31 Days of Simple Change {day 30} Being the Change

31 Days of Simple Change

Tomorrow is the last day of October, which means tomorrow will also be the last day of this 31 day series about simple change.  In my welcome post for this series, I wrote how the word change is a heavy word, often interpreted negatively because we assume two things about change:  change is difficult and change is bad.  But change doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t have to be negative.  Simple changes can have powerful impacts.  Allowing yourself time to daydream can help you become more creative and less stressed.  Creating family traditions can create a sense of family unity and provide happy memories that last a lifetime.  Taking care of yourself by scheduling medical appointments and getting enough sleep can help you stay healthy, which means you are also better able to care for the people you love.  All these changes are simple, inexpensive, and uncomplicated but they can have a big impact on your happiness and wellbeing.

And yet, I imagine that most of us are still unable to make the simple changes required to be happier, healthier, and more productive.  Why?  Why do we refuse to slow down?  Why do we insist on putting the health of others above our own health?   Why are we unwilling to carve out a few minutes of the day to write in a journal, or meditate, or call a friend.  Perhaps one reason is that we are afraid of being selfish.  Somewhere along the line, we learned that taking care of ourselves and taking time for ourselves was selfish and therefore undesirable.  Which is why we feel guilty when we think about reading a book instead of doing yet another load of laundry.  It’s why we feel guilty when we take time off from work to go to the doctor for a check-up.  It’s why we feel guilty about leaving our kids with a babysitter in order to go out with our spouse.  We are afraid of being selfish.  But consider these words:

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

We lament how fast the world moves and how busy kids are today but we refuse to slow down our own lives and the lives of our children.  We complain that technology has made people worse communicators and less social, but we don’t make the time to write a letter or visit our friends.  The world is not separate from us…the world IS us.   When we talk about the world and society and today’s culture, we are talking about us.  So if we want something “out in the world” to change, we must first be willing to change it inside ourselves and inside our families.  We must be the change we wish to see in the world.  If we want the world to be different, we too must be different.  Which leads me to the other reason we avoid making even simple changes in our lives.  We are afraid of being different.  We may not want our kids to be in five separate activities, but we do it because everyone else is doing it.  We may actually enjoy writing letters to people, but we feel silly doing it because nobody else writes letters anymore.  So in an attempt to avoid feeling different, we avoid making changes, even when those changes could make us happier and healthier.

Sometimes change happens in a big, dramatic fashion.  But more often, change happens in small and incremental ways.  A little more sleep can make you feel a whole lot happier.  One small act of kindness can lead to two or three or four more small acts of kindness.  It’s amazing how seemingly insignificant changes have a way of rippling around in big ways you can’t even begin to imagine.  And so the challenge for me and for you isn’t just in finding simple changes we can make to improve our lives.  The real challenge lies in our willingness to make those simple and small changes, despite feeling guilty or feeling as though we are moving against the tide.  Because you just never know…one simple change in your own personal life today can lead to a bigger and better change in the world tomorrow.

Throughout the month of October, I’ll be sharing some ideas for simple changes you can make to improve your life.  Did you miss a day?  Visit the 31 Days Welcome page for links to each day.

31 Days of Simple Change {Day 21} Habits: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

31 Days of Simple Change

We are what we repeatedly do. – Aristotle

What does the word “habit” bring to mind?  More than likely it reminds you of negative behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking.  But habits don’t have to be negative.  According to The Free Dictionary’s definition, a habit is “a recurrent, often unconscious patter of behavior that is acquired through frequent repletion.”  Nowhere in that definition does it say that it’s a pattern of bad behavior.  This idea was a big revelation to me when I started thinking about behavior, especially my own.  Anything that we do repeatedly can become a habit.  In the case of something such as eating a piece of cake every night after dinner, the habit you develop may not be healthy.  But here’s the revelation for me:  I can develop good habits simply by repeating the good behavior.  Things like exercise, eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal, or donating money to my favorite charity could all become habits that I would be proud to call my own.

In an interview on NPR, author Charles Duhigg discusses the three-step habit forming process.  The three steps are cue, routine (or behavior), and reward.  The cue is the trigger that tells you to engage in the behavior (routine) that leads to something that your brain likes (reward) and therefore causes your brain to remember the “habit loop.”  This information is fascinating because it tells us how to break bad habits and also how to encourage good ones.  For example, let’s say you want to stop smoking.  If you smoke every time you are stressed, the trick would be to replace smoking the cigarette with another behavior that also relieves stress (talking to a friend, going for a walk, etc…).  If you repeat this behavior enough times, you can break your habit of smoking under stress and replace it with a different, perhaps healthier, habit.

But remember I said that knowing this information can help us to form good habits too?  Here’s how…let’s imagine that I want to start exercising more often.  So I decide that every night after dinner, I’m going to gather up the family and we’re all going to take a walk together.  The trigger is our family finishing dinner.  The behavior is the walk.  And the reward is that our family is spending quality time together as well as getting healthier in the process.  If we repeat this cycle, a good habit can be created.

Sounds easy enough, right?  So then why do we struggle so much with breaking bad habits and establishing good ones?  Go back and reread that definition of habit again.  See that part at the end?  Those two words, “frequent repletion” are the key.  It’s not just about the behavior, it’s about how often we repeat the behavior.  That’s the part that does me in every time.  Developing a habit is more than just taking a walk with the family once a month after dinner, it’s about repeatedly walking with the family on a regular basis…every day, maybe every other day, but more than just when the spirit moves me.  It takes time and commitment to make or break a habit.  Just like many other things in life, creating a good habit or breaking a bad one will probably take longer than you think it should.  But it will be well worth it once it’s done.

Throughout the month of October, I’ll be sharing some ideas for simple changes you can make to improve your life.  Did you miss a day?  Visit the 31 Days Welcome page for links to each day.

31 Days of Simple Change {Day 12} Prioritize Sleep

31 Days of Simple Change

My daughter woke me up three times last night.  After the third time (at 4:00am) I was wide awake for hours, only falling asleep again around 7am!  I definitely did not get enough sleep last night, and I’m feeling it today.  I’m cranky, tired, and ready for an afternoon nap.  I wish I could tell you that this is a rare moment in an otherwise sleep filled life, but that would be a lie.  Sometimes I don’t get enough sleep because of the kids waking me up, but often I don’t get enough sleep because I go to bed too late.  I’m a night owl.  I love to crawl into bed at the end of the day with a good book or a magazine and read for a while.  I often think to myself, I’m just going to read for 20 minutes or so.  But then, before I know it, an hour or more has gone by and I’m still reading.

I know I should go to bed earlier, but there’s something about the peacefulness of nighttime.  The kids are asleep, the dog is asleep, and many times Mark falls asleep long before I’m finished reading.  The house is quiet and I feel relaxed.  So instead of going to bed when I know I should, I soak up as much of that peacefulness as I can.  Then I pay the price in the morning when my alarm goes off and I’m dragging myself out of bed to get the kids ready for school.  I start out okay on Monday morning, but by Friday I’m exhausted.

I know I need to prioritize sleep.  There are so many benefits to getting a good night’s sleep, besides feeling awake and alert.  Studies indicate that people who get a good night’s sleep are more creative, live longer, and have a better memory.  Some studies have even shown a link between getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy weight.

So as I crawl my way through today, I’ve decided to do a better job of prioritizing sleep.  I’m going to put the book down earlier and turn off the light at a reasonable time.  Now if only I could figure out how to keep my kids from making those middle of the night visits to our room….

Throughout the month of October, I’ll be sharing some ideas for simple changes you can make to improve your life.  Did you miss a day?  Visit the 31 Days Welcome page for links to each day. 

31 days of Simple Change {Day 4} – Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask

31 Days of Simple Change

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you know that one of the things you’re told before taking off goes something like this:  In the event of an emergency, remember to put on your own oxygen mask before helping children or other adults put on their oxygen masks.  I was not a parent the first couple of times I flew on an airplane.  So when the airline crew went over this important safety tip, I thought “Aren’t you stating the obvious?”  Of course I would put on my own oxygen mask first.  Wouldn’t my self-preservation instinct kick in as soon as an emergency happened?  Fast forward a few years to when Mark and I were flying home from Guatemala with our newly adopted 10 month old son.  When the in-flight crew once again reminded all of the passengers to put their own oxygen mask on first, my immediate thoughts were, “What!?!  Save myself first?”  I know that my first instinct in an emergency would have been to grab that oxygen mask and push it on our son’s face without regard to my own need for oxygen.

When we are responsible for taking care of others we often fail to take care of ourselves.  I find this to be especially true when it comes to the nuts and bolts of staying physically healthy.  I’m always sure to schedule my children’s dentist appointments every six months.  But that doesn’t mean I schedule my own dentist appointments every six months too.  My children have check-ups every year, right around their birthdays.  I finally scheduled a physical this past summer, after such an embarrassingly long time that I can’t even bear to write it down here.  My children have a piece of fruit packed in their lunches every day, but I rarely eat a piece of fruit with my own lunch.  I could go on and on, but you get the general idea.

I tell myself that I’m being a responsible and loving mother by taking care of the physical health of my children.  But what about my own health?   Wouldn’t I also be a loving and responsible mother by taking care of my own health too?  After all, if I don’t take care of myself now, I may not be around to take care of them later.

Now you and I both now that going to the dentist isn’t fun, but that excuse doesn’t get our kids out of their appointments and shouldn’t get us out of ours either.  And it’s true that finding time for a physical in the midst of busy schedules is challenging.  But we find time in our schedules to take our kids to their check-ups, even if it means leaving work early or coming in late.  Our own health, yours and mine, is no less important.  So consider this post my in-flight reminder for you and for me…..Don’t forget to put on your own oxygen mask.

Throughout the month of October, I’ll be sharing some ideas for simple changes you can make to improve your life.  Did you miss a day?  Visit the 31 Days Welcome page for links to each day.