Creating sustainable habits: the counter-intuitive way

We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle said. But good habits are hard to start, and a whole lot harder to keep.

Or are they?

Hope springs eternal. And New Year’s resolutions spring perennial.

It’s too bad that all that resolve—and the hopes behind it—seldom outlast our opened champagne.

Want to change that? Some simple MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) techniques can help you establish new habits and keep your resolutions in surprisingly easy ways. Here are a few.

Can your inner critic.

Seriously.  Sure, some people work well under their inner drill sergeants, but I’m betting you don’t (or you wouldn’t have read this far).

Instead, accept your imperfections. (Remember, we said this was counter-intuitive!) In one of life’s wonderful paradoxes, accepting yourself just as you arehelps you change.

Why? Because self-criticism breeds shame. And shame breeds escapism. And escapism feeds our unhealthy habits (overeating, for instance).

But self-acceptance leads to self-care—the sort of self-care that a kind, loving grown-up provides.

Here’s a simple exercise to help you accept and care for yourself.

Don’t yield to temptation. Pause.

Temptation’s a sneaky imp. It can slither under, over and through the strongest walls. And, pssst!, it hisses to us at our most vulnerable moments, insisting that we should slam doors, shout insults or plot sabotage to feel strong—or reach for donuts, drinks or our credit cards to self-anesthetize.

Because nobody likes feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability feels like weakness. It makes the ancient parts of our brains tell us we’re about to be eaten. Yikes!

But pausing, even just briefly, and accepting our vulnerability allows our “cooler heads to prevail”—that is, our pre-frontal brains to take charge—before we react in self-damaging ways.

Here are some simple techniques for pausing in vulnerable moments. Then you can look past temptation and act in healthy, constructive ways.

Know your triggers—but don’t blame them.

Let’s say you want to be calmer at work—but there’s that one coworker (or worse yet, your boss) who drives you absolutely flipping crazy! And it’s not just you! Nobody likes them! So  obviously, they are the problem.

And maybe they truly are. But it still doesn’t help to blame them. Because, of course, you can never solve someone else’s problems.

By the same token, you can’t make fast food less available, or donuts less yummy, or cigarettes less addictive.

What you can do is (a) accept external factors as they are and (b) focus only on your own reactions. Here are some ways to do both.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” People often take that as a call to activism. But it’s also a useful reminder that we can change our world by changing our inner perspective.

And that’s where mindfulness makes all the difference.

Mindfulness techniques—even quick, simple ones—help us form the helpful new habits we want.

As a bonus, mindful habits practiced over time help us form healthier, happier, more productive, successful lives.

Start small. Start now. And as ever, I hope to hear how things go.

I wish you an exciting and hopeful new year.