Friday, January 31, 2014

Day 326 Jonesing for green juice

What do I miss most from home? Well, besides Frannie, Nellie, Sammy, and little Evie? My juicer.

If you'd told me that a year ago when I was here, I would have laughed with incredulity. I didn't have a juicer, let alone an intimate relationship with one. I wasn't even really sure how to work one or why you'd want to. Now four days from green juice, I'm jonesing for my favorite combination of kale, romaine, celery, apple, carrot, cucumber, and fennel.

I did get a fresh juice Tuesday at Food & Thought here in Naples. It was very good but not quite as green in veggies as I like. And they had no fresh juice for sale to take home, no Odwalla, no nothing. I have made a fruit smoothie each morning and included spinach, but it isn't the same.

Yesterday I bought two bottled juices from a health food store, but they're barely palatable. And I found a commercial green juice from a company called Bolthouse Farms in California that is decent and that I like better than just fruit juice for the smoothie, but when I get home Monday, I'm heading to New Seasons and the produce section and coming home to juice!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 325 My food plan loves Portland

Sunday I didn't get myself to the grocery store. I had been very consciously eating up everything in my fridge before the trip and also wanting to shop less often so I ended up with not much to take with me I put peanut butter on two rice cakes, which were delicious but messy. And I had some nuts and a couple of Larabars. So when I got to the airport and had checked my bag, I went looking for plane food. I only had 45 minutes layover in Minneapolis and was unsure whether I'd have to shift terminals, so lunch there seemed iffy.

I ended up at Elephant's Delicatessen in the food court and I had so many great choices that were gluten-free, dairy-free, and so marked! I got a fruit cup that had delicious fresh fruit in it and a quinoa blackbean salad. There were also two kale salads, hard-boiled eggs, a fruited quinoa parfait. While they were expensive, they were also substantial and it solved a second issue: breakfast on the first day before we got to the organic produce store where I could stock up. Karen had some ham and I made a smoothie with the fruit and ate a little quinoa and was most happy.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 324 Leavers Anonymous

At an AA meeting this week, the chairperson talked about her tendency to leave when the going got rough. That had been her pattern in relationships both when she was drinking and in sobriety. She had just had her 16th sobriety anniversary and was addressing this pattern.

It made me think about how all of my addictions have been about leaving, about running away from myself. I began using sugar at age 9 to deal with trauma, nightmares, sleeplessness, and boredom in the classroom. In my early teens, I developed an elaborate fantasy life that kept me safely out of reality. In college, I went on eating sugar to numb my anxiety rather than be with it, and I added alcohol to the mix. After college, I added sex to the mix, and then codependent relationships. It was all about distraction and being somewhere else rather than here with my feelings. Now I use work and food to do that.

Perhaps heartful is the way I need to be going, not mindful. So I can learn to stay with my feelings.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 323 Evie update

Saturday when my friend Susan was here, we ate some lunch together and sat at my dining table talking for an hour or so. About 45 minutes into her visit, who should come out into the living room but Miss Evie, the very first time she has voluntarily come out into company when someone else is here. The day before she had come out into the office with me while the other writing Friday folks were in the living room but this time, she came out, went into the kitchen, observed Susan for a few minutes, played with her pal Sammy, and then went into her basket in the office and slept.

A major breakthrough in her socialization!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 322 Step away from the rut

My good friend Susan and I were talking this past weekend about where we are stuck. Old stories, old beliefs. The energy it takes to move out of the unpleasant but comfortable and risk something new. I've done so much personal work that sometimes I get the feeling I should have made much more progress than I already have. I should have the sugar addiction licked (no pun intended ) by this point. Why do I have to talk about things for such a long time and so repeatedly before I'm willing?

Where I'm stuck:

  • Convincing myself daily of the need to work more and more even though I say that writing and painting are my priorities. 
  • Overeating consistently when I say I want to lose some more weight and feel lighter and more free in my body
  • Eating sugar when I say I want to be abstinent
  • Letting my schedule and the needs of others control me rather than me being in charge of my calendar. 
I've been going around these four loops for a long time. And they're all connected. Writing and painting make me happy; they engage me in a way that I don't think about food when I'm involved in them. The editing work I do, which pays well, doesn't engage me in that way. I think about food a lot. I reward myself with food a lot when I'm doing it. Some of that food is sugar. Often the work I schedule is at someone else's convenience, not mine. A necessity of doing business you say? Sometimes maybe. All the time, not so much.

What I see underlying all this is my fear of being happy. What an interesting place to be stuck!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 321 Feeding myself in flight

Tomorrow I head off at what my family affectionately calls the "butt crack of dawn" to fly to Florida for a week of teaching workshops with Karen Casey. I've made some arrangements with Karen about food while I'm there but I need to plan for the day of travel itself.

I need to be at the airport about 5:45 so if I get up at 4, I can do a green juice smoothie before I leave. But I'll need second breakfast at some point. No scones, muffins, croissants are going to do it as I don't do wheat. That also eliminates sandwiches or string cheese.

I need something portable and satisfying. So I'll be packing a small bag of eats: a couple of rice cakes with peanut butter, apple slices, a Larabar or two, maybe some frozen grapes. I'll hope for some place with a salad in Minneapolis during my layover. It's not quite as simple as a grab-and-go sandwich but it should work out fine.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Day 320 Taking a big leap

Wednesday I took a giant jump into a new life. Yes, I got my haircut and that was a big jump but that wasn't it. I took a giant jump by signing up for a time-intensive, extraordinarily expensive 9-month seminar/workshop/personal transformation program called More Money Guaranteed. I first heard about this program last year but I looked at it, saw the cost, thought "no way," and let it go.

It came around again last November and I looked at it a little more closely. A lot of amazing results. I was intrigued but I realized one of the required weekends of the program conflicted with a work trip I already had planned to Nashville. So I set it aside again.

But one of my friends, a fiscally conservative member of my Women and Money group, was thinking about it and she talked about it in group and I was a bit more intrigued. If she was thinking about it, maybe I should too. The big draw was not only the topic, having complete freedom and ease around financial matters, but the workshop facilitators, Dave Ellis and Lynne Twist. Dave is the best workshop leader I've ever seen in action and Lynne's book, The Soul of Money, is a very powerful and innovative way to look what we have and what we don't.

Then Margaret signed up and my Nashville trip fell through and I took it as a sign from the universe that this has something big to offer me. I talked it over with some trusted friends, slept on it, and said yes.

The program promises unpredictable and unimaginable results. I've jumped twice before and had that happen. When I got sober was the first time. When I took courses with Landmark Education in 1999 was the second. I'm excited to see what's going to happen this time.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Day 319 Ruts and reasoning

As I struggle to climb out of the sugar trough one more time, I've been thinking about the irrationality of addiction. It isn't just that will power doesn't work against the cravings or the submission to them. That's one of the first beliefs that you give up in the treatment center. And it isn't a moral failing of your ability to make good decisions and stick to them. Good and bad has nothing to do with it.

The difficulty is finding the way to be powerless and powerful at the same time, to hold the paradox of those two. Addiction isn't something you can self-talk your way out of. It doesn't work to try to be rational about something that is not rational. I can't reason my way out of this rut. It's too comfortable, too familiar. The soothing becomes paramount and nothing else seems to matter.

What does work for me is remembering the images from a movie called What the Bleep. An animated section of the movie is devoted to describing neural pathways, the rut of our old pathways, and the exciting and life-saving ability of our brains and nervous systems to let disused pathways (or habits) die off and new ones be created.

Every time I step back into sugar, I reactivate the old pathways. Every time I do the new healthier habit, I reinforce the new pathway. It creates a place of choice for me in a way that the rut never will.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 317 My hair and a colony of yaybuts

I've worn my hair in the same style for about 16 years. Straight, smooth, shoulder-length. Simple look, simple to care for. For a while, I've been wanting a different look but I've been in a stranglehold with a colony of yeah buts around it. My hair's too fine and thin for bangs. My face is too square. I don't want to use product. I don't want to use curlers. I'm too old for that look. I'm too fat for that one.

But something is moving and stirring in me around change. And today it won out. I signed up for a 9-month major commitment workshop around money and then got my hair cut. Short, layered, bangs. I'm fortunate to have a great hairdresser who knows my hair well and knew how to do it. Feeling a little shaky from so much change but I was tired of hanging out with yeah buts.

Day 316 Unchain your brain

I've had a copy of this book by two MDs (Amen and Smith) for a couple of years. It's an interesting look at brain chemistry and addiction and looks at it both from a physiological model and a psychological model. I was struck in particular by their division of addicts into 6 types: compulsive, impulsive, compulsive-impulsive, sad/emotional, and temporal lobe (rageaholics).

I fit into the anxious category (too much cortisol, too much worry) and food addiction is most common in this group as we are looking for anything and everything to soothe us. Because our anxiety is chronic, we usually hoard our substance so that we always have a supply, rather than running out and getting some when we are out. That explains a lot of my behavior to me. We also tend to be low in the neurotransmitter amino acid GABA.

Being an anxious addict explains to me why I don't enjoy the food I'm overeating. I'm not interested in the food itself or what it tastes like, I'm only interested in being soothed and I identify certain foods that do that pretty quickly.

May be time for me to try some GABA supplements.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Day 315 What I need to take on my next trip

I'm headed to Florida next week to give some workshops with the fabulous Karen Casey and I'll be staying for a week with Karen and her great husband Joe. There's no room in my suitcase for the juicer and nutribullet, rice cooker, and crockpot. So I was asking my health coach how for suggestions on how I could manage the food issues and she said, "Jill, the only thing you need to take with you is commitment."

While I think that's true, I'm a planner, an organizer, a make-sure-it's-going-to-be-okay kind of recovering person. So yesterday, I asked Karen to clear a shelf in her fridge for me and either the evening I arrive or the next day, we'll head to Food for Thought, an organic market where we ate lunch last year, and I'll get what I need. It may not be exactly what I'm used to but I know that I can stay off wheat and dairy, minimize soy, and eat lots of fruits and veggies. It helps to have more than 10 months on the plan under my belt!

I'll also take my commitment.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Day 314 One day at a time

Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe's and discovered that my favorite fleur de sel caramels are not just a holiday item but available year-round. I put two containers in my cart. I wanted four. I looked at them for a long time, holding up traffic right by the frozen mango, and then I put them back on the shelf. Both containers.

One choice at a time.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day 313 Today in the kitchen

I needed to make soup today and I didn't want to go to the store so I pulled stuff out of the cupboard out of the vegetable bins and this is what I came up:

A box of Trader Joe's black bean soup
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
Some carrots, chopped
All the rest of the celery in the fridge, chopped
Some organic breakfast sausage, thawed and cooked
1 can of T Joe's Cuban black beans
3 cups frozen chopped spinach

Put all ingredients in the old crock pot and cook on high for 3 hours. Delicious over red Bhutan rice.

Accompanying that, one of my favorite salads:

Trader Joe's 8 chopped vegetables, chopped Fuji apple, sunflower seeds, a light vinaigrette.

All fabulous!

PS Discovered Honey Ginger Crystals from a company in China called Prince of Peace (yes, there are Biblical sayings on the packaging) but a few sprinkled in tea or a smoothing are a delight!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 312 Doing fewer things for longer times

One of the things that has come out of the Deep Rest, Deep Belonging project has been some shifts in my perception of time. For much of my life, I have been so future oriented that present time is usually painful. I think this started for me in school, about 5th grade, where I became so bored that I watched the clock all day long just waiting for school to be over. And that became, for some reason I was unconscious of, kind of the way I did life.

As a teenager, I had a highly active fantasy life where I was almost never in the moment if I could help it. Then I learned to get really busy and keep thinking about the next thing to do, not the thing I was doing. I spent a lot of time anticipating (dread or excitement) but not in the moment, and then when the time came for the event, I worried that it would be over too fast or wished it would over faster, so again, I wasn't in the moment.

I'm beginning to see that being in the moment is my meditation practice, whether it's on a cushion or the treadmill, at the computer or at the dinner plate. That as I write this blog, I write this blog. I let go of the other bombarding thoughts and I write this blog. Hence, my interest in doing fewer things for longer times.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Day 311 Taking up with an old friend and putting it down agan

I called up my old lover Sugar over the holidays.

You know how you come back into town after being gone a long time and you just can't keep yourself from driving by his (or her) house, you know, just to take the trip down Memory Lane, and just by chance he's home and the light's on and you think, wow, it can't hurt to just stop by and say hello. It's been a long time and he's not going to be interested in you (he's probably taken up with someone else by now) and you know you're not going to be interested in him because you're married to Healthy Eating now and you just know you won't break that commitment.

And Sugar invites you in and he's really glad to see you. He's watching reruns of West Wing with your mutual friend Cheetos, and Cheetos pulls you down to sit right between them and they wrap their arms around you and those old seductive feelings start up and you think, wow, I can stay here for a day or two. Hell, it's the holidays and everybody I know is coming over to the party and I can leave anytime I want to.

After a couple of days, Cheetos leaves and you're glad to see him go because your mouth hurts after he kisses you and your fingers turn orange from touching him but Sugar is so sweet to you and he makes all the old promises and you think about leaving but it's so much easier to hang out there cuz your your anxiety goes away and your burden of responsibility is buried under a few dozen wrappers.

And then you can't quite zip your pants and nothing real tastes very good anymore and Sugar wants to spend all day watching Netflix and you need to go to work and he promises to come by on your breaks and he does and then he's waiting when you get home and it seems all okay and then it doesn't. And so you bite the bullet and stop buying more tickets for the merry-go-round because it wasn't all that merry and you just hope Healthy Eating is waiting up when you drag your sorry ass through the door.

At least that's what I hope.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 310 David Kessler and The End of Overeating

One of the best books on overeating is that by former Surgeon General David Kessler, who suffers himself from the problem. His book is interesting, illuminating, and sane. No magic bullets, no big promises.

From Chapter 45: Making the Critical Perceptual Shift

"The enduring ability to eat differently depends on coming to view the trigger foods as enemies, not friends. It is not enough to be told that you shouldn't overeat, or that foods high in sugar, fat, and salt will only get you to eat more foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. No one can persuade you with intellectual arguments that such foods will not relieve stress but only make it worse.

But as you learn new approaches to eating and recognize the powerful influence of these trigger foods, you will begin to see that food has kept you trapped in a cue-reward-habit cycle. Only then can you accept that food rewards are short-lived and that their more enduring effect is to sustain your desire to keep eating. That's when you realize that if you stay trapped, you'll never eat enough to feel satisfied, and that 's when you can stop expecting food to make you feel better.

When this happens you begin to assign different value to foods. Your attitude shifts."

I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Day 309 Boundaries and my calendar

My intention for 2014 of Loving Boundaries and Welcoming Doorways is already playing out in my life. I've had a couple of difficult conversations with folks where I needed to set boundaries for me. When I mentioned to my spiritual director how difficult it was to have these conversations, she reminded me that it's okay to love myself first, to take care of myself and let other people take care of themselves. This is the real boundary work, she should, loving ourselves deeply and then loving others.   

We also talked about time. It seems every time I come back from retreat, I want to reorient my schedule so that there are bigger blocks of time for what I want to do and need to do. I want to simplify the number of things that show up for me. And yet I continue to say yes to a lot, dream up new things to do, want to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way, and I end up with the same fragmented schedule of an appt here, a couple of hours off, an appt there, another hour off, rather than large blocks of time to sink into something. This works against my desire to prioritize my writing and studio time this year. I work for myself and can set my own schedule, so why don't I?

Boundaries again. Wanting to accommodate others: my clients, my friends, my students, my family, my healthcare providers. So Anna reminded me about personal and professional policies. What are mine around time? Something to sit with. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Day 308 Good advice

My good friend Tamara forwarded this quote to me, which really hit home:

Happy New Year!

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.

~ Saint Francis de Sales ~

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Day 307 What's cooking

One of the reasons I think I've felt off-kilter this past week is that I haven't been fixing and eating enough of my own food. I came back from retreat with quite a few leftovers and I ate out a lot more last week than I usually do anymore. While it was a lovely luxury to have so much food prepared for me, it's also grounding and important that I cook for myself and plan my meals out each day, rather grazing on what comes up.

So yesterday, I stopped and got a big salad from the Whole Foods salad bar, additional veggies, and came home and cooked.

Chicken bake
Organic boneless, skinless thighs
1 jar Trader Joe's red pepper artichoke tapenade
2 T. fig jam
2 zucchini cut in thick rounds
6 small potatoes sliced

Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes. Fabulous!

January Soup
1 can northern beans, drained
1/2 yellow onion chopped
1 cup chopped celery
half head of cauliflower sliced
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 chopped zucchini
4 cups beef broth
cumin, garlic, lemon salt, Italian seasonings

Crock pot about 3 hours, until potatoes are soft. Serve over brown rice or quinoa for extra protein

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Day 306 Meet Little Evie

Here's my new girl. She's really beginning to bond with me. She's come when I've spoken to her a couple of times. She lets me pet her more and more and sometimes even comes and asks for it, which seems an enormous breakthrough. She's friendliest at night for some reason. In the morning, she just wants to play with the other cats, especially Sammy, and sometimes it's as if she's forgotten who I am over the night. But bit by bit, she spends more time out from hiding and is part of the family. I am very encouraged.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 305 Finding it easy to get off track or a conspiracy of circumstances

The last couple of days of my new year's writing retreat I got a cold. I haven't been sick, just under par with some annoying symptoms and some fatigue. And, in my usual not very careful way, I came back to a busy time with workshops and presentations to give, editing work to do, and a raft of other small items to take care of after 10 days away and the holidays.

So this has been a week of trying to hang onto the spaciousness of the retreat where there are only a few things to do in the midst of my normally busy life while weighed down a bit with illness. I have found it challenging to stay on my eating and exercise plan. I'm still not eating wheat or dairy (although I did try a little goat cheese while I was on the retreat, to no ill effect) and I'm still juicing each day. But it's been tempting and easy to order French fries twice and eat more meat and let some sugar creep back into my life.

And while I did great with exercise on retreat (a 2-mile daily walk 8 of 9 days), since I've been back (a week), I've been to the gym only once and walked a mile 3 of the other days. It's something and of course something is better than nothing, but it isn't enough to make me feel good. My cold is fading and I have a little more energy and I will get back to the gym tomorrow. But the fatigue of too many balls in the air, too many things to think about, that's a deeper problem to address.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day 304 Driving, not driven

A friend and blog reader wrote to me today about yesterday's post, noting that Leo Baubuta didn't acknowledge any of the reasons why that 5-year-old is still so active in our lives, like trauma or neglect. And I agree he didn't, that it's a somewhat simplistic view of the whole issue. However, what was meaningful for me in that blog post of his was an underlying question: Who's choosing my food? Who's driving my overworking, my busy-ness? It's certainly not my higher self.

I want to be making the choices in my life and making them consciously. I want to be thinking about what's the right food to eat, the next right activity, the time to stop working and relax. I don't want my unhappy 5-year-old or 12-year-old doing the driving.

So Baubata's post is a good reminder to ask who's choosing, who's driving the bus?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Day 303 Another good post from Leo Baubuta on the Inner Child

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 08:21 AM PST
By Leo Babauta
It took me a long time to figure out why I, and so many others, have difficulties changing habits and making lasting changes in our lives.

It all comes down to a little child. And that child lives within each of us.

I had a hard time quitting smoking in 2005, because I really didn’t like the extreme discomfort of enduring the powerful urges to smoke. It was hard, and I kept trying to rationalize giving up. I kept wanting to give in to the urges, and make life easy again. At my weakest moments, I wanted to give up.

And I had given up, the seven previous times I tried to quit smoking and failed. I gave in to the urges, to the rationalizations, to the voice that said, “Go ahead and smoke — why are you making life so miserable for yourself? Life is too short.”

This is the voice that stops us from making lasting changes.

This is the voice that says it’s OK to have those pastries, those French fries, that fried chicken. Life should be pleasurable!

This is the same voice that says it’s OK to skip out on exercise, because exercise is uncomfortable and not fun and you’d rather be on Facebook or playing video games or watching TV. Life is too short for misery!

This is the same voice that causes you to procrastinate when you’re facing a difficult task. It causes you to skip meditation, or skip learning a language, or skip writing your book, because you’d rather be doing something easier.

This is the voice that keeps you from starting your own business, or pursuing the job you always wanted, because you’re afraid of failure.

It’s the voice that gives up when things are hard, and convinces you to give up too. It keeps you from meeting the love of your life, because you don’t want to go through the uncomfortableness of meeting new people. It keeps you from keeping the love of your life, because being honest with them is scary. It keeps you from learning to be alone with yourself, because that’s scary and lonely.

This voice isn’t you. It’s a little child inside you. It’s the younger version of you, perhaps when you were 5 or 6.

This little child, this younger you, doesn’t like things that are uncomfortable or scary or difficult. What 5-year-old does?

This little child likes things that are comfortable and safe and pleasurable.

This is the child that you were when you learned all your thinking habits, when you tried things and quit because they were hard. Who could blame a 5-year-old for being like that?

But you’re not 5 years old anymore. And yet your life is run by this 5-year-old. Mine was for many years, and sometimes still is when I’m not aware of what’s going on.

The trick is to notice that this 5-year-old child is telling you what to do. But don’t listen. Don’t obey. Don’t believe its rationalizations.

You can endure difficulty. You can learn to be OK with discomfort. You can face the fear.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Day 302 Recipes from my friend Bridget

Had a great retreat over New Year's. It's always a delight to try other people's cooking and this year we all pretty much stuck to the plan, even those who are still omnivores. Because of some unforeseen circumstances, I got to take home some of Bridget Benton's fabulous ideas. Here are three that were particularly worth noting.

Pureed cauliflower

Steam one or more heads of fresh cauliflower. Saute rosemary or other herbs in ghee (clarified butter) or butter. Put the ghee and cauliflower in the blender and puree. Freezes well. Tastes fabulous. Great with meatloaf instead of potatoes.

Sweet coconut squash

Bake or roast thick slices of butternut squash in the oven until tender. Remove peel and any remaining strings or seeds. Mash with cinnamon or nutmeg and coconut milk (sweetened if you prefer a sweeter dish). Serve hot.

Lamb-bison stuffed peppers

Cook wild rice in a rice cooker.

Brown a pound of ground lamb and a pound of ground bison with chopped onion, zucchini, garlic, and any other seasonings you fancy (Bridget used some tumeric, cumin, and basil.). You could also add some chopped greens if you wanted.

Mix wild rice with meat mixture.

Halve sweet peppers of your favorite color(s) and omit pith and seeds. Stuff pepper halves with meat and rice and bake until hot through (or peppers are to the softness of your liking). Serve with extra meat/rice if peppers are small.

These items made a fabulous meal.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Day 301 Interesting piece on breaking or establishing a habit

Thanks to my friend Lily Gael for forwarding this to me. 
by Maria Popova
Why magic numbers always require a grain of empirical salt.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle proclaimed.“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state,” William James wrote. But how, exactly, do we rewire our habits once they have congealed into daily routines? We already know that it takes more than “willpower.”
When he became interested in how long it takes for us to form or change a habit, psychologistJeremy Dean found himself bombarded with the same magic answer from popular psychology websites and advice columns: 21 days. And yet, strangely — or perhaps predictably, for the internet — this one-size-fits-all number was being applied to everything from starting a running regimen to keeping a diary, but wasn’t backed by any concrete data. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick(public library) — which also gave us this fascinating read on the psychology of self-control — Dean, whose training is in research, explores the actual science of habits through the existing empirical evidence on habit-formation. He cites one influential study that gives a more concrete answer to the elusive question of how long it takes for a new habit to take root:
In a study carried out at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health-related: people chose things like “eating a piece of fruit with lunch” and “running for 15 minutes after dinner.” Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, as well as how automatic the behavior had felt.

This notion of acting without thinking — known in science as “automaticity” — turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a central driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question at the heart of this inquiry: How long did it actually take for people to form a habit? Dean writes:
The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.
What’s more, when researchers plotted the results, they found a curved relationship between habit and automaticity — meaning that the earlier repetitions were most beneficial for establishing a habit, and gains gradually dwindled over time. Dean explains:
It’s like trying to run up a hill that starts out steep and gradually levels off. At the start you’re making great progress upwards, but the closer you get to the peak, the smaller the gains in altitude with each step.
Indeed, the slowing down of gains was especially pronounced among some participants, to whom habit-formation simply didn’t seem to come naturally — so much so, that the researchers were surprised by how slowly some habits seemed to form:
Although the study only covered 84 days, by extrapolating the curves, it turned out that some of the habits could have taken around 254 days to form — the better part of a year!
What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.
While the finding may at first appear disheartening, it’s actually oddly assuring in reminding us that habit, like genius, is merely a matter of doggedness and “deliberate practice” — in fact, this brings us to the lesser-cited yet pivotal second half of Aristotle’s famous dictum:“Excellence … is not an act but a habit.”
Making Habits, Breaking Habits, which goes on to explore such fascinating facets as the difference between habit and intention, the key to getting off autopilot, and how to break out of habitual loops, is remarkably insightful and functionally helpful in its entirety. Complement it with the proto-treatise on the subject, William James’s famous meditation on habit, which includes his three rules for the successful formation of new habits.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Day 300 Tasting the food I eat

The other night at dinner here at the retreat, one of the women mentioned that when she's bingeing or sneaking food, she doesn't taste it. She just consumes it. This is not a new idea to me. When I first heard this, it was in an AA meeting and it explained to me why I could remember opening the next bottle of wine or finishing that bottle, but not remember any of the drinking in between.

When we're eating and drinking to get numb, there's little point in experiencing the food or drink. We're only looking for the end result, not the experience itself. I can do that with my to-do list as well. I'll check things off my list (balance the bank statement, make a phone call, send an email) and realize I didn't pay much attention while I was doing those things.

Periodically I remember how much of my life I drank/sleepwalked through (about 20 years) and state that I don't want to do that anymore. But I can see now that not tasting my food, not experiencing my relationships, not walking when I'm walking, all of that is another form of sleepwalking, of not really living this one, precious life.

May I always taste my food!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Day 299 Unconditional friendliness to myself

I got an opportunity to set intentions a couple of times this holiday as there were two separate groups on retreat with me (one the first few days and another the second half of the time). Molly, a member of the first group, spoke her intention to be offer "unconditional friendliness to herself." I mentioned afterwards that that really resonated with me and she said it was a phrase from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron.

I've been thinking about that off and on ever since. Having unconditional love for myself seems impossible. I'm not even sure what that is as I have never experienced it, except perhaps from my pets, who always seem to love me no matter what. Much as people claim to love each other unconditionally, I think as human beings we have expectations. We may love with few conditions but I think we always love with some: an expectation of basic decency and honesty, for example. If those get violated, we may forgive and love the person again, but I don't think it's unconditional. That's been my own experience anyway, both in giving and in receiving.

But the idea of unconditional friendliness is one I can get behind, one I can imagine living into. I know how to be friendly, to be kind, to be generous. Can I eat from a position of unconditional friendliness to myself? Can I work less as an act of unconditional friendliness to myself? I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Day 298 Love this idea

"Visible or invisible, clutter is anything that gets in the way of experiencing your true nature and best life." Stephanie Bennett Vogt

I love simplifying, decluttering, organizing. Very interested now to think of overeating and sugar consumption as clutter that is getting in the way of my best life. It's not just a habit I can break, it's a way of simplifying and clearing my life and my life energy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 297 Choice as a principle to live by

When I come on retreat, I always bring way more than I can do or even consider. I like options. I brought about 5 books with me plus kindle. Two of the books have really called to me: Creating Time by Marney K Makridakis and Feng Shui and Money by Eric Shaffert. The second book came highly recommended to me. The first book was a pure impulse buy from New Renaissance Bookstore in Portland, a highly seductive place for me. The book has cool art projects in it and some really interesting ideas. Like choice as a principle to live by.

It's one thing to know intellectually that we always have a choice. Go or not go, eat or not eat, say yes or say no or say I'll tell you later. However, I often act as if that's not the case, as if I am compelled to do something. Don't get me wrong. I think compulsive behavior is a real illness in some people and for many of us at some times. But much of the time when I'm overeating or choosing unwisely, I'm having to override my choice principle. It can happen quickly and seemingly unconsciously but I don't think it is unconscious. When I eat sugar, I have decided to buy it and then eat it. I make the choice to do so. That means I can make the choice not to do so.

I like the idea of asking myself much more often about choice. What do I want to choose in this moment? What's my good choice in this moment?