficult situations in which we find ourselves. Feelings of sadness usually lessen over time as we adjust to the changes in our lives.
Depression is a more serious mental health condition. Sometimes, sadness is confused with depression though, so be sure to seek help if you believe you are suffering from depression.
As with most emotional pain, both sadness and sorrow, which is deep sadness, can be exhausting. It can be difficult to keep putting one foot in front of the other throughout each day.
When you suffer a profound loss, people will tell you that life goes on, and it can feel like a slap in the face, but the truth is, that life continues even when you feel like your own world has stopped turning.
Even amidst times of sorrow and grief, we will have to get up every morning, make the bed, prepare meals, show up for work, gas up the car, care for the children, do the laundry. In many ways, this is a good thing. Distraction helps. Attending to the needs of others helps. But it doesn’t lift the weight of sadness from the weary soul.
Over the months that followed my mom’s death, through those difficult and trying weeks and months, I found a few ways that helped to ease the heaviness. Here is what worked for me.
1. Find reasons to be happy.
One of the things that had to be done was cleaning out my parents’ home. My sister, and my sister-in-law and I decided the best way to tackle it would be for the three of us to go together and begin the wade through sixty years of accumulated stuff. We laughed so hard at finding things like a forty-year old pink plastic back scratcher with only four fingers left on it. And the single stuffed arm of an unfinished fabric doll cracked us up. The laughter pushed back the sadness that came in between as we sifted through old family photos, and sorted out mom’s bedroom and sewing room.
Halfway through that dreadful year, my daughter gave birth to a baby boy, my first grandson. Spending time with that new baby, and his three-year-old sister made my heart happy.
In September, my husband and I took a vacation and went to Quebec to visit my sister and her family. Beautiful weather and new scenery helped lightened my hearts.
Closer to home, I deliberately chose to do things that I knew would make me feel happy in spite of the sadness.
Be careful not to wallow for any length of time. It only leads you deeper.
2. Cut back on demands as much as you can.
If you think of losses as actual wounds, while emotional rather than physical, they still need time to heal. It is imperative to allow yourself as much space as you can to be kind to yourself.
Cut out anything that increases your stress levels or puts more pressure on you. While I didn’t want to do it, I cut back on taking clients in my business. I simply didn’t have the energy required to do the work well while feeling so bruised myself.
Realize your limitations and know that you won’t feel this way forever. In the meantime, be gentle yourself. You’ve been hurt and need time and peace in order to get back on your feet.
3. Give your sadness away.
Remember how I said that sadness can feel like a heavy burden that you have to carry around? In fact, you don’t have to carry it.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Sometimes I’ve read or heard that verse and wondered how that even works. But over the years I’ve gradually figured it out.
We were never meant to carry our own grief and sorrows. God doesn’t put them on us, in case you’ve been told that. Instead, he wants to carry them for us.
Here is what I do, and it works. I sit quietly, close my eyes, and imagine that Jesus has appeared and is standing next to me, just waiting. I picture that bag of sadness that I’ve been carrying. Then I pick it up and hand it to Jesus.
I’ll even say something like, “Here, please carry this for me. It’s too heavy for me to handle.” In my vision, he takes the bag from me and slings it over his shoulder, onto his own back.
If the sadness tried to come back I remind myself that I’m no longer carrying it and Jesus has that burden now.
He did promise rest for the weary and heavily laden. He promised rest for my soul, which is where the pain of sadness resides. It’s not denial. It’s faith.
Remember, whatever may have befallen you, or whatever you’re going through, keep looking forward to better days ahead. One day you’ll wake up and realize that sadness is no longer overshadowing your heart. The memories will still be there but the pain will be gone.
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Where I live, I have been hunkering down under layers of clouds, punctuated by snow falls, blizzards and winds for most of the time for over the past month. Though it does get dreary I admit, the unceasing rain and chill tend to keep you indoors, which makes for the perfect setting for concentrating on doing indoor projects. Sitting by my window, with just enough light to feel like there is vitamin D to be had out there somewhere, I can watch the winter birds at the feeder. I can also watch the snow line go up and down the mountain side that I can see past my computer monitor depending on the temperature and level of precipitation. When the clouds are high enough to actually see the mountain tops, the scene is spectacular. Yesterday between bouts of slashing, rain, sleet and wind, the sun broke through for only a few minutes and gave us the most vibrantly colored rainbow I think I have ever seen. With the backdrop of dark clouds, this site was a gift of beauty.
You never know when something is going to cause a change in your life, however small, that may make everything simpler. I believe that these occurrences come into our lives when we're ready or perhaps they come along all the time and we only notice them when we're ready. I once read that if you want more time, do less. This makes sense to me, though it's not always easy. I remember flying home from Europe many years ago after spending a month with my sister. Sitting on that plane alone, well with a few hundred other travelers, but still alone, gave me time to review my life. I asked myself what was not giving me pleasure about my life at that time. I had volunteered for several committees, some associated with my children's schools and realized that one of those committee positions had been draining my energy and joy.
As soon as I got home, I resigned. When you're not in the right place or you're doing a job that you're not supposed to do, you're not only taking your energy away from what you're supposed to do, you're preventing the right person from taking the position. Sometimes we feel like we will let everyone down by setting something aside, but the activity could be falsely propped up by our participation. While you don't have to be passionate about everything you do, there should be some value in it to you and to others. After I dropped out of that committee, I discovered another area where my skills and energy could be used to benefit others in even better ways. This opportunity didn't deplete me and my contribution was much more effective. Simplifying your life is often a case of choosing the activities that are most suited to your gifts and abilities. It is in those areas that your contribution will be most effective, where your life will feel most on track. It's a good place to be.
We all have dreams, that list of things we hope one day to have or experience. And mostly we see those desires as being in some far off place in our lives, always just out of reach on the next horizon. But sometimes our dreams do come true, either through planning or unexpectedly. Sometimes they come true in ways we hadn't anticipated, in bite sized pieces of the big dream. Often, we don't even recognize these little snippets that keep our desires alive. It's like we can't see the first little green leaves of spring because we've decided to be satisfied with nothing less than the whole tree or the entire forest. When we see the leaves or the little dreams come true, they are like gifts from God that lead us like a trail of crumbs toward the bigger dream. If we're attentive, we can experience the joys of dreams coming true with each small step. They give us hope for the future. The one we long for in our hearts. Yes, it is out there. Each step of the way leads us closer.
When we appreciate what God puts in our paths each day and live in gratitude and joy, the big dreams come true piece by piece, step by step, day by day. How then do you know when you're doing what you're called to do when you're in the center of God's will? For that matter, do we even want that? Do you want God's will or do you just want your own? Many of us say, we want God's will for our lives, but live like that's the last thing we'd want. I believe the reason for this is because we don't really know God well enough to trust his judgment.
When you know the character of God, you find out that his plan is always the best one. That's because he's the maker. When I paint a picture or write a book, I know that work better than anyone else because I'm the creator. Wouldn't the God who made me know me better than I know myself? I would say so. God made me to live in my element. He knows exactly what that is. A life of peace and trust without striving or anxiety. It has taken me a long time to learn this. I have learned to trust God who loves me. He also loves you.
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