What if we never felt we SHOULD eat better or exercise more or do yoga or meditate?
What if we simply craved all of the things we know make us feel healthy and vibrant? Likelihood is healthy living would be a whole lot easier. In fact, living would be a whole lot easier.
So why can’t we just crave the things that make us feel our best?
Recently I’ve been studying more about habit change. Learning what enables us stick to practices and what sets us up for sure failure. Looking at this, speaking with friends and students and reflecting on my own path of habit transformation, I’ve started to see that this one little word “should” is more of a roadblock than a on-ramp to healthy living.
Often the most simple and obvious things are also the most elusive. One brilliant blogger I follow, James Clear, talks about three R’s of successful habit change. The last R stands for reward.
Clear says to successfully change a habit we need to either reward ourselves each time we do the new action with positive self talk or acknowledge the benefits and rewards of that new action. It’s really simple. When we are rewarded by something our mind starts to create a desire for that reward. This motivates us to repeat the new action, until ultimately it becomes a habit.
The irony is that when most people try to change their life and create new patterns it’s often accompanied by a barrage of negative self talk, self criticism and a whole list of should’s that feel far from rewarding. We tend to go gun-ho for the new change and follow up each attempt with what we should have done more of or different to be better or progress faster. Each time we do this our mind feels punished for our efforts and rather than creating a desire for the healthy habit we actually cultivate resistance around it.
On the flip side of the same coin is our affinity to SHOULDN’T when trying to improve our life and health. I shouldn’t eat that chocolate or drink that wine or stay up too late. While this might be true, when we repeat like a mantra the things we know make us feel less than optimal, what happens? Those very things stay in the forefront of our mind, and by thinking about them more we end up craving them more.
So how can we acknowledge the habits we don’t want and make changes toward those we do want without should-ing on ourselves?
The first step is to focus on the positive changes we’re already attracted to and very slowly and incrementally reinforce this change. Trying to change too much too quickly is a sure plan for failure. Instead we want to teach our mind to desire and crave these positive changes, but if it’s too hard our mind will only build a pattern of resistance.
One of my favorite exercises during my detoxes is getting everyone to write down the cravings or habits they once had but wouldn’t in a million years do now. Go on, take a moment and do it yourself.
Doing this reminds us of a few things. Firstly, that we do indeed change. No matter how solidified one of your current bad habits may seem, just remember back to the old habit that seemed just as solid and now has completely dissolved. Secondly, that change likely happened slowly, not over night, and with many small relapses.
Clear says we should plan for failure when attempting to change our patterns and have a strategy for getting back on track. If we recognize that getting off track is just part of being human and part of our individual evolution we stay out of negative self talk and instead stay connected to our deeper desires for health and happiness. Clear says what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly.
Not only is relapsing a part of the process of change for EVERYONE, but it can also powerfully reinforce the new lifestyle.
My mom shared a great story with me recently that demonstrated this perfectly. She and my stepdad have been focused on healthy eating for quite a few years now, but before that ate the standard American diet (not so healthy). So one night recently they decided they were sick of health food and went out for a nice Italian meal with lots of cheese, wine, pasta and meat. Because they’ve been eating so cleanly the meal hit them both like a ton of bricks, they felt heavy and awful and it made them crave the light clean meals more than ever.
This is what we want! We want to want the new habit, not feel like we should do it. And when it becomes a craving and desire then it becomes effortless and enjoyable, not a chore.
When cultivating a yoga practice what we’re really doing is cultivating the desire to practice yoga.
When I first started yoga over 10 years ago I got my fix going to class twice a week. Then the desire grew to more and more classes, then to a daily Mysore morning practice, then to workshops, my own home practice and teacher training. There were many relapses between all of this and each time I got back on track I fell even more in love with yoga. Now I can’t imagine going a day without my yoga, breath work and meditation practice.
This evolution hasn’t come from a should base mindset, the dedication comes from wanting to do the practice to feel the rewards (it makes me feel good). I don’t worry much about doing it perfectly but just know what ever bit of practice I can do will make me feel better.
The new 30 Day Yoga Evolution program I’m leading at Qi Health and Yoga is all about cultivating that deep desire for your practice which will lead you into effortless, joyful and sustainable healthy living habits. And doing it in a group rather than on your own makes it that much easier and more fun. The program starts this Sunday April 27th, so if your wanting to want a stronger yoga practice there’s no better time than now!