We've been on a journey together throughout this past month to let go of the things in our lives that no longer bring us benefit. From meaningless time-fillers to limiting beliefs and even physical clutter, there are lots of areas in our lives we likely want to see positive change and increased peace. But for all of our intentions to move forward with purpose, we are still human, and there will likely be times when our thoughts and habits get clouded by the circumstances of our day to day.
What happens when we set our intentions to mindfully move forward and let go of a negative habit or belief, only to find ourselves pulled back toward the thing we declared we were ready to let go only a few days (or even minutes) later? This feeling of being stuck does not indicate that we are not strong enough or not serious about moving forward to embrace better things. It's simply an indication that we are human, and that sustainable change will not happen overnight.
If you find yourselves feeling stuck, know you're not alone. We are all in the same boat: seeking to make the best choices we can, but sometimes being pulled back into our comfort zone to old habits and limiting beliefs. Together, let's practice a few strategies this week to help us move forward mindfully - and let's have grace with ourselves if we sometimes take one step forward and two steps back.
Change the message. We often unconsciously attach actions or habits to internal messages. The tendency when we feel we've messed up is often to internally attribute our mistake to part of who we are with a message like: "I ate that junk food because I'm just addicted to it;" "I skipped class because I'm lazy." But we do ourselves such a disservice when we think this way, even subconsciously. Next time we make a choice that doesn't align with our intentions, instead of affirming our misstep as an extension of who we are, let's change the message. Let's step back and see these actions or thoughts as separate from us, not as part of who we are: "I ate junk food today and I'm not happy with that decision. I'm not the kind of person who will be bossed around by my cravings." "I skipped class today and I'm not happy with that decision. I'm working toward being more disciplined in my studies." On the flip side, when we find ourselves acting in line with our intentions, we can choose to affirm these habits as part of who we are becoming, rather than as a fluke that may not happen again: "I did my meditation this morning because I value setting myself up for success;" "I ate healthfully at dinner because I value taking care of my body."
Change the scenery. We sometimes underestimate the influence of our physical surroundings over our moods and habits. The next time we find ourselves slipping into a habit or thought pattern we want to eliminate, let's stop and take note: what is the setting? What objects are close by? What time of day is it? What activities are happening around us? See if you can detect a pattern in what your surroundings are like when you engage in thoughts or habits you want to leave behind. For example, do you find yourself indulging in unhealthy doses of sugar when you're sitting at your desk and get a stressful email? Do you hear old negative messages about your body when you attend a workout class with a group of other women? If you notice that certain places or activities are triggers for you, make a change. Stand up and move from your desk the moment you feel a stress craving hit. Try a different workout routine that helps you focus more on how you feel rather than comparing yourself to others. Mindful attention to these kinds of details can yield great results: the smallest shift in our outer circumstances can help us foster inner change.
Change the goal. If we find ourselves constantly disappointed that we've fallen short of our goals and strayed from our intentions, we may need to reevaluate the expectations to which we're holding ourselves. There's nothing wrong with dreaming big and setting high goals, but we must balance our desire to move forward with realistic expectations about what's reasonable in the reality of our day to day. If you're in an extremely busy season of life, maybe the intention to meditate for 30 minutes every morning isn't a good fit for where you are currently. Starting smaller, with the goal of 5 minutes a day, or maybe 30 minutes just 2 times a week, could help set you up for small victories to build upon over time. If your intention is to let go of time fillers like social media, maybe allotting a certain number of minutes a day for using it is more beneficial to you than than aiming to stay off completely and getting frustrated with yourself if you fail to meet that expectation. Small successes build confidence and pave the way for larger successes. Starting small can often make the difference between true, lasting growth and giving up on a goal altogether.
Moving forward into the new is a process, not a one-time event. It must be done daily, intentionally, and repeatedly. May we remember this truth as we work to let go of those things that no longer serve our highest purpose and move toward the good things this year has in store. We would love to hear about the intentional changes you're making and the small victories you're already experiencing as you embrace mindfulness and purpose this year!