I have suffered from insomnia for the better part of half my life, until I made some drastic changes to my lifestyle. Up until then, I would lay in bed well after midnight, begging and pleading with the Lord of Sleep, Angels of Unconsciousness, Sandman and his flock of sheep and even my pillow, for a magic spell to fall asleep now! After two-hours of tossing and turning, I’d finally fall into a nice ‘n light sleep where anything could (and usually did) wake me up.
By the time my alarm went off at 8:00am, the brightness of the sun’s rays would be tanning my cheeks and forehead, the garbage truck down sounded as though it was repeatedly driving into my bedroom door, the birds were chirping sweet messages of “Get the fuck up – Get the fuck up.” At this point, I wanted nothing to do with the ‘new day’ so I re-crawled back into my cave of darkness for ‘just’ another minute which inevitably turned into just another 2-3 hours of complete unconscious bliss.
I recently fell off my sleep routine because I have been experimenting with new foods, different sleep times and extracurricular activities. As I laid awake the other night and pondered what’s more important; 2-ply which ruins the environment or 1-ply which ruins my ass, I realized something about my thoughts.
They’re always the same! My thoughts and feelings seem forever caught in a neurological loop.
Each and every night for years I would have the same thoughts and feelings over and over again. Never resolving, just ruminating them over and over and over again. Webster defines rumination; to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly.
Casually going over my thoughts is right on the money….I never got past surface level thinking. As for slowly, yeah right…being a Gemini and a person who prides himself on how much knowledge he can jam inside his head, my thoughts come faster than a 17 year old spending a night with an escort.
Throughout the night I was just stuck in this familiar loop of incessant thoughts and feelings. No problems were solved, no solutions came to mind. I would take a thought to its illogical, incomplete conclusion and then start over again and again and again.
For example, I was thinking about what I was going to do the next day for the blog and who I could reach out to for a potential JV partnership. But as soon as I was done with that line of thinking, my neurological loop kicked-in; familiar memories, thoughts and feelings of my distant past.
Man, do I hate rumination.
This process of having thoughts but not thinking, reminds me of what my Landmark Forum instructor said ’99. “When people go home and say they’re going to ‘think about it.’ What does that really mean? It really means they’re going home and having thoughts about anything and everything without purpose or direction. After a random amount of time has past, they consider they spent the necessary time ‘thinking about it’ and provide you with the answer they had in their minds all along.”
How many of us spend not just our evenings but even our waking lives, going over the same thoughts and feelings again and again without resolution? Maybe that’s why our day to day lives deviate very little from its set point. How much different is your personality and day to day life than it was 15 years ago?
What would your life look like if you resolved the unresolved? To stop beating yourself up about a past mistake. To no longer wonder how your life would be if you slept with Stephanie, the prom queen and head cheerleader of your high school. To no longer wonder how your life would be like if you didn’t drop out of college and instead finished your MBA. To no longer wonder how your life would be if didn’t or did have kids.
Changing these habitual ways of thinking and feeling require a keen observation of yourself, planning of your environment, willingness to change, and the willpower to execute.
Granted, there are habits of Being that can serve you very well such as healthy eating, sleeping, exercise, and meditation habits. These all nourish and revitalize your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. But what about the habits of laziness, procrastination, blame, defensiveness, excuses and rationalizations? These all weaken and deplete your bodies. Both sets of habits are ways of Being yet one is a way of growth and the other is a way of decay.
What if we worked backwards? How bout we change our thoughts and feelings by first changing our behavior?
Volumes have been written about addiction treatment, habit formation, willpower and behavior modification. Changing human behavior is a fascinating subject requiring expertise in psychology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience and even computer science. The man at the forefront of this work Stanford Innovator and Psychologist, BJ Fogg whom is developer of the Tiny Habits program. His work has helped form some of the biggest online businesses including Instagram.
SIDE TANGENT: Why are women so fascinated with Instagram and all its photo editing apps! When I’m out and about with my girlfriend, her phone inevitably dies (cause its not an Iphone) and she wants to take pictures. All the time! She asks for my phone, takes 1247 angles of a fire hydrant that’s painted crimson red, immediately sends these pictures to her phone (killing my battery) and after her phone charges to 3% begins Instra-gramming her pics for hours. I’d love to be enlightened as to why women love Instagram yet men don’t know even know what Instagram is.
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Here is a simple, yet powerful process for creating behaviors/habits that will eventually alter your feelings and thoughts giving you new results in your life.
1. Choose the new behavior you want to create.
Starting a new behavior and practicing a new behavior are two different skill-sets. If your day to day life is currently very structured and built-out, this is not conducive to starting a new behavior because you are trying change the status quo and your brain will resist. Starting a new behavior is better while on a vacation or holiday or during traveling because you are away from your daily structure. But practicing a new behavior while on vacation, traveling or during a holiday is a recipe for failure. The process below is for practicing, not starting, a new behavior.
2. Start small, in fact, start TINY.
You have spent 1,000’s of hours in mental and emotional rehearsal grooving these patterns into your gray matter and they ain’t going anywhere. Instead of removing those grooves, you will attach a new behavior to them. Think about. If you spent 20 years developing the habits to be sedentary, is it realistic to have the habits of an Iron Man Triathlete in a month? Change takes time, experimenting and self-love.
Lots of attention is placed on motivation when it comes to practicing new habits. Your energy is better spent on developing an environment that supports the practice of the new behavior instead of relying on high level motivation which is finite and rapidly depletes throughout the day. Starting a new habit works best when motivation is high, but practicing a new habit requires much less motivation and greater reliance on your environment. For instance, if you want to lose weight and your motivation is high, spend time throwing out the processed foods and sweets, sign-up for a gym membership with a personal trainer and buy your exercise clothes. Once your motivation drops, your supportive environment now kicks in requiring less motivation on your end.
This is where tiny habits really shine. The more ability needed to practice the new habit, the more motivation is needed. As previously mentioned, this is not sustainable. The action required needs to be TINY, far below your ability set point. Make the action ridiculously simple to do. Now ability is relative to the individual. If you have never ran a day in your life and you desire to run a 5K, the TINY step would be putting on your running shoes and walking out the door, that’s it. Yet, if you are an avid ultra-marathon runner who wants to develop the habit of adding an extra 5 miles to each run, the TINY step would be running an extra ½ mile at the end of each run.
The trigger actually ‘triggers’ you new habit to begin and works best if placed at the end of an old habit. For instance, if you want to develop the habit of doing 100 pushups everyday simply take an established habit (going pee) and attach the new habit at the end (pushups after peeing). By only doing 2-3 pushups, it is well below your ability level yet once the habit of doing pushups after being is established then you can add 5 pushups, 10 pushups, 25 pushups and so forth.
Whenever you successfully complete the desired habit give yourself a pat on the back or a verbal ‘Great job Christian! (you can use my name if you want).’ What this does is strengthen the practice of the new habit. The brain doesn’t know if this is a big event or a TINY event, but how you deliver feedback to your brain will re-enforce the new habit or behavior.
By changing your behavior in one area of your life the benefits will bleed into many others. You will transform from the outside in. This new behavior will ultimately change your thoughts and feelings, which gives you new and different results. What would your life look like with thoughts, feelings and results you’ve never experienced before? It would look pretty damn cool is what it would be.
Now maybe I can begin solving new problems instead of ruminating old ones.
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