Changing habits without pushing or feeling bad about yourself

This is the time of year when many of us — including me — think about making plans and setting intentions for the year ahead. The new year is coming, the clean page of the calendar is turning… and it feels like a good time for a fresh start on changing some habits.

Take exercise, for example. For various reasons I’ve fallen out of the habit of regular exercise. I know my body will feel better if I do it, and my mind will be clearer… not to mention the fact that exercise helps keep me healthy, and I’m really enjoying this life and would like to stay in it a fair bit longer.

The trouble is, I know very well from past experience that if I make a plan to start exercising more and leave a part of me in charge of making it happen, it isn’t going to work very well. The type of part that is good at making plans and intentions is the natural one for the job, but the trouble is, that type of part operates by nagging, shaming, and cajoling another part of me. I end up feeling resentful, as I identify with the part of me that is feeling pushed — and nobody wants to feel pushed!

Result: Maybe a few trips to to gym or the yoga studio at first, but in about a week I’d be back to sitting and driving, and telling myself I’m too busy for exercise.

So what is a Focusing approach to forming a new exercise habit? Let’s see.

What comes first is, I affirm that I want to do this with kindness to myself. No shaming, no part talking to another part about being “lazy” or “fat.” Treating myself that way doesn’t fit with my deeply held values. I will not be doing it that way.

I say Hello to a part of me that is worried that it is going to get pushed into doing something that isn’t fun. It can only remember unpleasant exercise experiences. I let it know I hear that. I say, “No wonder you wouldn’t want to exercise if that’s what it felt like.” One hand stays gently with that part of me as I continue.

Next I find myself sensing what I am wanting. Wanting is a place to find motivation and impetus, especially when the wanting comes from within, from the not-quite-in-words place. I pause, because it takes a moment or two for this ‘wanting’ to form. I want to feel flexible. I want to have energy. I want to bounce. Not just now, but for a long time.

Being in touch with the ‘wanting’ feels good. It brings a smile. My shoulders relax. This is true, I want this.

I find myself remembering times in my life when exercise has worked well for me, and it’s good to remember those times. The memories of what felt good about those times mix in with the feeling of ‘wanting’ for the future. I can feel my body actually readying for movement.

Lots of images and memories of enjoyable vigorous movement start to emerge, along with ideas and connections. I’ve enjoyed bike riding… Lucinda is going to show me the bike she likes… I’ve enjoyed dancing… there’s a dance studio on the ground floor where my new office is…

I check in with the part of me that didn’t want to be pushed into exercise. It is smiling. There is no contradiction here. There is an open flow into action. The body feeling is one of open, relaxed, fresh, ready. It doesn’t feel right to make a specific plan. Instead, I will let this open flowing feeling carry me toward opportunities as they arise. What will happen? We’ll have to see!

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