Hopeful Habit Changing

Two weeks in to January might seem a little late to be posting about “New Years Resolutions” but harbouring mixed feelings about the whole endeavour is exactly why I’m not calling these “resolutions” at all but rather “habits” or affirmations.

I recognize that no one changes over night – people don’t just wake up on January 1st with new identities, and as much as it might be nice to have left all our troubles in 2018, reality has other ideas. Regardless, as we try to steer away from that which brought us down previous years, friendly reminder to acknowledge all you’ve survived and everything that has made you stronger. We don’t need to wait for January 1st for a clean slate, instead we can try to take the pressure off making the perfect, life-changing decisions once a year and recognize each new opportunity to make the next best choice. Each new year, new week, and new day is a chance to rise anew and make small, manageable movements in the right direction. They won’t always lead us directly where we want to be, but (despite the cliché) if we listen to our hearts and tap into our intuition we can trust the process. I’m glad that the new year provides impetus for change and self-development but the recipe seems all too often to come with shame, mis-information, and the ugly influences of diet culture.

January can be a tough month for anyone – the days are long, the holidays are over, and the societal pressures of the new year seem almost palpable. Change is scary, and the fact that is a new year doesn’t make it any less so. The motivation for redirection may be well-intentioned, but too often our direction is influenced by factors other than what is truly best for us. Through no fault of our own, rather as a consequence of having evolved as a social species, its in our biology to be adopt beliefs of the larger society and be influenced by what it seems like we should be doing. This year more than others previously, I’m keenly aware of this external influence (since this outward-orientation is something I’ve been trying to reduce for my mental health recently as well). In some ways this post is also a reminder to myself and to others to consider our responsibility to ourselves and not to let others set our intentions for us.

In keeping with the goal of not putting too much pressure on myself, devoting effort to what I think will cultivate positive energy and making growth choices (to the best of my ability) that will benefit my health and wellbeing, I’ve come up with a few simple goals. Not necessarily year-long goals, not necessarily “new” either, but things I would like to focus on in the constantly-changing process of learning what I want from this life that might be different by year, by month, and by day.

  1. I will stop saying “I should have” and instead try to acknowledge that somethings are hard to predict, no matter how hard I want to be able to. 

Yes, maybe I could have done something differently but chances are there’s a reason I didn’t and it’s likely not because of any lack of character, willingness, or effort. Sometimes “shit happens”. People forget. No one is perfect. Many occasions I can’t predict and the only reason to think about how something might have otherwise unfolded would be to use it as an opportunity to learn. Beyond the lessons I can take from it, rumination sticks me in the past beating myself up about things.

I’m going to try and catch myself when I get frustrated and when I say that I should have done something differently I’ll try to forgive myself.

“Oh well, you live and you learn”. “Next time I might…”. “Ah oops – Oh well, f*ck it!” 

“You can’t possibly rise if you’re still running a story in your head about how you should have predicted the fall” – Rebecca Ray.

2. I will spend less time on social media (and try to reduce my screen time in general). 

Rather embarrassingly actually, I recently developed slight problems with my vision because of always straining my eyes on a my computer screen for school and my phone when I wasn’t working. This was the catalyst I needed to take matters in to my own hands and actively impose some digital limits on myself. I deleted apps from my phone, I set timers for social media accounts (thanks to Apple), and I’ve started taking more notes by hand (which is technically supposed to be conducive to better learning anyways).

3.  Along similar lines to the previous “goal”/reminder, I am going to read for at least 30 minutes every Sunday. 

I know I had to make this one specific. Most years I’ve said I want to read more but rarely has this ever come to fruition. This semester at least looks like it’s a reasonable thing to expect of myself since I have fewer classes and fewer working hours. Instead of using my downtime to watch Netflix or scroll mindlessly through my phone I am consciously going to make an effort to sit down with a book (I have many to choose from on my reading list…) for half an hour.

4. Replacing “sorry” with “thank you”. 

Saying sorry is a habit I’ve been trying to break for some time now. It may seem insignificant but I know for myself that instead of expressing my gratitude, saying (and feeling sorry) for even the littlest things just fuels my inherent sense of guilt and undermines my feelings of self-worth. If I’m hoping to redirect my cognitive energy in more constructive growth-oriented ways (which I am) than I think this includes too changing how I express myself, even if it happens to be in the most mundane situations.

5. I will continue to do my CBT practice. 

I didn’t think I’d ever feel invested in this kind of thing. Yes I know the extensive literature supporting the efficacy of cognitive behaviour therapy. Yes I know the evidence is compelling, but some part of me always felt like I just wouldn’t be good enough at whatever it took to be successful at this. I was skeptical. My treatment has historically consistent of pharmacological intervention before everything else. (Granted I realize that to get somewhere I’ve never been I have to try something I’ve never done…) Every time I tried to approach myself differently it just felt phoney, and forced, and just generally made me uncomfortable.

To anyone who’s trying out CBT exercises – I urge you to keep going! I haven’t been at it long, but I’ve made good progress in consistently writing down my thoughts daily and while I’m not sure how much its helping yet, I don’t feel nearly as uncomfortable as I used to. For me, I mostly use CBT to dissect my self-critical thoughts and it has come to the point where now, during the day when I am self-critical (which isn’t infrequent) I can occasionally recognize the situations as something I will write down later. I think even in just labelling the circumstances as something other than what I always have shows promise and indicates that my habits might be changing after all.

6. I will try to reduce body-checking. 

I expect this is something I’ll be working on in treatment as well but its something I know can do more harm than good. Beyond checking to make sure I don’t have food in my teeth and maybe putting a somewhat-cohesive outfit together, I’m really going to try to reduce the amount I examine myself in the mirror. I have been doing this relatively successfully recently and will try to continue to do until I can develop better self-talk and I’m comfortable with healthier habits.


Reflection | Timely |

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