[In last month’s “I just wanna feel better,” we explored habits. How habits are unconscious behaviors that start with a cue, move into routine and then into reward. To change …
[In last month’s “I just wanna feel better,” we explored habits. How habits are unconscious behaviors that start with a cue, move into routine and then into reward. To change those habits, we have to change the cues, disrupt the routine or propose a different one, and provide ourselves with a different reward. As we change our habits, we can change our behavior. And when we change our behavior, we are more sucessful in keeping our resolutions for the new year. And, presto, we feel better. The WHOLE point of this column.]
Let me start by saying: Habits loom large. And I am finding a lot of resistance to change.
Here’s what I found out last month. I don’t really want to give up drinking my morning coffee in bed and reading the morning headlines. I do not want to go for a walk in sub-zero weather. I don’t want to be drastically austere in my eating or drinking, or in my lifestyle. I just wanna feel a little better. I want to build resilience, have a bit more patience, and improve my fitness. I want to do these things because the world needs us to show up as unemcumbered as we can be. (I’m roping you in by writing this public column.) Make no mistake, the stakes are high. We need to be at our best selves, within ourselves, to deal effectively—gracefully, humbly, pointedly—with the challenges our world faces. All of this is made more dire as we no longer know how to talk with each other and have difficult conversations.
So did I move myself forward this month in terms of my goal to feel better and to be better prepared to deal with it all?
I’d have to say I did. A little.
Let’s start with a little background. (I understand that in order for this column to actually be meaningful, I have to become more vulnerable about telling my story.)
Living rurally, I have a fairly active lifestyle. My house sits in the middle of a three-acre field, with the car at the road above. In the growing season, I tend a large garden. In winter, my exercise is mostly taking walks. Lately, I found myself resistant to bundling up and walking in the cold.
It was fortutitous when my husband, who graciously takes care of the outdoor chores in winter, said he wanted to start to use our rowing machine, as he has been hesitant to go to the gym.
The rowing machine positioned upright against the wall, lives in my workroom. My workroom, my at-home office, had become a littered mess.
The clutter weighed heavy on my mind. Every time I walked into the room, the mess made me feel discontented; I thought it was a reflection of my habits and worth as a human being. As I spend hours a day in that room, you can imagine the discomfort.
Thoughts like this are habits as well. Habits of the mind.
I learned about those mind habits in a webinar called “Difficult Conversations,” hosted by a Unitarian Universalist congregation in the midwest. A colleague posted the link to the three-part series developed by Kern Beare, author of a book by that same title.
I learned that if we wanted to have difficult conversations with others we have to understand what happens in our brains and to us physically.
Difficult conversations often trigger our survival drive. (Fight, flee or freeze)
Threats to our ideas and beliefs = threats to our physical body
The brain moves into what Beare called a “flipmode” state, where we are unable to access compassion, emotional balance, response flexibility, empathy, self-knowing awareness, fear modulation/fear extinction, intuition and moral reasoning. (Flipmode short circuits the medial pre-frontal cortex of the brain.)
Difficult conversations, he says require resilient relationships. Those relationships begin with ourselves. Examining our self-story by listening to what we routinely tell ourselves. Recognizing how we find meaning in the clutter that reflects badly on ourselves. How we can use our thoughts as weapons to attack ourselves. And how we resist hearing things that don’t fit into our self-story and trigger our flipmode state.
As we recognize these patterns, we have the opportunity to identify the cue that triggers them. We have the capacity to forge new neural networks and create new mental habits.
So just last week I took down the folding work table to make room to use the rowing machine. It took less than 30 minutes to clear the space in the middle of the room, Yes, there are different piles elsewhere. Those papers still need to be filed.
I’m loving the look of the cleared floor, the ease of taking the machine down and settling into rowing, while streaming 25 minutes of a TV show. I am remembering how over the years, in preparation for seminary or my ministerial internship, that I toned my body doing just that. I remembered how much I enjoyed it and that it was something that I didn’t have difficulty doing. (It’s an interesting questions we can ask ourselves: what can I do that is relatively active that I really like doing.)
It’s changing that habit thing.
If you have thoughts on how you would like to participate in this journey, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[“I’m gonna feel better” is a monthly health-reflection column by Rev. Laurie Stuart. The column aspires to connect readers in exploring and creating community resilience and connection around health and feeling better. Stuart will blog and invites comment about this New Year’s community endeavor at www.riverreporter.com/publishers-log/.]
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