10 Ways To Use Mindfulness To Create New Habits
Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools we have for creating new habits. Mindfulness teaches us how to turn our attention on to our thoughts. And this allows us to tap into an amazing ability to learn from our experience.
This is one of the reasons I advocate so strongly for using mindfulness as part of any fitness plan. Getting healthier is pretty simple, exercise more and eat better. But changing your habits and your life style is more challenging.
Change starts with your thoughts and ends with your actions. Mindfulness gives you the tools to make those changes from the mind up. And fitness helps you create change from the body down. Which is why combining the two means you can generate change that is truly transformational.
I recently attended a webinar with Zen Habits creator Leo Babauta. During his talk, he shared with us how he discovered the power of mindfulness. He also shared 10 ways to use mindfulness to create new habits.
Leo quit smoking on Nov 18 2005. He had spent the week before turning his attention towards the urge to smoke. Every time he wanted to smoke, he would take out a small piece of paper and make a mark.
He did this every time the urge arose, whether he smoked or not. He learned to notice the urge smoke and was able to see what triggered it. But he also saw that the urge wasn’t permanent. It came up but after a while it also went away.
He figured out that he could stop smoking by noticing and waiting out the urges. This simple practice of noticing helped him so much that it became part of the inspiration his blog Zen Habits.
Creating new habits can be challenging. But luckily mindfulness can help us see what obstacles stand in our way and how to overcome them. During the webinar Leo talked about 10 ways we can use mindfulness to create new habits, by watching ourselves and our thoughts.
1. Watch Your Energy Level
If you energy level is low your discipline is low, your enthusiasm is low, and habits are hard to stick to.
If your energy is low and you feel like you can’t complete your habits, it’s ok to be compassionate and take a break. But don’t stop there.
During your break look and see why your energy level is low. Maybe doing your habit would have given you more energy. Maybe you to need to shift your priorities. Or maybe you need to get more sleep. Watching your energy level will teach you a lot about what obstacles to avoid and how to make your habits sustainable.
2. Watch Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings
If you fail to do your habit you might have negative thoughts or feelings about yourself. Because we try to avoid feeling bad it may seem easier to give up rather than of try again.
But instead of avoiding these feelings, we can use mindfulness to look at them. Mindfulness can help us accept those feelings in the same way we accept burping and farting. They may not be pleasant but they’re part of being alive. Once we’ve accepted our feelings it’s much easier to let them go and get back to our habits.
3. Watch Your Fears
Sometimes fear can keep you from trying or sticking to new habits. Maybe you’re afraid of failure, so you never start. Or maybe you’re afraid you won’t get enough done today so you skip your habits. No matter what the case, we can use mindfulness to look at these fears straight on and overcome them.
4. Watch Your Resentment
When you are working on a tough habit you may start to resent your commitment. And along with that resentment, comes a desire to rebel.
But instead of rebelling, we can use mindfulness to see what’s going on. Often all we need to do is change our perspective. Instead of seeing the habit as a limitation we can try to see the habit as a blessing. If the resentment stays, we might need to consider if we are doing the habit from an authentic place.
5. Watch Your Failures and Successes
Learning a new habit isn’t about being perfect. You can learn just as much from not doing the habit.
Let’s say you want to eat more vegetables and when you do you notice your stomach is calm, you have more energy, and you feel good about yourself. But one day you are tempted by some greasy fries and you eat them. If you pay attention, you might notice that greasy food feels heavy in your stomach, you feel tired afterwards, and you feel guilty about eating them
By noticing what it’s like to break your habit, you can learn to make better choices next time.
6. Watch Your Rationalizations
We often come up with lots of excuses and the justifications for not doing a habit. But instead of believing these rationalizations, we can learn from them. By learning how we convince ourselves to break our habits, we can stop falling into the same traps.
We may also discover parts of ourselves that were nourished by our old habits. And find ways to nourish those parts using our new habits.
7. Watch Your Self Trust
When we fail we don’t trust ourselves as much. This lack of trust can be painful and it can keep us from trying new and difficult habits. But we can use mindfulness to reestablish trust in ourselves.
By paying attention to how it feels when we stick to a habit and how it feels when we skip it. We can learn that our short term satisfaction has a long term cost, which will help us stick to our habits. But we can also notice how small mistakes can drag us down and choose to forgive our small mistakes so we can give ourselves the chance to build more trust.
8. Watch Your Little Crying Kid
Sometimes when we get stuck it’s because, we have a small winey voice that doesn’t want to change because it’s afraid. But when we use mindfulness to bring attention to this small crying kid, we can find a way to soothe it.
We can give that little kid a hug and let it know that it will be OK. And then make a choice from a bigger perspective.
9. Watch Your Compassion
It’s hard to know how hard to push especially with exercise. Doing too much exercise can be harmful so in some cases resting is compassionate. But if we never move it can make us cranky and unhealthy, so doing some exercise is compassionate as well.
In any given moment, we can use mindfulness to ask what is the compassionate choice. That way we can learn to make a wiser choice instead of giving in to our ego or our inner slacker.
10. Watch Your Desire To Not Change
When we take on new changes anxiety can arise. But change happens whether we like it or not. By acknowledging this tendency and working to calm our fears, we can learn to see change as both inevitable and positive.
Now that you have a good framework of the ways you can use mindfulness to create new habits, it’s helpful to have some tools to help you implement these new skills. Leo suggested two key tools to help you be more mindful.
1. The Mindful Pause –
The mindful pause is the practice of taking a pause between activities or whenever we notice the desire to not do a habit. This simple practice can give you the space and time to notice what you’re feeling or thinking when you want to break a habit.
2. Meditation –
Meditation is the act of picking a focus and putting our attention there. Meditation is one of the fundamental tools of mindfulness and has benefits too vast to list them all here.
Try the following meditation
- Sit upright
- Imagine your head is attached to a string that is pulling you gently upward
- Lean from side to side to find you center
- Turn your mind onto your body
- How does your spine feel in your body?
- How does your breathing feel?
- Are you feeling impatient?
- There is no right or wrong way.
- You are just paying attention.
- Pay attention to your breath as it comes in your nose.
- Notice it as it expands your belly.
- Notice the sensation of the air as it travels out through your nose again.
- You don’t have to breathe slowly.
- Just breathe normally and watch your breath
- After a few rounds begin counting your breaths
- Inhale – exhale – 1
- Inhale – exhale – 2
- 3 and so on.
- If you notice your mind wandering come back to 1
- After a few mins, slowly finish the meditation.
Leo left us with some final thoughts.
Be compassionate with yourselves.
We will all fail at some point and that’s ok.
Give yourselves a hug.
And do the compassionate act of moving forward.