As we all have been told time and time again when we were young and learning: practice makes perfect. Even though I disagree with the implication that perfection can be achieved, there is merit in this statement. Give something a try over and over, and you will gradually get better at it until you reach the limits of your talent or physical possibilities.
Because of neuroplasticity, this still applies when you are an adult. You may not be as fast a learner as back when you were a kid/sponge, but you can still rewire your brain. It is a comforting thought that nothing is set into stone, but it also puts the burden of responsibility on our shoulders: what do we need to learn? What do we want to learn? What is the best way to go about it? It’s highly personal work, and you need to be fully present for it to work. You can change your life a habit at a time.
A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to spin on a hand spindle. I started on Turkish spindles, and after a year, I decided to tackle supported spinning. That was hard! But I joined the #spin15aday movement on Instagram, where they challenge you to put in 15 minutes every day, and I noticed that spinning supported became easier. By now, five years later, it’s second nature, and I have developed speed and fluency that I could only dream about back then. I still spin every day, if I can.
It opened my eyes. Experiencing first-hand that putting in small bits of effort pays off big time, in the end, shifts your perspective. Suddenly, so many things can grow into something that really matters, if you make them into a habit. Next question: what do you choose to nurture?
I decided to tackle my eating habits in 2017. I started weighing myself
Another habit that sort of
I added another habit last year: meditation. For this, I use the app Calm, which offers a daily meditation of ten minutes. I also regularly meditate with a simple timer. Quite organically, the meditation moment became part of my daily routine, and I meditate after dinner usually. Today, I meditated for the 100th day in a row! It doesn’t take an effort anymore to sit down on my zafu. It’s a habit now and I miss it when I don’t have the opportunity to meditate.
I find that I find it easiest if a new habit becomes part of my daily routine. Not weekly or once every few days. For example, I started doing yoga, but am having trouble keeping with it. It’s more of a time commitment because I have to go to the yoga studio, and it doesn’t have a fixed place in my schedule. To become an easy habit for me, the time commitment must not be too great (no more than half an hour initially, I think), and it must have a fixed moment in my daily routine. Maybe I should do a yoga routine a home every day? I do enjoy yoga, so it’s a matter of finding out what habit I can integrate.
In the bigger picture, related to my earlier post about emotional dieting, I have been quite intuitive (read: wishy-washy) about my life choices over the years. My lack of connection to my emotional state was a big culprit in that. I did not know why certain things were important to me. Was it because it was expected by other people, by myself, by my core beliefs? Did I really want it? Was it my ego that needed stroking or was it a genuine passion? If you don’t know your feelings, you don’t have a compass.
Now that I know that I can nurture and grow things that I set my mind to, I try to introduce more “abstract” habits as well. For example, I’ve started noticing more when my inner critic is talking. I used to have difficulty separating that nagging voice from my own, but the distinction is becoming more clear. The result is that I can act on that awareness, and give those negging remarks the consideration they are due (none, of course).
Another thing that I have noticed is that I forget all about myself when working or interacting with other people. My focus is 100% outside myself, leaving me unaware of my emotional and physical state. Building on the mindfulness meditations, I have added a mindfulness reminder to my phone. Whenever this goes off (about once per hour), I check in with myself and “retreat” into my own private space mentally. I visualise going into a small sentry box, or a weather house, where the sounds are softened, the colours duller, the lights dimmed, and where everything is soft and dark and soothing as opposed to the bright, loud, intrusive outer world. And I try to take a moment to really feel that and make room for what I’m feeling inside. It’s still hard, by the way. I cannot do this at all when I’m interacting, not even a little bit. But I’m trusting that practice makes… well… proficient? At some point.
I’m also planning to gradually introduce some other habits. Not too fast, because that may make it too hard. It’s a delicate balance. I’m going to dedicate some time every day to writing music. I’m also going to pick up “real” reading again (not on an electronic device). To make room for that, I have already ditched a habit that I don’t want by deleting Facebook from my phone. Good riddance! It’s not just about adding habits, but also about getting rid of habits that are no longer useful to me. A major thing that I want to learn is self-compassion/self-love, and I think that my new habit of choosing my habits is a step in the right direction for that too.
All this may be obvious to you and you may be surprised that this is – kind of – new to me. Of course I knew about this theoretically, but I have never before really actively taken charge of my life like this. I like that feeling, and I like the way things become more intentional. I do still appreciate intuitiveness and spontaneity, but now that I’m more aware of what’s going on, those qualities don’t diminish, they are in fact improved. Being aware of my reasons and motivations just shifts their focus a bit.
Do you introduce new habits to gradually improve your life? Do your habits help you to be your best self? Do you have tips for me? I’d love to hear your thoughts!