2022: I’m gonna feel better

Taking a look at habits

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 1/5/22

At this time of New Year resolutions, of chaos and uncertainty and an amazing amount of stress. I just wanna feel better.

—better because I don’t rag on myself that I’m not in …

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2022: I’m gonna feel better

Taking a look at habits

Posted

At this time of New Year resolutions, of chaos and uncertainty and an amazing amount of stress. I just wanna feel better.

—better because I don’t rag on myself that I’m not in the shape I want to be in

—better because I will have more energy

—better because some of the habits that don’t serve me, I will finally re-imagine

—better because I will learn how to calm my mind down, just a little bit

—better because I will not be so quick to jump to a conclusion that is based on the stories that I tell myself, about my life and the world and how things have to be, rather than what’s actually happening in the present.

That’s to name only a few.

I have to tell you in total transparency: I am not good at keeping resolutions. In all honesty, this was last year’s resolution. It’s undoubtedly my every-year resolution.

I want to feel better. More balanced. More able to breathe steady breaths. More rested. More fit. Happier. Contemplative. (You undoubtedly have your own list.)

It’s not that I don’t try. I make improvements all the time. I have stops and starts. I do something for five days. It’s amazingly successful. So what do I do on day number six? I don’t do it.

It amazes me.

But now is a little bit different. I want to feel better, I want all of us to feel better, because the stakes at this moment in history are so high. We need to become our best, unencumbered, selves possible.

So many foundational tenets that we have taken for granted are in a state of disruption. Our political system is dysfunctional; our planet is in turmoil. (Climate change isn’t the future; climate change is now.) We’re arguing about how we collectively live in the world: by what values and who’s got the right to determine that and who doesn’t. In our communities, we experience division. Civil discourse is hard to find; the rate of change is overwhelming. We are living at a time of pandemic.

It’s important that we all feel better. Whatever is nagging on our psyches, on our bodies, on our minds, we need to dismantle now.

And so we begin an exploration into feeling better. My intention is to write a monthly column exploring aspects of feeling better and taking positive steps to achieve those goals. I will share the journey through my Publisher’s Log at riverreporter.com and on social media. I’m hoping you’ll be my partner. It’s an attempt to motivate myself and others to take care of what we need to take care of so that we can be our best selves.

For today, let’s explore how to examine one small detail in our personal life and change our habits around it.

The power of habit

Habit looms large in our conscious and unconscious lives. Habits are behaviors that are automatic and are enacted with minimal conscious awareness. Habits are quite literally etched into our neural pathways.

In the “Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg explains that MIT researchers discovered habit is a three-step pattern. It starts with a cue—a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and prompts the behavior. In response to the cue, comes the routine—the behavior itself and the action you take. Then comes the reward—the benefit you gain from this behavior.

Some habits are good, like washing your hands when you come into the house, or turning out lights when you leave a room. Some habits are pretty useless, like mindlessly scrolling through Instagram to look at food videos before bed, or opening the refrigerator and staring into its depths.

It’s a cue. It’s a routine. It’s a reward.

So how does one change it up?

Examine it, the habit experts say. Take the first step and identify the habit. Think about when it began, whether it has changed. Does it have a certain location or time? What else is going on? And finally: what does it do for you, and how happy or unhappy are you with this habit?

With introspection, you can understand how the habit operates by identifying the cue, the routine and the reward. This gives you power over the habit to begin making changes.

Because a habit is a formula that the mind automatically follows, the next step is to re-engineer that formula by creating a new habit loop. Imagine how you might alter this habit. Think about the cue, the routine and the reward. If you want to change it, develop a different routine that accomplishes the same thing in a more healthy or even more rewarding way for you.

Start small. Change one thing at a time.

Notice it. Interestingly enough, even if you don’t change the habit, the habit is changed by truly seeing it. What used to be automatic and unrecognized is out in the open to be examined. Change it must.

That’s my working theory anyway.

And there is the first step taken in this 2022 quest to feel better. Examine your habits. Choose one, and see if you can disrupt and reimagine a different routine. Begin to unemcumber yourself through your awareness.

Already, I feel better. What about you?

For a worksheet on how to change habits, visit https://learningcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/changing-habits/

[“I’m gonna feel better” is a monthly health reflection column by Laurie Stuart. The goal of the column is to connect readers in exploring and create community around better health and well-being. Stuart will be blogging and inviting comment about this New Year’s community endeavor at www.riverreporter.com/publishers-log/.]

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