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Why habits needn’t be an extreme sport…

My journey to a fuller mind

When was the last time you adopted a life changing habit? And stuck to it.

Exercise. Focus. Stress management. Diets. New hobbies. Passion projects. There’s so much we want to integrate into our lives but can’t figure out how to make the time or room for them.

Especially, when it comes to habits – acquiring new ones, or dropping a few – a strong dose of motivation and radical action works for many.

My husband & I were inspired by a Catholic friend to create our own twist to Lent – forty days of changes, (in our case) centered mostly around food and lifestyle. We took it on and have followed through every year for the past decade.

In all honesty, my success rates have been mixed. I was able to give up several unhealthy habits but on the other hand, I still drink a lot of caffeine. And I tell myself that that cutting back is doable if I try hard enough.

Yes, a rapid switch is promising, but is it the only way?

Mindfulness offers a world of benefits – I know this today. 

Yet, I struggled with the concept when it first appeared on my horizon a few years ago. As a busy mother and a work-at-home professional, I was always juggling and multitasking. Always. Despite the utterly sound logic, it just didn’t seem possible for me to embrace a calm, sequential approach to tackling my work, family time, chores, leisure, fitness etc.

Because my work primarily involves interacting with working women and witnessing their work-life challenges and workarounds, it forced me to think anew. 

Here’s what I learned about changing habits. Or adopting new ones.

When it’s an ‘all or nothing,’ the latter can happen

That’s what being mindful became for me. Since I couldn’t possibly do only one thing at a time all day long, why bother trying. Why would I add to my stress with the slowdown and extra time it was going to cost me.

For me, it was an effort doomed to be a non-starter.


One person’s passion is another’s despair

I met friends and colleagues who were deeply inspired to practice mindfulness, thanks to books, podcasts or workshops they’d attended. But I noticed that even for them, it was hard to manage, without calls or audiobooks while driving, habitual phone scrolling or scattered attention.

Ironically, more than their passionate avowals on the virtues of a focused mind, it was watching this that gave me food for thought.


Why not start in bite size chunks

Then I read articles which advocated just one mindful activity or two, each day. Strive for a goal of only 10-20 minutes, isolating the mind’s race.

That seemed to be something I could get behind.

I decided to set aside time for something distraction free every day. Some nights, I listened to music in complete darkness, watched an episode(s) with my phone out of reach; on other days, it was a nature walk with no headphones or conversation.


Success can take many forms

Letting my mind empty out actually filled it with more ideas. It felt like I was reclaiming my creative energy rather than giving in to the maniacal rush through life and work. Over time, I’ve found myself much calmer and less ruffled.

Pausing my frantic frenzy has helped me focus in other ways too. I can remember names, faces and information much better now – scrambling at meetings and parties for those elusive details is something I absolutely don’t miss.


We are all going to fall off the wagon. 

Or most of us, anyway. No matter how great we’re doing, there will be setbacks. The weight that climbs back on. The confidence that we can be on top of a million things, be productive even. The excessive phone time that starts to rise insidiously.

I know that I will continue to do several things at the same time, but I don’t always have to. Sometimes, I start ‘parallel-processing’ out of sheer reflex but it’s much easier to yank myself out of it now. Nor do I beat myself about it if I trip.


There is beauty in ‘unbalance’

On the flip side, I have also learnt that the push and pull of our lives is going to test our resolve. Lofty goals can be my North Star, but with the best of intentions, sometimes I will only have 5 minutes for deep breathing on my deck, listening to birdsong. That’s a part of riding the flow – it’s okay to leave the overflowing sink or a less than perfect presentation occasionally.

There will be days when we are scrambling and others when we are laser focused. The trick for me is to find the quiet island of time, even if it’s tiny.


Sometimes, there are by-lanes

When exploring a new road, you never know how many awesome paths it can take you on.

Now, not only am I greedy for the time when I can just be, I’m also resolved to not multitask for the heck of it. On work calls that don’t need me to look at the computer, I simply walk away and focus on the conversation, instead of tab-jumping with my mouse or mindlessly scrolling my emails.

I’m also appreciating the beauty of putting the brakes. Getting up to drink water every hour leaves me so much energized even after a long work day of non-stop mental activity.


Nothing like being accountable to keep you honest

As a mother, the need to foster calm focus has become even more paramount. I can tell my little girl that she needs to mind what she’s doing. Or I can walk the talk.

We have taken up mom and daughter activities like Zentangle doodling and coloring books which we both quietly work on, every so often. No words or chatter, no music.

Doodle & Color – our way to creative mindfulness!

It’s so much easier for me to sustain being in the moment since it’s a part of my life rhythm now. What I know now is that we can tackle the uphill climb for immediate change or try the gentle slopes that gradually bring it about.

And that is the crux of changing a habit – knowing what you can embrace overnight and what will need mini-steps. 

And of the two, which style suits you best.

But we will never know which, until we try. 

What say?

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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