Published on January 14, 2021
Paulina Sienko, BSW
Let me preface by saying that goals can be wonderful if set up in the right and supportive way. Great things have come out of goal setting. Ask yourself though, why is the goal being set; are you striving for perfection? Are you trying to achieve this goal because you think society or the people around you will deem you more “worthy”? This pressure can create or increase anxiety, especially if the goal does not align with who you are and what you truly desire. The desire to conquer the goal can come at the cost of other aspects of life that are good for your health and wellbeing. On the other hand, if the goal is not achieved, self-esteem tends to take a hit, and thoughts of “I’m such a failure” or “I’m not good enough” start creeping in and bring along with them the feeling of shame.
What if this year, you focused on forming habits instead? Not just any habits but ones that when formed, can support your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing, no matter what life throws at you. Habits, that when woven into the fabric of your daily life, can help you set and achieve meaningful, wholehearted goals. Before we dive into what some of those habits are, let’s explore what a habit is and why it is important. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits notes that, “habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.” Eventually, when these decisions and actions are made over and over again, they become hardwired in your brain. As you go through your day, you unconsciously partake in habits as though you are running on autopilot. Basically, the more times you perform a certain action or think a specific thought, it begins to become a part of who you are.
Dr. Joe Dispenza asserts that “Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together”. When learning new habits, you are forging new connections in your brain. Remembering and repeating these habits is maintaining and sustaining those connections. The more you repeat these connections, the stronger the connections become in your brain. Huh? Think of it as starting a new relationship. When you first meet someone, the conversation tends to be a bit awkward and sometimes uncomfortable. As you continue to meet with this person and spend more time with them because it feels good, your conversations begin to flow better. You find yourself more comfortable to talk about more things and eventually, this person becomes someone you depend on in your life. You end up naturally going to them when you need to talk or need support. Breaking a habit is just like ending a bad relationship. At first you feel a bit lost without the other person. You wonder if maybe you made a mistake. You might even be tempted to connect with them again. However, as you being to dedicate more time to your new relationship, you forget about the old relationship and the need for that old connection dwindles.
The more we repeat something, the more likely it is to become a habit. The better it makes us feel the more likely we are to do it. Therefore, a good starting point for any new habit or breaking an old habit is understanding its reason. Be mindful and explore; what about this habit makes you feel good? What will the long-term outcome be once this habit is formed? The same can be applied to breaking a habit; what aspect of this habit makes you feel good? Why do you do it? What are the long-term benefits of breaking the habit? As you step into your journey of forming new healthy habits, take the time to reflect on why these habits are so important to you and how they will make you feel once they are a part of your daily life.
There is one essential thing you need to form successfully a new healthy habit, self-compassion. In fact, it is so important that even if you are not interested in habits, you should still pursue the worthy journey towards self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff notes that “self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend. When faced with difficult life struggles, or confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.” Self-compassion is important when forming new habits because simply put; it is hard, it might not always go as you planned, you might not always get around to practicing the habit, or you might slip into an old habit. When that happens, it is important to remind yourself that it’s okay, you are doing your best, it takes time, just because it didn’t go the way you wanted it to, does not mean you did it wrong. Make sure to give yourself some extra love and attention, just as you would a newborn baby because remember; you are new here too.
In Part 2, we will explore five healthy habits and ways on how to practice them.