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Habits and Help

Habits are easy to fall into, but are hard to intentionally make. When I started the Grateful Smile Project, I was hoping to make feeling grateful and smiling into a habit. I was hoping to rewire my brain so that when I felt anxious, instead of whirling around in my thoughts, I could instead pause and bask in my gratitude. Well, that didn’t happen.

If anything, I feel like the opposite happened, I feel like as the weeks have progressed, it’s been harder to take that time out to feel grateful and smile. This week started off full of good intentions (yes, I know, just like the road to hell), but then I got tired and being mindful kind of slipped my mind.

Tired and busy.

This is a problem, right? We’re all tired and busy. The real challenge is making a practice that I can keep, even when I’m tired and busy. Or better than that, a practice that will help me to slow down and sleep better. Wouldn’t it be great to not be tired and busy? Instead of feeling that life is hurtling along and I am just barely hanging on to its tail feathers, it would be nice to feel on top of things.

I know that it’s all a matter of perspective. Right now, I am nervous about starting in a new school. I miss my friends, my students and knowing what’s going on. I also know that I’m transferring this anxiety to the rest of my life. I feel like I’m drowning, like I’m treading water just below the surface when there’s nothing actually happening at all.

It’s not that nothing I did during my Project was helpful, it’s just that I’ve ended up with a scattered bunch of practices and I am not very good at holding on to any of them. It’s like there’s an internal resistance to staying with these habits. I could meditate, or I could check my email. I could stretch or I could check kijiji for a saxophone. I could smile and feel grateful or I could play on my phone.

You know which ones win. Is it harder to become more of a present, mindful person in the age of pocket technology? I’m not saying that technology is bad, but it is a constant, ready made distraction that keeps me from ever having to be with myself.

Of course, technology can be helpful too, I have my meditation app and the youtube yoga that I do. I also need it for work, for my on-line course, to communicate with loved ones and of course to send these words to you.

This is partly the problem for me, I don’t know where the healthy line should be drawn between myself and technology. I don’t know what’s helpful and what’s too much.

It feels like there are a lot of things that I don’t know right now, and I think it’s time to get help.

Self-help is great, it’s good to be motivated to better ourselves and to seek out the skills to do it. It’s also good to have help. When my kids wanted to learn the piano, I didn’t point to the piano and say, “Go figure it out.” I hired them a teacher. I knew if they sat and played at the piano that they would learn some things on their own. But, I wanted them to learn good habits, to understand what they were doing and why, I wanted them to be able to progress.

When it comes to my mental health and well being, I want to learn better habits, to understand what I’m doing and why. I want to be able to progress, so I guess it is time to hire myself a teacher.

This will not be new for me. I have been in therapy a number of times in my life, the challenge is to find a therapist who is a good fit for me. I have seen therapists who were helpful and some who were definitely not.

The other challenge is overcoming my anxiety enough to call and book an appointment.

I don’t know if booking appointments is tricky for other people with anxiety, but for me it’s always the hardest step. I actually find now that there are many things that I can book online, it’s made it even worse for me when I actually have to call. My haircuts and massages are booked with a click instead of a call, which means I get less practice and more anxiety when I actually need to phone someone.

This is not something where I need a process, or a bunch of strategies, I just need to do it. I know that agonizing over the call is actually worse than making the call. This is the route of suffering, right? All that time we spend in our heads, trying to get them to reconnect to our bodies.

I wonder when we first start making these habits of getting stuck in our heads. Is it nature, or nurture? I teach mindfulness and visualizations to my students and my kids in hope that it will lead them to more peace and less suffering. I only wish I could do a better job of practicing what I preach, a better job of modeling the strategies that I hope them to internalize. Maybe with a little help, I will.

After 4 weeks, the Grateful Smile Project didn’t lead me to where I hoped I would go, but maybe it lead me to where I needed to be. Maybe that’s all I can ask for, to try, to trust, to be vulnerable and brave and where possible to share a smile or two.

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