Real Habit Formation and Lifestyle Change

I’ve noticed the sudden proliferation of 21-day, 28-day, and-30 day challenges that are being advertised now that it’s spring.

We’ve all heard that old sage advice (or perhaps urban legend) that doing anything for 21 days creates a habit.  As a result, we’re now constantly inundated with challenges that last about that amount of time.

How many of us here have done one of these challenges and then fallen off the wagon the day after the challenge ended?

You can’t see me, right now, but if you could, you’d see that my hand is up.  If it only takes 21 days to create a habit, then why haven’t all of our habits been perfected after a series of well-designed 21-day blocks?

I think it has to do with this dialogue from the movie Before Sunrise.  If you aren’t old enough to remember this movie, then go watch it.¹

Here’s the conversation:

Jesse: You know, it’s like…nothing much that happens to us changes our disposition.

Céline: Really, you believe that?

Jesse: I think so. I read this study where they followed people who had won the lottery, and people who had become paraplegics, right. I mean you’d think that…you know, one extreme is gonna make you…euphoric, and the other suicidal. But the study shows that after about 6 months…

Céline: Uhum?

Jesse: Right…as soon as people got used to their new situation, they were more or less the same.

Céline: The same?

Jesse: Well, yeah…Like if they were basically an optimistic, jovial person, they’re now an optimistic, jovial person, in a wheelchair. If they’re a petty miserable asshole, OK, they’re a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.

Yes, of course I looked up the study that Jesse is talking about!  It’s called:  “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?”²

Unlike Jesse, this study doesn’t cause me to conclude that we can’t ever change our dispositions, but that it takes about six months for a major lifestyle change to feel normal.

Once it feels normal, it has become habitual.

Most 21-day challenges aren’t about making a small, uneventful change.  They’re about getting immediate and dramatic results.

The problem is that immediate and dramatic usually don’t go with long-lasting.  The study Jesse cited suggests that if you want an extreme change to start feeling normal, then you’re probably going to have to wait for the six month mark, not the 21 day mark.  I’ve found this to be true in my own life.

I’ve also found it to be true that 21-day “challenges” are awesome for baby-steps, in which case, it’s not really a 21-day challenge, but more like a tiny change that seamlessly integrates itself into your life.

In order to set up a decent 21-day habit change, the key is to make the change small enough that you don’t notice when Day 21 has passed.  This is going to be different for everyone.  Something that is massively hard for one person can be barely a blip on the radar for someone else.

If you’re counting down the days until the challenge is over, then chances are you’re going to majorly fall off the wagon on Day 22.  You haven’t really changed anything.

For example, you can diet so much that you’ll lose a bunch of weight immediately, but eventually, you will fall off the wagon because your dietary change was so extreme that it became unsustainable.  Statistically speaking, the weight will come back—and then some.

If we’re thinking about making lifestyle changes, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, “How do I want to live for the rest of my life?”  Rather than, “How do I want to live until I reach some short term goal?”  Given that perspective, how does your goal planning change?

In other words, would you rather spend years yo-yo dieting (where you see extreme losses but also extreme gains) and end up worse off after it’s over, or would you rather make slow and steady—but permanent—changes that will last the rest of your life?

¹If you’re watching it for the first time today, be very, very grateful that you don’t have to wait nine years to find out what happens after this movie ends and then wait another nine years to find out what happens after that movie ends, like those of us who watched the series when it first came out.
²Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917–927.

What Happens After We Die?

A few weeks ago, I went with a friend to pick up a Buddhist nun at the airport so we could take her to make a short visit at a Buddhist monastery before we put her on a train to continue her travels.

I’ve been to Buddhist monasteries before, but those visits had been in the context of a retreat. This was a different type of visit and I figured that there had to be something interesting about the experience that I could bring back to my blog.

Surprisingly, other than a few minor details—for example, when it reaches a certain temperature, even monastics will complain about the cold—the visit itself was mostly unprofound.

golden_monks

One thing did come up, though.

Before we reached the airport my friend asked me what I thought of the concept of rebirth.¹

I said, “Well, I could give you the typical answer that all dharma teachers give when faced with such metaphysical questions.”

He said, “What’s that?”

I said, “’What does that have to do with your life, right now?’ or ‘how does that affect the present moment?’ Along with a mysterious smile.” My boyfriend and I call answers like this as doing the “Zen shuffle.”

He said, “Let’s ask [our nun] when we see her and see if she answers the same way.”

So, we did, and we explained to her our reason for asking. She responded with, “Wow, now I’m nervous.”

Then she proceeded to talk about rebirth in a concrete and informed way that I’ve never heard from any other monastic. When she was done, I told her that it was the best answer that I’d heard so far, and then she accused me of being a suck-up (another detail—monastics have a sense of humor).

Her answer was this:

She knows that it is popular these days for Buddhists, especially Western Buddhists, to try to explain away rebirth by claiming that the Buddha only mentions it because it was his cultural inheritance at the time (growing up in ancient India). However, from her perspective, rebirth can’t be separated from Buddhism because the whole point of practice is to escape from the Samsara (which is the cycle of continuous rebirth).

However, this is not the final word on the dharma. No one has the final word on the dharma and that’s because Buddhism is an incredibly diverse and ever-evolving religion.

Some of the various traditions are so different from one another that they are barely recognizable as the same religion. For example, some traditions believe in multiple Gods and some believe in none.

For me, I’m pretty happy to hear someone practices meditation, at all, let alone a specific kind. If they identify themselves as Buddhist, that’s even better. I’m definitely not going to nit-pick about their specific beliefs.

Ever since we had that brief conversation I knew that I wanted to blog about it, but I’ve also been spending a lot of time figuring out my reason for wanting to blog about it.

I’ve realized that it was very refreshing to me that she gave full disclosure. In my experience, many Buddhist practice teachers are afraid to have any conviction about metaphysical claims. Perhaps it’s the cultural climate and perhaps they don’t want to influence the beliefs of others.

However, even if some interpret Buddhism as a religion that doesn’t focus too much on metaphysics, that doesn’t mean that the question, “What happens after we die?” is not an important question to others.

I’ve seen this question asked several times in the context of dharma talks and seen several people get disappointing answers—the Zen shuffle.

This one was very simple: Samsara is real.

I’m putting this out there for anyone who wants a straight answer.

How important is it to you to have metaphysical beliefs? Do you think they’re important or merely a distraction from your present life?

¹This is a concept that is similar to reincarnation, but the definition of “rebirth” depends on your religion.  Several religions contain a similar concept with varying ideas of what exactly goes on between lives.

How To Benefit Even More From Your Dreams By Lucid Dreaming

Keeping with the dreaming theme, this week I’m going to talk about lucid dreaming. Lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is aware that she is dreaming.¹

Although, lucid dreaming has been around for centuries, conventional science did not accept lucid dreaming as a real phenomenon until the late 1970’s/early 1980s.

This is when Keith Hearne, in 1978, and Stephen LaBerge, in 1981, independently tested lucid dreamers by measuring eye movements during the REM stage of sleep.

The theory was that REM movements corresponded with vision in dreams—when a dreamer looks left in his dreams, his physical eyes will look left as well.

Their theory was correct. They conducted these experiments and found that lucid dreamers could use REM to communicate messages to the researchers while they were sleeping. The lucid dreamers correctly answered “yes” and “no” questions using REM, and gave other indications of their conscious awareness while in a dream state.²

As bizarre as that sounds, lucid dreaming comes in various forms and is a fairly accessible experience. Some people are more naturally inclined to lucid dream than others. I started lucid dreaming when I was around the age of six. It was such a common experience for me that I didn’t realize until I was much older that not everyone has lucid dreams.

The reason lucid dreams are desirable is obvious: you get to do whatever you want in your dreams.

When I was really young, my biggest lucid dream activity was flying. When I got a little older, I switched to having telekinesis (I won’t go into the reasons for that here).

These days, I tend to hang out with people that I miss and I can’t physically visit. During some of the really cold and dark stretches of this past winter, I spent some of my lucid dreams at the beach.

How to Have a Lucid Dream

According to the book Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep, research on lucid dreaming indicates that most people can increase their lucid dream frequency considerably.³

It’s not unusual for some people to start having lucid dreams as soon as they learn that there is such a thing is possible.4

Step 1

If you don’t have good recollection of your non-lucid dreams, then work on that.

Step 2

While you’re working on that or if you already have good recollection of your dreams, you can also employ one or many other techniques for having what is called a “pre-lucid” dream.
A dream is considered pre-lucid as soon as you ask yourself whether or not you are dreaming. If you answer, “yes,” then your dream becomes lucid. If you answer “no” then your dream falls back into an ordinary dream.

There are a few techniques that might help you have pre-lucid dreams that I gleaned from Lucid Dreaming that I’ll mention here:

The first is to condition yourself to ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming in your waking life.

You can do this by either habitually asking yourself whether you’re dreaming at random intervals throughout the day or by using a trigger. If you’re using a trigger, ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming every time a regular event happens in your waking life. For example, every time you walk by a designated object in your house.

The other is to fall asleep while thinking about lucid dreaming. This can be done by reading about lucid dreaming just before bed, pondering it, or repeating a mantra about it, such as, “I am dreaming,” as you are falling asleep.

Finally, some people achieve lucid dreams by completely skipping the pre-lucid state and going straight to lucid. They do this by meditating while they fall asleep. Those who are already very skilled in mind control (such as monks and yogis) do this by concentrating on their own conscious awareness as their bodies’ falls asleep. When they do this, they can witness their own sleep cycle. This seems like the hard way to go about it, but feel free to give it a try.

Step 3

Once you are having a pre-lucid dream, then the next step is to get yourself to answer, “yes” when you ask yourself whether or not you’re dreaming.

For this, here is a list of suggested tests that you can use to try to determine whether or not you are in a dream.

You can:

  • Try to push through a wall (walls are less solid in dreams).
  • Pinch yourself—yes, this is really a test, and your skin will respond differently to the pinch.
  • Try to read something—text doesn’t like to stand still in dreams or will be fuzzy.
  • Try to pick up something heavy or do any other similar task where there is a very specific expected physical result. If you don’t get the expected result (like you can easily pick up a car without strain) that’s an indication that you’re dreaming.

Once you get past this step, you’re now a lucid dreamer. Continue practicing lucid dreaming and you will improve! I’ll look forward to hearing about your awesome dreams!

To learn more about maintaining a lucid dream once it becomes lucid, you may want to check out this website on lucid dreaming.

¹ Green, C. & McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid dreaming: The paradox of consciousness during sleep. London: Routledge., p. 1.
² ibid., p. 7.
³ ibid., p. 115.
4 ibid., p. 114.

How to Start Benefitting From Your Dreams

The usefulness of some things are seasonal (snowboard) or have a time limit (bananas), but I’ve discovered that my dreams have shown to have consistent usefulness.  When I say dreams, I don’t mean things that I hope will happen in the future.  By dreams, I mean those mini-movies that we all experience during our sleeping hours.

For example, I had a dream where a friend came to me and requested Reiki healing in very specific spots.  I gave her the requested Reiki in my dream.  I emailed her the next day to tell her about it.  She then confirmed that she needed healing in those same specific spots on her body and had actually woken up the next morning feeling much better than she had been feeling in a while.

I had another dream that startled me so much that I sat straight up in bed because I was experiencing the emotions of a close family member.  This experience allowed me to be much more empathetic and supportive while he went through a major transition in his life.

A couple of nights ago, I dreamt that a friend was experiencing trauma in her life only to find out the next day that one of her family members was very close to death.  If I had acted on that dream, I could have offered support much earlier and without specifically being asked.

My dreams have also helped me relieve many shadows, as well.  I had an intense reoccurring dream for decades until I finally figured out what it meant.  Figuring out the meaning of that dream allowed me to release a lot of fear and guilt that I was subconsciously carrying through my life.  Once I did that, I never had the dream again.

Even if we don’t have psychic dreams or groundbreaking dreams, I believe that we can all get some benefit from remembering and interpreting our dreams.  Once you develop a strong relationship with your dreams, you will be surprised at what they reveal.

dog-sleeping

How to Start Benefiting From Your Dreams

  1. Start remembering your dreamsThis is easier for some people than it is for others.  Repeat to yourself your intention to remember your dreams just before you go to sleep.  Try to make it your last thought. If that doesn’t work, the other way to remember a dream is to wake up while you’re having a dream.  Dreams usually occur about 90 minutes into the sleep cycle—throughout the REM stage of sleep.  During your first cycle, your REM period will last about ten minutes long, and after each cycle, it can grow up to an hour long.If you want to wake up in the middle of a dream, then set an alarm sometime during one of the times that you will likely to be experiencing REM.  There are apps out there that will help you track your sleep cycle, too.  If you want to do it the old-fashioned way, it’s a lot easier to practice during a nap or a morning when you are sleeping in.  When we sleep at times that our body expects to be awake, our sleep is a little lighter and the line between being asleep and being awake is a little thinner.
  2. Write them downThis is pretty obvious: Write everything down as quickly as possible.  For me, I’ve found that if I spend too much time writing out the early details of the dream, I might forget the final details before I’ve gotten a chance to write them down.  So now, before I start writing, I review the dream in its entirety in my head.  When I do this, I note details throughout the dream that I know will lead to the recollection of further details.  I also type a lot faster than I write longhand, so it makes a lot more sense for me to take the time to open up my computer than just keep an open notebook on my bed stand.
  3. Revisit them about a week laterTo get the best perspective on your dreams, it helps to get distance from them.  Have you ever read something that you wrote a week ago, a month ago, a year ago or a decade ago?  If so, you understand.
  4. Figure out what certain people and situations symbolize for youThe only way to do this is to start figuring out what things mean.  Once you’ve figured out one symbol, you can always use that to interpret future dreams.  For example, for me, the presence of deep water symbolizes my subconscious.  If it’s dark and murky, then I know that there are things lurking in there that I can’t see.
  5. Be patientI add this step to every how-to because it’s so very important to learn that if we want to see real results that we must be patient with ourselves.

Once you get good at this, you will enjoy the benefits of knowing what your mind doesn’t tell us when you are in a conscious state.  Don’t you want to know what it’s up to?

Have you had any weird or memorable dreams that you just can’t forget?  Tell me about them!

Yoga: Approaching a Modern Practice with an Ancient Text

A couple of months ago, I read The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali for the first time.  Given that I’ve been practicing yoga for 14 years and teaching for a handful of years, I figured that I was probably due.

After reading it, I wondered if any of it is still relevant to yoga practitioners of today.  If you don’t know what’s in it, imagine an esoteric collection of words that describes a self-cultivation process that allows the practitioner to free herself from ego in order to reach an ultimate goal, called samādhi.

warrior_sillouette

The word samādhi literally translates as “placing together.¹”  Given the descriptions of the state of samādhi in The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali, it appears that the two things that are being “placed together” are self and God.

The āsanas—poses—are barely mentioned because this text is about meditation.  You might even say it’s all about mental āsanas.

Today we live in a world where yoga is has gained exceptional popularity, even compared to most other fitness crazes.  Yoga is often appealing because of the physical benefits associated with the exercise and perhaps for the benefits associated with its naturally meditative qualities.

We rarely consider samādhi to be the goal of yoga.  If we consider it, at all, it is nothing more than a happy accident of practice.  Ironically, this is how The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali asks us to approach yoga.  Maintaining the goal of samādhi turns yoga into an ego driven pursuit and the ego must be sacrificed in order to achieve samādhi.  In the meantime, the practitioner can expect to experience the benefits of practice for the sake of practice.²

After having approached the mat hundreds of times over the years and having watched others do it hundreds of times, I have observed a quality that goes beyond a vacant series of poses.

The yoga class becomes a place where we are constantly but indirectly asked to release our egos.  A long held stretch may ask us to make friends with discomfort.  A strong vinyāsa might force us to ask our bodies about its desired pace, rather than fall into mindless competition.

Somehow, in the space between the calming reassurance and intense physical challenges, we naturally begin to loosen our grip on our egos.  We may not necessarily reach samādhi every session or ever, but these tiny releases of ego offer us more profound changes off the mat.  We recognize those changes and that is what keeps us coming back.

This is how I think The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali is still relevant to modern practitioners.  We’re drawn to yoga for the same reason that the people reading that text around the 3rd century CE were drawn to it.  We are looking to achieve some kind of goal that has to do with our individual development.

We also end up getting the same answer: That’s not what this is about.  I think the āsanas do maintain something that is more than exercise, stretching, and breathing.  All of those components combined create another thing that keeps us coming back for more.

If yoga has always been about exercise for you, then maybe next time you practice you can ask yourself how it challenges your ego.  That question might prove to be useful to you.

What do you think?  What does yoga do for you?  Is it an especially transformative practice or is it just about as transformative as anything else?

¹Feuerstein, G. (2005). Encyclopedia of religion. 2(12), 8066. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3424502725&v=2.1&u=temple_main&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=714b66ee4c3c7e4fac5aa3d8686964de

²Patañjali, & Feuerstein, G. (1989). The Yoga-sūtra of Patañjali: A new translation and commentary. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Embrace Your Pain to Reveal Your Peace

Sometimes cold hard winters can give rise to a lot of negative feelings.  I know that’s true for me.  However, negativity doesn’t have to be all bad.  Feeling bad sometimes can be quite beneficial, not unlike how watching a sad movie can actually make us feel better.¹

The idea that to relieve suffering, we must first embrace suffering is not a new one.  This has been discussed in Buddhism for a long time.

Here’s a quote that has been attributed to the famous Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Buddha called suffering a holy truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering and let it reveal to you the way to peace.”

There’s this other guy named Hiroshi Motoyama who is a semi-well-known Shinto priest.  He wrote several books on his numerous peak meditative experiences.  His whole story is so complicated that I can’t get into it in one blog post.  However, in one of his books, Toward a Superconsciousness, he wrote, “Drawing an analology from the carbonated drink, we know that gas will bubble off when the bottle is opened and the pressure is released…Similarly, the psychic contents of the unconscious that surface to consciousness should be left to dissipate as they well up” (p. 18).  This is in reference to letting the bad stuff come up.

In some areas of psychology, these bottled up non-expressed thoughts and feelings become part of what is called our “shadow.”  The shadow is made up of all of the things that we don’t want to know about ourselves so we pack them away—out of reach of any daylight.  From this place, the shadow continues to operate, but it’s under the radar and outside of our conscious control.

golden_monks

Denying our suffering is like bottling up the carbonation.  When we keep our negative thoughts and emotions bottled up, then sure, no one ever sees them, but then they are still stuck inside of us, making us sick.

This is the healing wisdom behind having what is called “a good cry.”

Similarly to what is taught by those who started the “law of attraction” movement, I do believe that our thoughts and feelings directly affect our physical experiences and the overall course of our lives.  This is the reason that we must be exceptionally careful with how we deal with them.  Forcing a negative thought or feeling into the shadow will only cause it to operate from a place that we can’t see.  This is much worse than being consciously aware of how our thoughts and feelings are affecting our lives.  Instead of awareness, we’re stuck wondering why we’re tired, lethargic, suffering or otherwise unsuccessful in our endeavors despite all of our intensive positive thinking.

Today, the pop-spirituality movement has turned our culture into a “no-negativity-ever” zone.  This is not only a stifling environment for growth, but insensitive to people who are truly suffering at the moment.

At the bottom of this post is a talk by Barbara Ehrenreich where she talks about how obstinate positivity has negatively impacted the greater good.  I don’t agree with every single thing she says, but overall, she makes a lot of good points.

I’m not advocating for wallowing in depression or cynicism, but I do think that we owe it to ourselves to fully explore our down times.  Often times negative thoughts and feelings don’t come flying out in a fit of tears, but need to be given time—to be coaxed out with sensitivity and compassion.

I am advocating for exploring how you honestly feel without judgement.

I say “without judgement” because judgement makes us want to manipulate our emotions into being appropriate to our given situation, something we would rather feel, or expectations that we have for ourselves.  Conversely, the judgement tempts us to tell a story about our given situation that fits our feelings.  This only serves to intensify bad feelings which is the negative side of being “negative.”

Good luck, folks.  Since today is one of the numerous snow-days we’ve had this year, why not take the time to let out whatever you’ve been carrying around?

 

¹I know that the conclusions drawn in this article are not exactly the same as the message in this post.  However, I do believe there is a connection because both support the idea that a more honest perspective about one’s own situation (even if it’s negative) is beneficial.

Ten Steps to Starting a Self-Care Practice – Part 2

Last week, I started a post called Ten Steps to Starting a Self Care Program – Part 1.  I didn’t intend to wait a whole week before posting the second part, but life happened.  I got busy and the next thing I knew it was a week later.  On a positive note, you should all be experts at the first three steps by now.

Here are the remaining steps:

4. Get used to asking for help

It is truly ok to communicate your needs to others.  A lot of us are traumatized because we once tried to communicate our needs in the past and we got stepped on.  This stuff happens a lot, but your right to communicate your needs still exists even if someone else didn’t/doesn’t recognize it.  Find someone who recognizes it and responds to it positively.  Being able to express your needs to another can be a powerfully healing act.

5. Stop giving your power away

Every time you make your healing dependent on the actions of another individual, not only are you giving them all of your power, but you’re putting your well-being into the hands of someone who can only help you in a limited way.  You must be the administrator of your own healing.  Another person can certainly help you along by offering you forgiveness, apologies or saving the day, but ultimately, you are the person in control of whether or not you release your suffering.

6. Stop accepting other people’s power

If someone is expecting you to be their hero and sweep down and fix all of their problems, know that you can only provide them limited service.  You can help them along by offering forgiveness, apologies or saving the day, but ultimately they are in control of whether or not they release their suffering.  They may be constantly making demands on you, and you may be fulfilling them, but then they squander everything you give them by not using it to help themselves.  That’s not a pattern you want to be in.

7. Allow yourself professional help

It’s truly ok to spend time and money on yourself.  It can actually be an incredibly empowering act to do so.  It helps you recognize that you are worth the investment.  You are valuable and therefore your health is valuable.  Also, it makes a lot more sense to invest in your self-care before it gets to the point where you can no longer go on without it.  There are many, many people out there whose job it is to help you focus on your own healing.  If you can’t do that, at least do research, read books, read blogs and follow people online who inspire you.

8. Do it

Carve out ten minutes a day or one hour a week or whatever you can manage.  Throw as much time towards it as you can.  Once you’ve done this, you might start seeing where and how you can re-organize your life to make your self-care easier.  You’d be surprised at how many solutions seem obvious and clear once you start taking some time for yourself.  It might be awkward and difficult, at first, but it will get easier with time.

9. Recognize that feeling guilty/awkward/agitated is ok and know that it will pass

If self-care is a rare occurrence for you, your new practices are going to feel weird, at first.  You’ll probably have a lot of conflicting emotions about it, and that’s fine.  Let yourself feel the way you feel.  All emotions tend to naturally dissipate as long as you allow yourself the freedom to feel them.  This is the time when you need to just be patient.  Like anything else, the more you practice, the more natural it seems.

meditating_mudra

10. Keep it up

If you continue, you will probably start seeing the value of caring for yourself more and more.  Because of this, you’ll probably want to devote more time to it.  Other priorities that you once thought were indispensable might suddenly not seem so important compared to your self-care.

Ok, so there you have it, ten steps to self-care.  I think that like with anything that is designed to help you it is better to start sooner rather than later.  If you aren’t taking good enough care of yourself, what is stopping you?  There is only one you, there will only ever be one you, and your time is limited.  Why not make the most of your Earthly time with yourself?  Let’s talk about this!  Put your comments or questions below.

Ten Steps to Starting a Self-Care Practice – Part 1

I work as a Reiki Practitioner and Yoga Teacher, but lately, it seems like my job description has been, “Person Who Tries to Convince People to Take Care of Themselves.”  I often find myself running into people who treat everyone else better than they treat themselves.

Not surprisingly, these are the people who are wilting—failing to thrive—they are suffering from stress related illnesses and in need of healing.  This is how they end up with me.  They deny themselves until they get to the point where they can’t go any further without professional help.

It’s not that I don’t like having clients, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy helping the people that I see.  I adore every person who has ever come to see me and because of that, it pains me to see how far gone they let themselves get before they act.

I know that self-care feels like extra work.  It’s another pull on your time and energy.  I get it.  It’s also a skill that you develop, like anything else.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Here are first few steps on how you can start a new self-care routine:

1. Make it a priority

Your first priority should always be you.  It may seem like other things should be a higher priority, but think of it this way—you can’t offer anyone your best self until you become your best self.  As long as you are denying you, you are denying the world your best self.  And yes, I do recommend completely turning your life upside-down if necessary.  There is only one you; make the most of what you have.

2. Plan for it

In this world of constant distractions, interruptions and requests, if you don’t consciously make a plan, it will never happen.  There was a time when humans were naturally faced with the question of self-care because of lack of easily accessible distractions.  We were forced to sit with ourselves while taking trains, standing in long lines, walking to destinations or merely sitting alone in our rooms without the convenient distraction of tablets, laptops, phones and TVs.  Because of the possibility of constant connectivity, it has become the general expectation that you always be available to your friends, family and boss.  Given this climate, self-care time needs to be planned.

3. Find the things that work

Journaling Man

When we hear the term “self-care” we conjure up images of old Calgon commercials and reading cheezy romance novels on the beach.  In actuality, it means different things to different people.  It could mean a hot bath.  It could mean a Yoga class.  It could mean starting a journal.  It could mean going for a run or taking a nap.  It could mean a Reiki session.  It could mean saying to your husband/wife/partner/kids, “Feed yourselves tonight, I’m going for a walk.”  It could mean all of those things or none of those things.

Ask yourself what feeds your soul.  Even if you don’t believe in souls, you probably have some idea of what this means—you feel like you’re being fed on some internal, basic level.  If you don’t know, try this: Sit down in a quiet spot somewhere, take a few deep breaths and relax.  When you reach a state of calm openness, then pose the question to yourself.  The fear of judgment will probably arise, but give yourself permission to have free reign on that question.  After all, no one needs to know the answers but you.  Ask yourself this question often because what fed you yesterday may not feed you today.

This a two part series and part 2 can be found by clicking here.

A whole new self-care regimen takes time and contemplation to start.  The first three steps, require a bit of effort and patience.  I know that patience is hard to come by.  But, the things that help us the most are the things that require an Investment of time.  You will reap the rewards in the future.

Do you have any self-care rituals now?  Is there anything that feeds you on a basic level that you find surprising?  Tell us below!

The Yin and Yang of Goal Setting

Since this is the time of year when the conversation turns to goal setting, I thought I would talk about it here.  We keep hearing that we should set goals, and we all nod in agreement, “Yes, yes, goals are good.”  Human beings are natural goal setters.  Whether the goal is to take over the world, win a game of [whatever people play these days] or have another piece of chocolate cake, we all already have plenty of goals.

The magic of goal setting is all in the how of it.  In 2013, I learned what I call the Yin and Yang of goal setting.  This is about learning to balance between the soft and the hard; decisiveness and flexibility.

The Magic of Goal Setting

In Myers-Brigg Typology (MBTI), the last letter of anyone’s type is either a P or a J.  It’s an indication of your relationship to your goal-setting.  I like to think that J’s go to their goals, whereas P’s let their goals come to them.

The P stands for “perceiver” and the J stands for “judger.”  Here is the description of the difference between a P and a J on the MBTI website.

 Here’s a slightly entertaining video about how P’s and J’s approach goals differently.

In short, J’s like to plan ahead and P’s acknowledge that nothing can ever really be planned ahead because the world is an ever evolving place where nothing can be predicted.

 Full Disclosure: My boyfriend is a strong J and I am a strong-ish P.

Let me tell you a story about us to demonstrate the differences between a P and a J:

We like to hike a lot.  When we first got together, my boyfriend would refuse to set foot on a trail without having studied multiple trail maps for several minutes, thoroughly discussed all of the possibilities, have our entire route planned, plus alternates if the first route didn’t work out.  This was true even in small parks that contained one trail.  I was impatient with that process.  I stared off into the woods while he did this and said things like, “Yep, sounds good….” And “uh huh, good idea.”  When he got to the third contingency plan regarding what to do in case of bear attack in our local city park, I would say, “Ok, can we start hiking now?”

On the other hand, I would walk a half mile up a trail in a giant state park that was full of crisscrossing trails and warning signs about life-threatening dangers before I’d turn to my boyfriend and say, “By the way, did we bring a map?”  At which point, he’d look at me incredulously, and start pulling out four different kinds, inevitably re-traumatizing me causing me to shriek, “No, no, no more planning!  Keep them away!”

Ok, this scenario is a slight exaggeration.

The true difference between P’s and J’s isn’t that J’s plan and P’s don’t.  The difference is that J’s prefer to make decisions (Yang) so they can put on their blinders and head unimpeded towards a goal, whereas P’s prefer to hold off decisions (Yin) and keep an eye out for new information—to wait for the decision to reveal itself.

Of course, most of the time, most of us do whatever is appropriate to the given situation, but our preferences often win out when there is some wiggle room.

How this manifests in your life depends on the other letters in your MBTI and all of the millions of little things that make you uniquely you.

Because my boyfriend and I have opposite personality types, we like to think that we can learn from one another’s perspective.

Before I learned anything, this is how goal-setting manifested in my life:

I was a wonderful short-term planner.  I could tell you exactly what I was going to do within the next five minutes, sometimes within the next few hours.  On exceptional days, I knew what I was going to be doing for the entire day.   I was an amazing doer.  I was doing, doing, doing, but without any particular long-term goals in mind I always felt unaccomplished.

As for my boyfriend, he was, and still is, one of those people for whom if you ask, “What’s your five year plan?” can tell you, and not in a wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-this-happened-fantasy way.  It will be in a realistic these-are-the-plans-for-my-current-options kind of way.  Before he learned anything from me, this meant that he spent a lot of time planning, and then re-planning when he saw that an old plan wasn’t going to work out.  For some reason, things that need to be noticed before they could be addressed (such as cleaning the house, a picturesque view or a bad mood) had the tendency to get overlooked completely.

So far, this is what I have learned about goal setting:

Having long-term goals doesn’t mean imagining the ideal end-point for all of my activities and turning them into goals.  As painful as it was for me, I needed to start prioritizing in order to bring anything to fruition.  I had to accept that I wasn’t going to become the world’s best underwater yoga instructor, join the NYC ballet, write the next great American novel, invent a new vaccine for cancer and finish my MA all this year.  I made a handful of annual goals, created a realistic schedule for achieving them and made every other activity optional.  I did this around mid-summer 2013 and you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now if I hadn’t.

This is how I added some Yang to my Yin approach.

So far, this is what my boyfriend learned about goal setting:

A well-constructed long-term goal includes several short-term goals that aren’t necessarily directly related to the goal, such as doing several smaller, seemingly insignificant tasks (like cleaning or occasionally checking out the environment).  He found that it can be valuable to take off the blinders to get a much more inclusive and comprehensive view of any given situation.  Sometimes, rather than planning out of necessity, there were times he made plans to cope with anxiety.  He has found that in low-risk situations, there is value in setting aside planning altogether and embracing spontaneity.  For bigger, more risky commitments, he has learned to hold off major decisions until he has done plenty of research.  This has allowed him to be more comfortable with the times when it’s better to not make a decision.

This is how he added Yin to his Yang approach.

It is somewhere in there, when we figure out how to balance the Yin and Yang of goal setting, where we find that sweet spot of feeling accomplished without making ourselves crazy.

How do you approach your goals?  When you think about goal-setting, what comes up for you?  How and where do you find that balance between being an over-planner or an under-planner?  Let us know in the comments below!