• Apr 24, 2020 | Belonging

    What I've Learned about Habits

    There is so much we cannot control about what is happening in the world right now. Our inability to control often creates the experience of fear for many of us. I’ve noticed that by focusing my thoughts on what I can impact and on where I can impact change, it has served as a much-needed respite for myself and for many of my clients from the news and social media.

    Focusing my thoughts on practicing gratitude has been deeply cathartic for me during these times. I have been grateful for having a workout buddy and lunch date at home with me every day! Some of us easily empower new habits and self-care practices, while others resist and more easily give away our personal power to change to time scarcity or the circumstances of our lives.

    What if, instead, we leveraged these circumstances—for many of us of already being home or of having less social commitments on the calendar—to integrate the morning routines and self-care practices that we talk about and say “that would be nice, one day…” How about today? Research shows that once we integrate a new habit or routine into our lives, we become that much more likely of maintaining it.

    Today, I’m thrilled to share with you this excerpt below from Chapter 9 of my book Belonging: Overcome Your Inner Critic and Reclaim Your Joy. Please read to the end and take on the practice this week and let me know how it goes!

    Debbie Ford wrote, “Most of us are trained to look outside ourselves for the love we need. But when we let go of our need for love from the external world, the only way to comfort ourselves is to go within, to find what we strive to get from others and give it to ourselves. We all deserve it. We must allow the universe within, our divine mother and father, to love us and nourish us.” Self-love is not a formula or a problem to be solved—it lies within and is abundantly available to us. We must become more committed to meeting our needs for ourselves in how we treat ourselves, nurture ourselves, communicate with ourselves, and choose to be compassionate with ourselves from moment to moment.

    When I first launched my business, I catapulted myself into my work seven days per week, all hours of the day. I was anxious to leave my day job, which I felt smothered by, and felt I had finally come alive again—fully able to share my gifts and make a meaningful impact. While this work ethic served me in smoothly transitioning out of a cubicle and into self-employment, it cost me significantly as well. It cost me relationships with friends who had known me to be someone else, and it cost me my relationship with myself. In the sprint to achieve my goal, I lost sight of me—my personal needs, what it meant to nurture myself, take care of me, and maintain a sense of balance and well-being.

    At a certain point in my work with clients, we discuss self-compassion and well-being. We look at how they can prioritize themselves and take better care of themselves. When Cindy first called me, she was leaving an unhappy marriage and moving back home. In her efforts to be content, she had lost sight of who she was and what brought her happiness. She had created this joyless cycle where she took care of her husband and tried to meet all of his needs and over-performed at work to prove she was good enough. Cindy had finally realized the joylessness in trying to do more and accomplish more to feel better about who she was. She realized that she needed to change how she was treating herself so that she didn’t leave one marriage and home only to reinvent the same patterns elsewhere.

    In working with Cindy, we discovered she felt like she was always running, trying to catch up throughout her day. She felt she was always one step behind and could never get on top of things. I shared with Cindy that typically the way we start our day dictates the way our day goes. So I asked about her morning routine. She said she tried to wake up by 7:30 each morning so she’d have time to eat breakfast at home before heading off to work, but she routinely snoozed her alarm clock and had to eat breakfast at work. I could tell how angry she was at herself for failing to break this habit.

    I asked, “What is your experience of being kind to yourself?” Cindy, clearly confused, told me why she should be able to just get up earlier and not snooze her alarm clock. I shared with her that often when clients don’t understand my questions or the ideas I’m presenting, they’ll answer a different question. I reflected that it seemed to be the case here and again asked, “Cindy, what is your experience of being compassionate with you?”

    “I don’t feel like I deserve to be compassionate with myself,” she eventually responded. “I am routinely late to work and behind in my deadlines at the office, and I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to merit being kind to me,” she added.

    “That makes sense,” I said. “Often we feel like we have to prove something in order to take care of ourselves and nurture ourselves, and, typically, that is the egoic part of ourselves speaking and thinking for us.” I shared with her that self-compassion is not a zero-sum game, and she didn’t have to build a case for why she deserved it. We discovered how she would treat herself in the morning if she was more committed to inherently believing she was worthy of being whole and loving herself. When we get present to an altered reality for ourselves, we can interrupt the unhealthy scripts and rewrite them for ones that serve us and have us treat ourselves with self-love, kindness, and compassion like Cindy began that day. The next time I spoke with Cindy, she shared that she had minimized the number of times she snoozed her alarm in the morning and was enjoying cooking breakfast at home for herself before heading to work.

    When I first began my business, I had no sense of boundaries around my time or well-being. I woke up to work and my life became about work rather than about me. This was not the first time I had experienced these workaholic tendencies. When I was in graduate school to obtain my MBA and working full time, I exhausted myself working nonstop and came down with a severe case of bronchitis that caused me to be out of work and bedridden for three weeks. As I launched Unbounded Potential, I saw these unhealthy patterns get repeated through regular sinus infections. For the first two years in business, I had at least a dozen sinus infections requiring antibiotics each time. In exploring deeper what caused me to work nonstop and get sick repeatedly, I recognized that, fundamentally, I didn’t believe I was worth it. I didn’t believe I belonged. My personal morning routine is one of the greatest transformations in my life. It is the single starkest contrast to how I live my life today.

    Simply put, my morning routine is all about me. I had to begin prioritizing me before I believed I was deserving. I took impeccable care of myself because I was committed to something more fundamental than work—myself. When I first began working with clients, my calls would often begin at 7 a.m. However, to accommodate my clients in Bangkok and Sydney, I would sometimes begin at 5 or 6 a.m. I now find this embarrassing to admit, given my commitment to self-care and normal work hours. These days, I find myself regularly up by sunrise and beginning calls at 10 a.m. to take advantage of my most productive morning hours.

    Previously, if I couldn’t sleep, I would get up and begin working. These days, if something on my mind prevents sleep, I get up and write it down for the next day so that I sleep peacefully through the night. Or if I wake up early, I may take an early-morning bubble bath in candlelight and enjoy my glass of warm lemon water followed by coffee.

    My morning routine has come a long way, but it’s not set in stone. It’s flexible. If I don’t make time for something every morning, I don’t make a big deal of it. Giving myself permission not to need to get it perfect makes it that much easier to begin anew the following day. Here’s the thing and this is key—I’m not committed to getting it right. I’m committed to the experience that a morning routine makes available for me. I’m committed to relating to my morning routine as self-care, self-love, and self-compassion, not a checklist I measure myself against. (While this is certainly how it used to be, I’ve won that battle.)

    Your morning routine is your morning routine. There is no right way to do it. No need for perfection. Your morning routine is your time. If you believe you have no time to prioritize yourself, wake up an hour earlier for you. If you have kids, wake up before them so you have some time for yourself before all your time is for them. If you think you need the sleep, then you likely need time for yourself even more. I have shared my morning routine with you below as a place to get curious and discover what works for you. This exercise is not static. My morning rituals work for me; they are time-tested and they delight me. They are also rituals that expand and evolve over time. Here’s mine:

    I start with a glass of warm lemon water. While I’m having my citrus elixir and then coffee, I journal. I write a letter to God. I share with the divine part of myself what is present for me, what I’m grateful for, what I’m struggling with, what I want, what I need, whatever is true for me. Then I write a letter back to myself from God. I write back to myself from the intuitive part of myself that already knows the answers. We all have access to intuition. This ritual allows me to connect with my subconscious and divine self.

    When I was younger, I only journaled when I was upset or heartbroken about a boy. I never journaled regularly. I hated it. I didn’t believe in its value, and I only had a disempowered relationship to it. But one day, I just decided to put down the resistance and try it. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference this exercise and practice has made for me.

    Next, I read. This past year is the first year since becoming an entrepreneur that I read more than one book per month. I read for thirty minutes or an hour, depending on how much time I can allot. It makes a big difference for me. It fills me with curiosity and new ideas.

    Sometimes I don’t recommend reading for clients. Sometimes we use reading to distract ourselves from taking action. But for me, reading is an access point to inspiration that I leverage.

    I typically work out at that point and either head to a morning CrossFit class or practice yoga at home.

    I used to hate working out in the morning. I’ve come to realize, however, that the energy, focus, and sense of completion I get post-workout is simply more important to me than the resistance. That’s it. I experience resistance, but I just don’t listen to it.

    From there, I come home and shower. Sometimes twice, if I’ve already taken a bubble bath 😉

    I make a smoothie or green juice.

    After that, I’ll head to my office and write down my priorities for the workday if I haven’t listed them the evening before.

    Then I check social media, email, and what I need to do for others. (But only after I’ve gotten my needs met for myself.)

    TAKING ACTION: TIME TO BEGIN LIVING COMPASSIONATELY, STARTING WITH YOUR MORNING ROUTINE

    This is so crucial. I hope you truly understand that by taking care of yourself first, you can honor both yourself and everyone else in your life more powerfully and generously. Start anywhere; if my list supports you in starting, great, but start somewhere. Today.

    First, take three grounding breaths in through the nose and gently out through the mouth. Journal below what your ideal morning would look like. If you removed all of your current commitments and circumstances and started with nothing, how would you envision your ideal morning routine? Write in detail all your emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Practice freewriting on this for the next five to ten minutes at a minimum. Practice not allowing your pen or pencil to come off the page—just write whatever comes to you. Do this now:

    Next, reread your journal entry above and note below the five to ten practices that would make the biggest difference if you integrate them every morning:

    Today, I want you to implement one of these tasks. You will strengthen your muscle for integrating all these rituals into your daily routine, but start with one. Cofounder of BestSelf Cathryn Lavery recommends “habit stacking” as a way to build a new habit into your life by stacking it on top of something you’re already currently doing. For example, before I journal in the morning (current habit) I will meditate (new habit) for ten minutes.

    What support structures will you need to put in place to implement this? Will you need to wake up ten minutes earlier or go to a different room in the house each morning? Think this through for yourself. How can you set yourself up to fully integrate this ritual into your life?