How to Make Changes and New Year Resolutions Stick for Good

newyear2016

Happy New Year, everyone!  I can’t believe we’re almost a week into the brand new year. It’s going to be an awesome one!

A week ago or so, a lot of us started to reflect on the past year and think of what we want to accomplish in the New Year.  There’s tons of articles out now about setting New Year’s resolutions (and even whether doing that is a good idea or not) and it’s generally a time where people are geared up for “new habits” and thinking about the themes they want to change.

And you know what happens next; all those good intentions, the containers from the Container Store, the new gym trainers, the new juicer and the new notebook for writing down household expenses, all gather dust in our guilt-closet before March if we’re not careful.

If you’ve done the most important part (listening to your own heart about what needs to change in your life, or what you’d love to create)  here’s some things I’ve learned about making the energy of change and creativity into NEW habits instead of just “resolutions”  –

 

elephantgraphic1

Big elephant, small bites

How do you eat a life-sized chocolate elephant? One bite at a time.

The biggest obstacle to making any new change is that seemingly insurmountable gap between the big dream (“Be a better person”  “Lose weight” “Move on from ex”  “Quit smoking”) and real results.  We’re often stymied when it comes to figuring out how to make nebulous or big plans reality.  In this case, the chocolate elephant in the room is your dreams, goals and visions.   You will need both big dreams and small bites to finish the job.   A big dream is a goal, an end-game, something you desire to attain for yourself in the long run.  Smaller “bites” are that big dream broken down into doable tasks that you do every day, which will add up to attaining your goal.

Small bites may not seem like much, but they’re just as important as the big dreams. Your mind needs a way to see that there are doable things you can do to make those visions concrete. Waiting for something to magically manifest won’t help, and sitting there looking at that huge chocolate elephant can cause you to give up before you even take a single bite.

Let’s say your big goal is to “be organized”, this instruction is so undefined and huge that you’ll never want to tackle it.  Small bites, on the other hand, can make the goal feel like a reality right now.   A small bite is your specific, small (remember it has to be doable!) action you’ll do today:

This morning I’m going to recycle all the magazines and take-out menus that aren’t current.

Create a small bite  objective for each big goal, each day… the smaller the better:

Today I’m going to create a mail centre with envelopes, stamps and a place to put incoming mail, and outgoing mail,  for example.

As those small bites add up, and the victory you feel when you accomplish them will help you be excited and creative about making new ones as the daunting task seems smaller and more manageable.   If you have trouble figuring out a small, doable task, find a book related to the goal you want to achieve.  A book can give you lots of ideas about actions you can take and you can invent your own.

 

Use your current habits

We’re creatures of habit, so why not use existing ingrained routines to get started on new ones?   New habits simply need repetition to become set and what better way than to use things you do each day already.

Use existing habits as a basis for your small-bite action goals wherever possible.  For example, if you want add extra steps to your pedometer, you can use a quick daily walk that is already a habit for you (to and from your car, your path to work) and make it a bit longer each day.  If you want to keep your briefcase tidy, associate a new habit with something you do already:
When I plop my briefcase on the table tonight, I’ll take out the papers and items I don’t need for tomorrow.
If you cook dinner at home every night, use this meal to create a new dietary habit instead of forcing yourself to make diet lunches:
For dinner tonight, I’ll make a dish with greens and whole grains

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  If you exercise in the evening already, then dreaming up a new scheme to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym might be counter-productive for you.

Making defined, specific times to do your tasks and small-bite actions will help you introduce new habits to your routine and follow through.

The human brain builds synaptic connections and strengthens the efficiency of neurons in tasks that it does routinely. Synaptic “pruning” helps us put more energy into the things that we practice and do often by pruning away and eliminating connections we don’t use very often. Making new habits pair with existing strong connections helps you incorporate them faster.

The ivy effect

As an ivy plant grows, it senses progress and produces new cells which create tendrils, leaves and shoots. When the ivy comes in contact with objects, it alters its root structure to climb trees, and even walls. The more it grows, the better it can climb.  Your new habits and changes are just like that ivy, constantly building a bigger system and structure.  Seeing the results of your effort build an unbroken streak every day can be amazingly effective to help you keep going.  Use an app, calendar, journal or wipe board to keep track of your “streak”.    Each time you do your daily small-bite task, create a check mark.

It sounds silly but it works. Seinfeld’s famous “habit chain” operates on this same principle. When Jerry Seinfeld was a rising comedian, he knew that he’d have to consistently develop new jokes. To keep at it, even when he wasn’t in the mood, he took a giant wall calendar and marked a red “x” on the date whenever he achieved his goal of writing every day. When he saw those “x” marks adding up like links in a chain, he was inspired to keep going.

If you’re into technology – there’s a ton of apps for tracking habits and reinforcing patterns so there’s sure to be one that works for you.  I’ve tried a few that have reminders like “Fabulous: Motivate Me!” for Android…  but I have found a visual representation of progress works best so using an app on my phone to write all over a pdf calendar page lets me see a string of habits collect.

 

Cut the distractions

The best way to create changes and new routines is to make your environment less cluttered with distraction.  Simplify wherever you can and make the items you need for your goal easy to reach and get to.
For months my goal of having a tidy house was thwarted by my bathroom vanity.   Somehow, in spite of my best intentions, it became a repository for old receipts, coins, empty jars, products, and other junk.   It was a disorganized mess and it was difficult to keep clean.

Finally, I decided to place out only those items I used every day out on the vanity and shelves nearby… nothing else!   Something strange happened immediately. Without effort, I kept the entire vanity neat as a pin, with items put away properly and the vanity and sink wiped down every day.  (I realized that all that clutter had made me give up and let junk land where it may.)  Being able to find things fast, when I needed them, was the reward that kept my habit going.

Be here now

Failure starts with unrealistic expectations and living in the future instead of the present.   Maybe you want to have a healthier diet and daydream about being skinny and having lots of romantic attention from partners who find the new, slimmer you irresistible.  But when you look in the mirror, it’s not happening fast enough and you beat yourself up for still being chubby, and because you don’t have six-pack abs and you can’t cook a gourmet twelve course raw feast, you give up on yourself and have a basket of French fries.

I have a long list of failed New Year’s resolutions in years past with crazy stuff like, “learn to read Ovid’s Metamorphosis in Latin,”  or,  “make all my food from scratch”  perfectly reasonable, creative goals for someone… but for me they just gathered failure dust because I didn’t create an expectation (learn more words in Latin, make some meals at home..)  that I could actually DO.   At the end of the day,  we can only do what matters to our heart in the PRESENT.

Instead of this defeating, demoralizing pattern of expecting instant results or living in fantasy imagination of the future, put your energy and focus on what you are doing today to attain your goals.   Be patient with yourself and tell yourself you’re doing a good job right here in the present.   Have your goals in mind, but focus on the small-bites and immediate tasks far more than anything in the future.   You will absolutely see progress if you stay grounded in the present.  If you slip up, the present moment is always a new beginning.

 

 

*article adapted from my article “Making New Years Resolutions Stick” Psychic Guidepost magazine

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Friday Toon Butterfly Effect 11.20.2015

butterflyeffect

 

Have you ever heard of the butterfly effect?   This theory of inter-relatedness guided my cartoon illustration this week.    It says that the flapping wings of a single butterfly impacts the weather patterns of the entire world, that the tiniest change can have a big influence.     Is it any wonder we’re scared of metamorphosis and change?

We’re scared that we’ll flap our wing the wrong way and set some horrible typhoon in motion.  But by far the greatest fear we have is not being able to change at all, or that we’ll wake up another day,  month or year older and be unchanged.   We fear the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting things to be different.

In this big month theme of “getting things done” and embracing change… it’s the perfect time to think of our relationship to change itself and cope with the main obstacles to creating new habits.

 

CHANGE IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE

Change is always possible because change is always happening.  This is the most important rule to remember of all.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard growing up ( a leopard doesn’t change its spots,  people don’t change, etc.)    you CAN change.   Honestly, I used to believe these negative statements myself, – but I’ve seen the dynamic and mind-blowing changes that I and others underwent through the process of growth for myself.     I’ve seen people who are terrified to be communicative and open become fantastic communicators,  I’ve seen people who used to be terrified, needy and attached in their relationships emerge as butterflies in solid, long term, trusting bonds with themselves and others.    I’ve seen such fantastic changes in myself that it would take months to write them all down.

Phobias, depression, fears,  mistakes or errors… are all changeable.  Believe it!

It doesn’t matter if a change is small (making a new habit stick)  or huge  (finding love)…. change is always possible. The next time you doubt this rule, think of an example from your own life of a way in which you have changed already.    Chances are, the you you are today is wiser than an old version of you.    Once you wore diapers and couldn’t find your feet;  now you can use a cell phone and make risotto!    See?  You’ve already changed … and that’s proof that it is not only possible but MANDATORY in this life.

so how do we get in a better relationship with change?

FIND WHERE CHANGE BEGINS

Change begins with you and depends on you.     Most of us get tricked into thinking that change somehow starts  OUTSIDE of us.  We wait for someone to change, for something to change, for circumstances to finally make something “happen” that we think we want.   We think that if that special circumstance were to happen  (house will sell, lotto number will hit, hunky guy will call, someone will see things the “right” way ) that THEN we’d have positive changes.

That’s not really how it works though.  Change does NOT exist in just in the OUTSIDE world… it begins in the  INSIDE WORLD.  And that’s the only place it every *can* exist.   Woah. What a concept.  Don’t believe me?     Think of the person who gets all the things that they think they want .. fame, celebrity, money … and yet they’re still miserable.  How come?  Because change that happens outside of us doesn’t really make an impact on us unless our inside story agrees with that  reality.     Even if we get the guy, or the nose job, if our inner perception is one of unhappiness, the outside circumstance will never matter.

Always remember that change begins with you.  This is true whether your issue is a relationship, or something that involves others.  The amount of change you see in the world is equal to your willingness to see things in a different way and to commit to new thoughts and choices to create the kind of life you wish to live.

CHANGE BUILDS UP OVER TIME

We grow up believing that one BIG move changes our lives.      Nope!  Change energy is the same no matter what form it takes:  events can happen quickly  (blink of an eye!)   but lasting change evolves through lots of cumulative creations and new daily habits and routines.        That does NOT mean that positive changes take many years or that there’s always “hard work” to do.        In fact, change happens at an equal level to how willing we are.  That means that the more we commit to making changes and the more we trust ourselves in that process, the faster we will see results.

Change requires bravery and pushing ourselves for sure, but when we practice and make small steps every day, pretty soon those changes get easier and easier and we see more and more progress.   Imagine learning to run a marathon. At first it might seem hard to run more than a few minutes at a time, but as you consistently expand on the plan and make adjustments daily, pretty soon five minutes becomes ten and then the miles themselves start to fly by with ease.     Or imagine we meet someone great – then what? Then we have to learn to communicate and connect.   There’s always an adventure or lesson to learn – change never ends.

Our fearful ego asks,  “When does the good stuff finally arrive?”  like somehow magically it all happens at once and we just get all that messy, scary “unknowns” over with.    But change happens in an accumulation of habits, choices and actions no matter how fast events transpire.

Remind yourself that all the great works of art, relationships, businesses, and things of beauty in the world were ultimately the products of evolution, persistence and building even when miracles were delivered or inspiration hit like lightning.

 
1) Don’t give up on making new habits if you don’t get a “Reward” right away or in the way you think you should when you make your first few attempts do do something differently.    For example;   don’t go to a fun class and then despair because you didn’t meet a new man and then give up and quit the class.  Don’t stop taking care of your diet and exercise because you didn’t lose your goal weight in one day.

2) If you are frustrated and meeting obstacles, review your intentions   — Are you doing something for YOURSELF or are you doing things in the hopes it will change other people or force an external change?    If you are taking that class for YOU, then you don’t care who you meet and if you are changing your diet for your health then you don’t mind if you didn’t lose today’s weight goal because your intention is  on the big picture.

3) Don’t wait for other people, places or things to line up and make you happy.  Ask yourself what kind of day your soul wants to live out… and get busy doing small steps to make that a reality TODAY.     That way,  when external circumstances change, you won’t depend on them for your happiness.

4) Change builds up and accumulates, getting bigger and strong and more effective.  Small steps lead to BIG changes.  You can choose to see small steps and consistent routines your friends.   Consistency matters in all human habits and rewiring ourselves to do new routines.

5) Identify the positive changes you wish to make and make SPECIFIC plans to act them out during your day.  Don’t wait for something to “Finally arrive” make it arrive.  If you feel frustrated, it could be that your intention is about something EXTERNAL instead of internal.  Shift your intention and energy to your inner world.  For example… if you want loving communication, instead of waiting for someone to communicate kindly to you… how are YOU acting on this in your inner world?  Are you speaking lovingly to yourself?    Others?  Are you communicating with your partner in a loving clear way?  What SPECIFIC plans could you make to communicate lovingly today?

6)  When it comes to attracting supporters and things to you, those same specific plans are important.  Think about ways in which you are watering and nourishing habits and rituals every day that make this possible in practical reality.  For example, if you want to create financial success, are you  making a specific plan  to care for your finances?  Are you identifying what you can do better tomorrow?  Are you creating generous acts that you can do today?  Are you supporting others?

7)   The more specific you get, the more you can focus on small steps and goals. The more you feel as though you are acting and committing to small acts of bravery, the more you trust yourself to roll with change.

8) When you change within, and focus on your growth and watering your garden, your faith in Spirit grows and your faith in yourself grows. When that happens, just like in the BUTTERFLY EFFECT, you have a really profound effect on all the people you meet or interact with.   Small steps create endless ripples of change for the world!

Spring New Moon Super Moon Eclipse! Card of the week, 16th March, 2015

card 3.16.2015

When I drew this card for the week, I actually laughed at how totally spot on it was.  From the moon to the delicate little violets in the picture.

Somehow through the seemingly unending blankets of white (and then brown and soot black) snow, things have growing, unnoticed.  Last week everyone was still  in ugly coats, shoveling driveways and scraping wind-shields and toddling over dead, tan lawns, but this week the sun has suddenly burst on the scene and  today I spied crocuses poking their noses up, daffodils in sunny yellow dresses,  tender little white and purple violets and periwinkle on the vine.   Kids in shorts?    How did it all happen so fast?

There’s a lot of stuff happening (and fast!) this week,  so it makes sense.  Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and on Friday March 20th,  we’ll have three very interesting astronomical events  happening at once, which is very rare!  First, spring is springing with the vernal equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere) and  the beginning of the astrological new year starting with Aries.  It also happens to be a total solar eclipse (another total solar eclipse will not happen with a vernal equinox until 2053, and in the 2100s – not at all).    As if that isn’t enough, it will also be a super-moon when the moon is at its closest point possible pass to Earth,  pulling on our tides.  It’s also a new moon  because in order for an eclipse to happen there must be a new or full moon (the earth and moon lined up directly with the sun).

So much great symbolism in these events:  spring represents new birth and new beginnings, and the new astrological year ushers in a new cycle, while the new moon (super moon this time!) is pulling on our emotional and intuitive bodies in the traditional symbolic association of release.  The solar eclipse, super-new-moon equinox also  happens in the 29th degree of Pisces which is said to be astrologically significant. As I mentioned the other day, some astrologers correlate this degree with powerful events of change or misfortune, but it serves us best to not worry but  take in the energy  (or symbolism) as a whole.   This is a week for concrete movement towards new starts, but also concrete revelations about what needs to move out of our lives.

Just as spring quickly moves into view,  we have more energy, and insistence pushing issues of  letting go, and lucidity; the tearing of illusion.  But it won’t necessarily be a painful time for everyone and some will experience  excited nudges towards tapping into creativity and connection to their heart and soul.   Some will even be feeling really positive even in times of change.  For most, change  won’t be in the form of an anvil dropping on us, but rather true clarity and conviction about what we felt back towards the middle of February, those points of awareness about what is no longer able to be part of our lives as well as the willingness to to step out of what we used to know and into new territory.

Another significant theme this week will be around relationships.  The ending of the relationship may have happened a long time ago, or perhaps it was simply a matter of someone unable to join us on this fork of our journey and we’re finally “getting it” or starting to deal with this on a deep level.    For others, this is about the release of our perceptions or illusions that are keeping us from joining a new life fully. We see what we need to see again.  Because emotions are more vivid and a lot is going on this week, keep all relationships and friendships within reach of compassion and patience.  It’s a week for extra kindness.

The new moon is a time for the positive attributes of shadows and revealing the unseen.  Instead of scary, this is a good thing.  Think of how scientists and astronomers will be descending en masse to places like Svalbard Norway to view this rare eclipse. Because the moon will block the rays of the sun from view,  the total eclipse will be a unique time for solar scientists to  study the sun’s corona and allow new discoveries to be made in a time when the blinding brilliance of our star is subdued.  Shadows, dreams, things unseen, emotions unexamined… these things can be really powerful and helpful!

Unfortunately,  most people won’t get to see the total black-out eclipse unless you’re fishing in the North Atlantic or hanging out in Norway. In parts of the UK and Scotland, as well as parts of Europe the eclipse will still be partly visible. Be careful though, never watch an eclipse directly! – Use a pin hole projector or colander.

And don’t forget to wear your lucky green (like the luna moths in the card!) for abundance and St. Paddy’s Day if that’s your thing!

About this deck: About this deck:    The  Victorian Fairy Tarot  by Lunaea Weatherstone and Gary Lippincott, published by Llewellyn,  is one of the most beautifully painted and illustrated tarot decks ever created.  Even if you’re not into “fairies” – this one is worth it just for the artwork

In The Beginning…. Card of the Week, 18th August 2014

card 8.18.2014

 

 

This week’s cards (we had a jumper card too)  come from another nature inspired deck:   The Tree of Life Oracle by Elaine Clayton.  The card “Spring”  speaks of beginnings and the card “Leaves” speak of messages, signals and gifts.

IN THE BEGINNING…. there was the beginning!   Every chapter of life and every new thing we endeavour to take on always has three distinct parts:  1) a beginning filled with wonder, excitement, insecurity, newness and new growth,  2) a middle full of consistency,  mastery, industry and life, and 3) an ending of completion, success or closure.      In those things that endure with us the longest (relationships, marriages, child-rearing)  this three part cycle repeats itself over and over as new lessons, new tasks and new changes emerge.

This week (whenever you’re reading this)  we’re asked to be OK with being at the BEGINNING of something.  To realise that we’re not in the mastery stage, or the “everything’s all wrapped up stage” — and you know what? That might not be very comfortable for some of us.    Sometimes our irrational mind takes over and we want to be able to play the 3rd Rachmaninoff piano concerto immediately after getting the sheet music,  we want to pick out wedding shoes a few days after meeting a new person,  or to have a job promotion in our hands before we even have a job.    This week the energy is about dreaming big, but not so big that we forget that every awesome thing had to start with small beginnings, with uncertainty, newness and learning a thing or two.  If you feel like life has been short on delivering “results” of late, then it’s time to embrace those new beginnings even more!        If we get too discouraged about being at the beginning of something, ego gets to win its favourite reward:  BEING STUCK.   If you can’t handle the steps it takes to get somewhere new, chances are you’re not going to get anywhere at all.

Beginnings may sometimes feel like you just stepped off a space-craft into some distant planet and have no idea what to do or where to go, but they can also be amazing.  The “beginning” energy is full of creative juices and tons of inspirations that only “newness” energy can supply us with.  Alongside the card “Leaves”, which suggest messages and inspiration… this could be a one-two-punch of creative awesomeness for you this week.    Beginnings can be so great in other ways too… the energy allows us to actually have a bigger reservoir of interest and faith in the future, a sense of excitement and possibilities, a lack of jaded energy.   Beginnings can also be EXCITING and different, offering a shake-up to the old routines.

Plato said:

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Why is that?  Because if we don’t actually overcome inertia and START (often with our blindness, faith and willingness as all that we have setting out)  – we’ll never get anywhere.  Likewise If we don’t allow ourselves to be in the simple, imperfect and questioning  beginning and relish it, we will start to unwind all our progress by growing a big stinky pile of “LACK OF FAITH” instead of actually getting anything done.    Instead you could enjoy the beginning of something in your life… whether that’s a new phase, a new task, a new project, a new person… and let it be the beginning. Something new, tender and worthy of being nurtured. Don’t throw all your impatience at this new thing like you would 100 steps down the line when you’ve got the hang of what’s happening.   Be gentle.   Invest in all that creativity and wonder.  With the message about “Signals, gifts and messages”  you might be getting some help for those beginning stages, or you might be listening to your own inner wisdom and guidance.

 

About this deck:    The Tree of Life Oracle by Elaine Clayton is a small deck of 30 cards (all in a cute little magnetic enclosure box) published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd  —  I’m a sucker for any deck that is “Tree” themed and this one delivers some unusual goods:   the style of the illustration and the simplicity make this deck especially suited to purely intuitive meanings or coming up with your own associations even if you never crack open the book that accompanies the deck.