Tag Archives: Changing Habits

On getting ill, Vulnerability and Taking Stock

  There is nothing like getting ill for raising the feeling of Vulnerability when you’re self employed! Especially when it comes out of nowhere and you think your immune system is rock solid.

The interesting thing about this week of not working and not feeling up to much though, is that it has made me think about one of my favourite enemies – SHOULD.

It’s a word I ban in my teaching room, yet being solitary and incapable made me realise just how much space I still allow it in my own life, and particularly since my daughter left for University.

I think any big change in life circumstances calls us to take stock, and with good reason, but here is (some of) my list of ‘shoulds’ that have been sharing my bed and head since she left and I have reviewed the 7 years since we came to York:

I SHOULD HAVE …..

  • worked harder
  • studied more
  • made more money
  • been more successful
  • recycled more
  • cooked better food
  • taken more care of the planet
  • kept the house tidier
  • been a better role model to my daughter
  • dared to try and have another relationship
  • practised the piano more
  • helped her practise her music
  • encouraged her to play more sport
  • encouraged her to act
  • helped the needy
  • volunteered more
  • complained less about poor service in restaurants (🙄 really??)

OMG no wonder my immune system was under attack with all that lot going on.  And what a relief to have to let go of it all and just sleep, and almost feed myself and definitely not tidy the house! Talk about physician heal thyself! Because of course it became blindingly obvious to me that I much preferred being with this gentler, more tolerant me than the me with the big stick and long list, and for sure the big stick didn’t make me achieve very much more, just made me and I bet my poor daughter, fearful and miserable and bowed down and unwilling to try, to take risks, or as my wise Safari guide friend says, to Dance with Life.

 

One of my other wise friends asked how I was doing with vulnerability because he didn’t think I was going to make much progress until I was willing to embrace it a bit more.  Interestingly I couldn’t really answer the question, because I have been so busy hiding from it that it hadn’t really come up!

Of course I have had the excuse of having to make a living in a small place where everyone knows pretty much everything and I couldn’t afford to make mistakes because it cost cost my reputation and my job, etc etc. Doesn’t mean I have managed to avoid making mistakes anyway, interestingly- just haven’t deliberately put myself in their way.

So now I find myself looking back on 7 years where I started out enthusiastically with high hopes thinking I could crack this and make a wonderful new life for me and my daughter, and realising that 7 years have gone by, and I have done some stuff, and we’re still afloat, which is something, considering, but in the major life choices department, I have not danced with my life, more like hobbled on crutches, and then I have got angry with myself for hobbling, and knocked the crutches out of my hands….

Hmmmmm. …..Old habits die hard, and as I regain my strength, I can see that the voice of SHOULD is waiting for air time and the slightest opportunity.

 

So this next little while is going to be interesting as I see if I can find a different way of being with myself, talking to myself, and flexing the muscles of compassion  instead of self judgment….

 

 

On Demons, Compassion, Choice and the Interconnectedness of Life

Yesterday I was blessed and privileged to have a long  Facetime conversation with Lindsay Kyte – she just waking in Halifax Canada, and I just returning from a day out in nature in Yorkshire, UK.

Lindsay was one of my MA students about 8 years ago at LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She is now an award winning play-write, TEDx speaker, and editor of The Lion’s Roar – the premier Buddhist magazine in N America.

When Lindsay first returned to Canada, she turned to me for some long distance life coaching and now I have been able to turn to her for for help with the re-writing of my website.

But yesterday we were reflecting deeply on our shared demons, and the need for compassion – in particular self compassion.

For the last couple of years, this month of August, when clients and daughter are away, has seen the rearing heads of my ‘not enough’ demons: ‘Not good enough, not hardworking enough, not published enough, not known enough, not rich enough, not spiritual enough, not kind enough…..’ My ‘not enough’ demons are legion.

This year, I am facing those demons down by deliberate choices based on compassion and recognition of the interconnectedness of life.

I love this image of the impact of single droplets into water – how individually they create expanding concentric circles, and how each of those interact with others to create differing patterns, impacts, stories and lives.

And it gave me great joy in talking to Lindsay, in hearing her talk of strategies that I had offered her all those years ago, and how they impacted on the choices she has made in her life, and how those choices impact on so many others with whom she comes into contact, both through her life and through her work. It helps me to reconnect to choices I often find hard to make. It helps me to give value to each individual interaction I have and gives me a sense of meaning and purpose.

We spoke too, of how often we each give energy to things that are not essential, and neglect the things we know will deeply nourish us. While we often give much thought and energy to finding compassion for others, the practice of self compassion is a more elusive one – especially for someone like me, brought up on the tenet of ‘think of others before yourself’.

Lindsay sent this link to Tara Brach’s 10 minute process she calls the RAIN of Compassion:

R -Recognise

A – Accept

I – Investigate

N – Nourish

Tara’s voice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have found her Mindfulness exercises valuable at times when I have felt unable to quiet my own anxieties.

Here is the link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

If you are interested in reading more about Lindsay and Lion’s Roar, here are the links to the magazine, and also Lindsay’s website

http://www.lindsaykyte.com/

https://www.lionsroar.com/

 

Meeting Myself with Compassion and Kindness vs Running Away

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It is said that we teach best what we most need to learn. I am a pretty good teacher on a number of things, but particularly on self acceptance!

I am embarking tomorrow on a 7 week online mindfulness course. I am doing this for a number of reasons.

  • I realise that more often than I would wish, I run away from being kindly present with myself and I wish to change that.
  • I am a single parent with an only child and parents who live on the other side of the world. As such, I find this run up to the ‘Festive Season of Love and Light’ challenging.
  • It is also said that ‘We are what we habitually do.’ I know that I often have great intuition, insight and sensitivity, and I also know that I find it difficult to maintain those qualities on a habitual day to day basis and I need help with achieving a daily nourishing reminder.

Compassionate Presence vs Running Away

I have worked long enough with people to know that I am not alone in this. What I know is that when I scratch below the surface, almost everyone has a place where they face the challenge of themselves, more or less successfully. And I think it might help me and others for me to articulate some of the challenges I face in myself and seek to overcome.

In many ways, I love my life. I row, play tennis, sing, hike, camp, body surf when I get the chance, and much too little dance and play music. I have a job I love and a wonderful daughter and good friends.

How is it, that with all that, I can run away from myself? Well, I do. I notice that when left to myself, if I am not careful, and certainly if I am not thriving for any reason, I run away from myself, tune out, self numb or whatever you like to call it. Occasionally I tell myself I am not so bad, because the activities I choose are relatively innocuous – I watch other people live life on film instead of living it myself (under the heading of chilling out), I play rather a frightening amount of sudoku and free cell (under the heading of keeping my brain active), and rather less innocuously, from time to time,  I smoke (under the heading of, well, it only harms me, and I don’t have vices like getting drunk or having loads of sex with random people, and I need some form of sensual outlet).

One of my favourite authors, Salley Vickers, talks in her book, ‘The Other Side of You’, about what passes for love often being a decidedly mixed bag: lust, anxiety, lack of self-worth, sadism, masochism, cowardice, fear, recklessness, self-glory, simple brutality, the need to control, the urge to be looked after; most dangerous of all, the desire to save. There are other, happier, ingredients: kindness, compassion, honour, friendship, sympathy, the wish to help, the attendant wish to be good, though these finer impulses can often wreak more havoc then the more blackguardly ones.

I cite this, because I think it is worth looking at in terms of relationship to others, but also because I think that ‘innocuous’ ways of running away from ourselves can also wreak more havoc than more blackguardly ones. We can convince ourselves that we are doing really important work that needs our time and attention, we can do charitable works or do sport, music or other things that are good in themselves, but can equally masquerade as ways of avoiding being quietly and compassionately present with ourselves.

‘Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.’
—Carl Gustav Jung

As a parent, I am painfully aware of the truth of this statement. If for no other reason than to enable my daughter to live a full and happy life, I would like to truly live my life. And I have done enough work on self awareness to know that those ways I have of trying to escape myself, whether seemingly innocuous or not, will have, and have had, and impact on her. So I am doing my best to find strategies for facing myself, acknowledging my vulnerabilities and giving myself the love and compassion that I need to thrive.

We are what we habitually do

I also know from my work, that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway, and 3000 to repetitions to break an old one! 

I see it as no accident that all the major religions have about 5 calls a day to prayer. It seems that we all need help and reminding to come back to ourselves, to loving presence, and the means to live fully.

In my work I have developed a great sensitivity which enables me to tune into the pain of others, be that physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or energetic. But as Brene Brown says, we cannot selectively numb. I have told many of my clients who are deeply sensitive that sensitivity brings many riches, but if we don’t pay it attention, care for it and manage it well, it can wreak havoc.

I am a person who feels the highs and lows of life, and do not naturally flow along on an even keel, so I need to take care, and to develop the daily management of my sensitivity.

I am going to pay it attention in the next 7 weeks, and will report back on my progress!

 

5 Steps to Creating New Habits

FIVE STEPS TO CHANGING HABITS

 Changing habits can be simple, but unfortunately simple does not mean easy! However, by following these five steps, you WILL  achieve change!

1. INTENTION

 Form and maintain a clear of intention of the outcome you wish to achieve. This intention will provide the energy and direction required to proceed, and to overcome apparent obstacles.

 In order to really ‘see’ the obstacles in our path, we must be willing to truly look, and this can sometimes be a challenge to the ego, which feels less threatened by ignorance!

 

  1. AWARENESS

 Awaken, sharpen and refine your awareness of your habits. The tricky thing here is that habits are by their very nature subconscious. So you need an accurate ‘mirror’ or feedback system to highlight what is currently hidden. Engage your creativity, ingenuity, and all your senses to find ways of increasing the multi-sensory information you are giving yourself in order to improve this awareness.

 If you were walking in the mountains with a map, but were lost, the map would be useless unless you could first locate y

our current position. The same is true of ourselves and our habits.

 Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ pro-pree-o-sep-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

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 The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating the unconscious aspects of proprioception.

 Because of the unconscious nature of habit, it is most useful at the outset to enlist the assistance of an objective third party(teacher) who can give both accurate feedback, and hopefully (if correctly trained) assist you to achieve the desired outcome.

In the absence of such a teacher, or in between teaching sessions, video can be a useful tool. Proprioceptive senses are challenged to engage in a process without immediate visual feedback, and then this is checked against the visual and auditory feedback provided by the (good quality) video.

 A mirror is a poor third best, as it does not develop the proprioceptive sense.

 If you are dealing with a mental or emotional habit, then it is helpful to understand the triggers to that habit. Again, ideally with trained assistance, or without if it is possible, you can use your ingenuity and creativity to recreate those triggers in a safe environment so that you can practise becoming aware of your responses. Body and breath are useful tools here, as it is often said that ‘The Body speaks the Mind’.

Many responses to an ‘emotional’ trigger will show up in your physicality, for example anxiety producing sweaty palms, shortening of breath and tightening of the the stomach muscles.

For those of you interested in the neuroscience of why?, the following link about the amygdala may be of interest.

The Amygdala in 5 Minutes | Joseph LeDoux | Big Think

We begin to understand that we are indivisible ‘selves’. So as our awareness expands, we often notice that our habits we would term ‘physical’ , for instance a tightening of the breath in singing, can have ‘emotional’ triggers or components, eg fear of failure.

In order to have accurate awareness we need to keep reconnecting to our INTENTION. WIthout accurate awareness, we can just practise different, unhelpful habits! Without connecting to our INTENTION, we can create further pressure, which then creates further tension, and undermines our best efforts for change!

 

  1. PAUSE

 In order to change a response to a stimulus, we need to make the unconscious, conscious. In order to do this, it is usually imperative to create a pause, be it ever so infinitesimal, in order to prevent the unconscious, habitual response from occurring.

Breath is often a very useful first port of call. I have found it to be true that it is impossible to breathe freely while maintaining tension, and conversely, to maintain tension while breathing freely. As much (though not all) of our inappropriate response to stimulus involves excessive tension, awareness of breath, and use of conscious breath, can be a very helpful way of creating this pause.

  1. CONSCIOUS INSTRUCTIONS/INVITATIONS/DIRECTIONS

Having succeeded in becoming aware of our unhelpful habit or response to stimulus, and created the pause necessary to prevent responding in our habitual way, we use our conscious mind to give an instruction/invitation to the body and mind to respond in a new and chosen way. The efficacy of this new instruction will depend to some extent on the effect and depth of the old habit. Neuroscience teaches us that it takes 300 repetitions to create a new neural pathway (in other words, to allow a new habit to become unconscious), but 3000 repetitions to break an old habit!

Which leads us to the fifth step –

  1. REPEAT!

We need to repeat this entire process. We maintain our intention, engage our awareness, create a pause between the stimulus and response, and continue to give the conscious instruction to ourselves which creates the new habit.

FM Alexander (founder of the Alexander Technique – a powerful method for changing unhelpful habits) said that ‘If we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing will do itself. Sounds simple and it is, but that doesn’t mean it is easy!

Very often, our desire to achieve a particular result can make us forget the steps necessary to achieve it. This creates a pressure which usually involves more tension, and undermines the process necessary to achieve the result!

 POST SCRIPT FROM MY EXPERIENCE

We humans are complicated! While we may outwardly assert that we wish to change a particular habit, we may notice that when it comes down to it, we strenuously resist taking the steps which our logical minds know we require to make those changes. In such instances, we may need help to delve more deeply into why we are resisting. In my experience, it is almost inevitably a result of some fear that we have not yet recognised or acknowledged. It may take considerable patience and compassion for ourselves as well as courage, to uncover the fear which limits our ability to perform and to connect with others as we would wish. It is also still true I believe, that by applying these five steps to the different layers of the problem, we can find a way to change!

Acknowledgement:

This article was inspired by a workshop given by Alex Ashworth at York University.

Alongside a flourishing career as a soloist, Alex is currently Professor of Singing at the Royal Academy of Music and visiting professor at various (unpronounceable) institutions in Iceland in addition to teaching singing in the Music Department at York University.

Alexander Ashworth Baritone – Home