Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Simple Changes Take Simply Changing

With the new year came new promises: A pact with myself to change a few old habits into better ones. Health, as always, is at the top of my list. Eating better, cleaner, less. Money management is another; making grocery lists and sticking to them, tracking my monthly budget better, and avoiding impulse buys. And of course there are the (empty) promises to keep the house cleaner and more organized. These are not resolutions, mind you - don't do those. Just gentle suggestions to myself. Habits to break. New tricks for an old dog.  This year, I'm going for real and sustained.  I'm going for what matters.  And, I'm keeping for simple.

Changing behavior simply requires the replacement of one set of responses, or habits, with another set of responses. Making something habitual, quite honestly, requires repetition. Especially with those things that don't come naturally. Repetition takes deliberateness. Keen, unwavering, kick-your-butt-into-gear deliberateness. Taking my "half-mindless" daily activities and making them more "fully conscious." When I catch myself, remind myself, bite my tongue, push myself to try a bit harder, then I am working on living with a bit more deliberateness. The hope is that one day, everything that feels deliberate will become reflexive.

My health is important to me because I am an "older" mother.  As someone who waited (due to circumstance not choice) until later in life to have children, I find myself stressing about the age I will be when I am a hypothetical grandmother.  Instead of having a panic attack over it, or worrying about something I can't prevent, I can care for my body and soul in the best way I know how to be as active and healthy of a future grandma I can be (oh, and my children are only 15, 6, 4, and 3, so this is a long way off!). 

I am starting by making small changes, simple changes.  The worst thing one can do is "set oneself up."  If you bite off more than you can chew (no pun intended) then you usually set yourself up for failure.  I have started with three simple changes with my health:  Writing down what I eat, taking a mulitvitamin, and drinking more water.  I replace all but my morning cup of coffee with with water.  As an avid diet soda and coffee drinker, this small task is an enormous feat, but because I am not overburdening myself with too many health changes at once, I am finding it doable.  Since I'm focusing on health rather than numbers on a scale or outward appearance, I don't feel like I'm frustrated or berating myself but rather challenging myself to live a healthier lifestyle. 

The other change is keeping an eating journal.  The mere act of writing down what you consume is enough to change your behavior.  Mainly, because now you are making "mindless eating" deliberate and being more cognizant or portion size.  Suddenly, there is accountability and that in and of itself creates behavior change.  Slowly, as I get each simple change under my belt I will add things like exercise and replacing unhealthy food choices with healthier ones, but this is a paced process to ensure real changes in habits, not a two week "resolution" that fizzles as quickly as it started.  A string of simple changes add up to one big change. 

What is most important to me, however, is not how much I exercise, or what number I see on the scale. What matters most to me is taking myself off "autopilot" and bringing myself fully present in the day. Present with my kids, with my choices, with the moments that I can not get back. As my husband says so often when appreciating a moment; "I'm taking a picture for my heart." I need to fill my heart's album.

So often, I let the gears of the day grind and roll me forward on this conveyor belt, and I sit, half-mindless, following where I am lead. I sail in the direction the wind blows. Life acts, I respond. All the stupid little things that fill my day become more important than the things that actually are. Is doing the dishes and sweeping the floor and returning emails more important than having a Michael Jackson dance party at 2:00pm in my 6 year old's room? I think NOT!
With deliberateness, I can take myself off autopilot and I can consciously chose the responses I wish. I can anticipate, adjust, sail my own course. Or, I can go in the direction the wind blows me and just take better care to notice the beautiful scenery, the light on the water, the smells in the air as I travel.
I can be more deliberate in what I say and how I say it. In reaching out to a friend or family member. In spending quality time with my little girls. In taking care of my needs and my health.  In giving daily thanks. Deliberateness creates habitual behaviors and habitual behaviors soon cease to be "behaviors" but simply become woven into who you are.
Next thing you know, deliberateness turns into effortless. Next thing you know, you begin to live the most effortlessly fulfilled life you've ever imagined. Or at least, this is my theory.  And when it comes to theories, I like to err on the side of simplicity.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Simply Orange® blogging program. If I am one of the first 65 blogs received by SocialsMoms, I will receive a $25 Target gift card and a gift pack that includes a Simply Orange® cooler bag and logoed fleece.