The Power Of Habit or Bad Hair Day?

For the past two weeks I have been fretting over my hair.  It has lost its luster, gets frizzy for no reason and just doesn’t feel the same.  I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what’s causing it.  Am I just getting old?  Is my body chemistry changing?  Am I eating something bad for me?  Am I in the sun too much or not enough?

Deciding to put all these questions aside and take a nice shower, I step into the tub and grab the shampoo which sits on a shelf to the right.  Wait…uh….. this is not shampoo… this is body wash.  For the last two weeks, out of habit, I have reached to the right to pump out a handful of shampoo, but have been slathering body soap on my hair instead!

I see now the body wash and the shampoo have been switched.  How did they get switched?  And more importantly, why didn’t I notice this?

As far a habits go, this is not a big deal.  I can choose to change my routine and reach to the left for the shampoo or put the bottles back in their places.  Seems easy enough.  But what if I had never noticed this and just went around worrying about my hair and how bad it looked?  I could have driven myself crazy trying to find the reason behind my bad hair days.  I could have spent weeks or months worrying and trying to change things that either made no difference or made things worse.  Seems kind of stupid doesn’t it?

Yet, this is exactly what I did when I was trying to ‘fight’ an eating disorder.  I turned what was a habit into a complicated mess of body shaming, food restriction, and bingeing.  I saw myself as a defective person who couldn’t control herself.   I agonized so much that the disorder became my comfort.

Yes, it was comfortable.  Even though it was a devastating and sometimes life threatening habit, it made me comfortable to do the things I did.  Of course, I did not like the aftermath.  It was like using the body wash on my hair but hating the results.  And how ridiculous it seems to keep washing my hair with body wash and then complain about it.  But that’s what I did with the eating and body shaming year after year.  I kept doing the same thing and hating the results.  I kept looking for complicated answers instead of looking right in front of me.

How I changed

When I decided to de-complicate the binging problem, I had to realize that the disordered eating and body bashing were habits.  They did an excellent job of keeping me functioning and getting me through stress.  Of course they caused a lot of stress too -this is what perpetuated them.

Once I realized that my disordered behaviors were not a part of my personality, but something I did in response to my environment, I let go of the guilt.  I made a choice to believe that there is no ‘good or bad’ involved in eating or being any certain weight or body size.  I began to believe deep down that I was a good person, regardless of what I ate or how I looked.  I re-established my rightful place in the universe. (For me, this meant seeing God not as an entity judging me and keeping score, but as a support and encourager in all I do.)

Then I stopped dividing food into good and bad categories.  I allowed myself to eat all foods with no guilt or shame or feelings of eating something ‘sinfully delicious.’  All food became okay to eat for its own time and purpose.  I also began looking at my body differently.  Instead of labeling it as bad because it held extra fat or wasn’t as muscular as I it wanted to be, I started to appreciate it for the good things it did.

Eventually, I could look at myself in the mirror and not fret over the thighs or wiggly belly.  My body stopped being my focus.  It is now neither good nor bad.  It is just one element of my complete being.  It doesn’t define my status, my feelings, my health, or my personality, it doesn’t make me more or less valuable than anyone else.

And even though others may use my body to make judgments about who I am, I can leave that with them and not worry about it.

I believe we create habits out of necessity.  They allow us to perform activities while our mind is occupied with something else.  Sometimes they end up being good for us and sometimes not.  Making and breaking habits can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.

Letting go of guilt and self condemnation was the giant first step in changing my life.  If I can do this, you can too.

P.S. The shampoo and body soap got misplaced by my husband when he cleaned the tub and shower.  (Yes, he occasionally cleans the bathroom, but no, he is not available for hire!)

For more steps on starting the binge free journey click here.

For more technical advice on habit and behavior change, read James Clear’s The Paradox of Behavior Change.   Check some of his other articles on habits.

 

“If you judge me for what I look like, that’s on you, not me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bathing Suit Test

Journal excerpt

July 5

We went to the river today.  I wore my bathing suit all day.  I did not put on a pair of shorts to hide my thighs, I did not put on a large T-shirt to cover everything.  With all my big talk about accepting my body and being nice to myself for the past two and half years, today is the first day I wore my bathing suit without being worried about my body or what I looked like to others. 

When I slipped off the bathing suit to shower, I felt like I had passed a test.  Like I reached some milestone in life.  It’s been easy to talk the talk and say how I feel empowered by eating normally and that I accept myself as I am, but the truth comes in hard doses.

The first truth is that I have gained a few pounds since I broke my ankle. The next truth is that my that my daughter is getting married. We have both been busy making plans and reveling in the joy of it all.  But deep in my mind, a pin prick of self consciousness began to grow.  

I began to think about dresses I would wear, how they would look on me and how I would look in pictures.  I mulled over styles and tried to choose the best one to make me look thinner.  

This began thoughts of maybe losing a few pounds, several pounds actually, for the wedding.  This started me thinking about calories, which led to restricting some foods which led to eating more food which led to guilt about eating some ice cream, which led to…..no, I didn’t binge.  But I did overeat for a few days while sorting all this out. 

And it can be sorted out. It takes some time, soul searching, and some confidence in who I am and what I am about.  It takes reassurance and self compassion. Oh, and it takes faith in myself and faith in something bigger than myself -I call this God.  

These past couple months have brought a whole new perspective on what it is to really accept myself. In the face of a wedding and wanting to look as good as possible for my beautiful daughter, I have had to come to terms with what it means to be my best for my children.  If being my best means that I am skinny, but my mind is constantly on my body and weight, how is that my best?

I will look my best when I feel my best.  And I don’t have to be skinny or even thin to feel my best.

My best is when I am happy and confident in who I am regardless of my body size.

My best is being content with myself so that I can fully participate in the life around me.

I’ve had a difficult time writing for this blog when my thoughts have been about losing weight and looking my best for my daughters wedding…

But I have pretty much resolved this issue. And when I wore my bathing suit for the entire day,  it cemented the idea that I don’t have to lose weight for any reason. I am okay just the way I am. I have passed the test.

Now that my ankle is almost healed and I am able to be more active, I may lose some weight. But I will not force this or dwell on it. For the wedding, I will dress in a stylish way regardless of my size, but I will not think about my thighs or my height or whatever else has kept me preoccupied in the past.  I will be happy for my daughter and celebrate her wonderful day.

Looking For Miracles

Today I will look for miracles.

If I look for miracles, I will find them.

I don’t expect to skip over all the hard stuff in life. But, I know my life is only as good as I expect it to be.

We experience what we focus on.

If we wake up each morning expecting life to feel like a struggle, then our lives will be a struggle. This should not surprise you.

But what if you wake up and look for a miracle today?  The miracle could be as extravagant as healing your disease or as simple as getting a convenient parking spot.  But it will happen. All you need to do is look in the right direction.

In a way, miracles are subject to momentum. They may start very, very small. But once you notice one, the more you will believe in possibilities. And the more you believe in possibilities, the more miracles you will see.

What are you focusing on today?

Miracles happen everyday. But if you don’t look for them, you will miss them.

Expect a miracle.

 

“Just because you have negative thoughts doesn’t mean you have to entertain them.”

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Choose To Be Present

Roll call in middle school. The teacher called out names in alphabetical order. When we heard our name, we responded “present.” That may be one of the only times I paid attention in school. Most of my time was divided between talking to my desk-mates, writing and passing notes, daydreaming or doodling in a workbook. I said I was present, but I wasn’t.

A good part of my life was spent trying to improve myself, constantly looking for books with detailed instructions on how to make something happen that I wanted to happen in my life. Mostly it was about losing weight. I thought the weight made me different than others. The only problem was, sometimes I wasn’t overweight, but I still perceived my body as problematic. This was just another way of not being in the present moment.

Mind-drifting and distraction may be a tool that allows us to function in a situation where we feel overwhelmed or unsafe, but we don’t have to stay in this mode. We can choose to live in the present, accepting everything as it happens, even if it is unpleasant or confusing.

When I first tried to be present, I took a hard look at the truth of my life. I saw myself as a person who was just trying to make a decent life the best way she knew how. It was difficult to accept that bad things happen and that I may not be right all the time. I wanted to make everything perfect, not just for me but for my family, for everyone if I could.

I’ve learned that being present is not about trying to be present or mindful as much as it is about allowing whatever happens to just happen. That is, I can allow things to happen without reacting to them or trying to make things the way I think they should be. Even if I think someone else is wrong, I can let them be wrong. I don’t have to judge them, give my opinion or make corrections.

This also means I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t have to get angry or upset. I can choose to not feel guilty about past mistakes or stupid things I do. The less I react to my behavior and surroundings, the better I can see it for what it really is and make adjustments to bring my life into a healthy state.
I am not suggesting that you can be completely immune to hardship or pain. I am saying you can allow yourself to feel however you feel without determining if it is good or bad. Not judging yourself, or others, is one of the first steps to acquiring a healthy state of mind.

Being in the present is very do-able. But you have to figure out how to accomplish this your way. It’s good to read about how others have overcome obstacles and learned how to be peaceful. But I don’t think there is any one sure way to do this. If you have the desire to live in the present moment, you have already learned most of what you need to know to make it happen. Trust yourself and let it happen.

I used to think that if I accepted myself the way I was at any given moment, then I was settling for something other than my best. But I found I must accept myself the way I am now to find the love and self respect which will push me into my full potential, my best self.

Thoughts on building a core of happiness, click here.

If you struggle with bingeing or overeating – start here

 

It’s not my job to judge everyone, its my job to love them.

beach pixabay

Time For A Thought Check

Do you sabotage yourself for no good reason?  Have you ever said, “Why do I do this to myself?” And then do the same destructive things over and over?  If so, you may have a belief or a script running in your mind that you are not even aware of.  Or you could be aware of it, but not know how to change it.  You may not even know that it is possible to change.

For many years I had scripts running in my head that I never actually verbalized, but I let them color my thoughts and emotions.  I can speak them now because I had to examine them before I could stop believing them.  They went something like this, “I am adopted, my mom gave me up, there must be something wrong with me.” Or “My adoptive dad is an alcoholic, my adoptive mom is verbally abusive, there must be something wrong with me.”  And of course, “I am fat, and I want to eat all the time, there must be something wrong with me.”

I had many more. But they were all used for the same purpose; to allow me to feel sorry for myself and to get others to feel sorry for me. This was the only way I knew to get the attention I needed and wanted.

For years, I was unaware these scripts ruled my thoughts and behaviors, they were so ingrained.  And even though someone told me about them and that I needed to change them, I didn’t get the message until I read the book ‘Feeling Good’ by Dr. David Burns. That was in the early 90’s.  It was my first taste of cognitive therapy and the beginning of the life I wanted to live.

Cognitive therapy was not a complete cure for all my problems, but it started me on the path of taking responsibility for my feelings. I learned that I created my own suffering with my thoughts.  It took many years to delete all the scripts.  But this was only because I had the idea that the process of psychological change was difficult, time consuming and painful.  And even though I went to therapists and programs, I didn’t do the homework.

When I finally made the commitment to become emotionally and physically healthy, it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  I realized I was worth making changes and it became natural to want to change for the better.  I got the courage to question my core beliefs and tell myself the truth about who I was.  And the truth is this -I am a good and worthy person and my value has nothing to do with what anyone thinks about me, what has happened in my past or even how I behave right now.

Knowing this truth allowed me to begin to make a few good decisions.  Making good decisions boosted my esteem and helped me make even better decisions.  This helped me rise up even more.  It’s like getting into an upward spiral.  The more you do the right thing, the more confident you get about who you are, and the more good things you do for yourself.  Then you start to reach out to help others and you almost forget what it feels like to be fearful, weak and full of self-pity.

There is always more than one way to accomplish what you want, but the best way is your way.  Read, listen and learn from others, but sift through all the information and find what works best for you.  You are worth it.

Suggested reading Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns (look for the latest edition) or Summary of Feeling Good by Fastreads

For list of cognitive distortions and ways to untwist your thinking, click here.

For a list of self defeating thoughts and counter thoughts, click here.

 

“We can put ourselves in an upward spiral with one belief. That belief is -Our value is inherent.  It does not depend on our size, shape, color, talent, intelligence, financial or emotional status or past experience.”

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Trying Too Hard?

Just before I entered fifth grade, my family moved to a new city.  It was summertime, no school was in session.  I was an only child and a little shy, so I didn’t make friends right away.  But my parents encouraged me to go out and play and find new friends.  I came back, day after day, having met no one and feeling dejected.  My mom asked me why I hadn’t met any kids and I lashed out with, “But I’m TRYing.”  She just said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard.”

My mom was right, I was trying too hard.  I have tried too hard my whole life.  I struggled with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, bulimia, and bingeing.  All through those battles I would declare in exasperation, “But I’m TRYing!” Just like a dejected fifth grader.

Even with the knowledge that I made lots of mistakes, though, I don’t regret anything I experienced to get where I am today.  I’m just happy I am here now in this moment.  Of course all the good stuff happened when I stopped trying so hard.  And to stop trying so hard, I had to acquire a new mindset.

This mindset is based on the knowledge that I am valuable simply because I exist.  For me, as a Christian, the realization that God endows every human being with the same dignity, gave me the strength to begin to trust myself and understand my worth.  My genetics, my background, my character –none of these affect my value as a person.

From this foundation, I can simply build the life I want to live.  And by ‘simply’, I don’t mean easy, I mean uncomplicated -that I don’t need to force things to happen.  Knowing  I am worthy makes the process of doing the right thing natural.  I become responsible for my actions and add meaning to my life when I learn to respect myself.

This doesn’t mean I am perfect.  It means I am okay with being me and I accept myself. This, in turn, frees up space in my psyche that was previously used for self-bashing.  And with the extra room in my brain, I can concentrate on making the changes necessary to enhance my life.

Can I learn how to feel valuable when I feel like a failure and do the same stupid things over and over again?

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I believe wholeheartedly that we can learn just about anything.  So, yes, knowing your value can be learned.  Let me rephrase that –you can unlearn all the bad stuff that obscures your feelings of worthiness.  Everyone is born with self-esteem and a knowledge of their worth.  When we were babies, we were never too embarrassed to cry when hungry, and we learned to walk without giving a second thought to what our thighs looked like or wondering if anyone was talking about us behind our back.  So, the foundation is already there.  Just be honest with yourself about what it means to be a worthy person.

One thing which can be unlearned is believing what others have said about you or to you.  It’s easy to believe someone when they keep telling you how bad you are.  If you had a troubled childhood, it’s easy to believe that what happened to you defines you as a person.  But you don’t have to believe that these things define you.  You can create your own truth.  And your truth is more real than what anyone says about you or how anyone treated you in the past.

When I went through this process, I had to come to terms that my truth had nothing to do with my looks, talent, or accomplishments.  The world uses these things as indicators of value.  But don’t confuse these with your worth.  Your truth and value stands on its own, regardless of your looks, talent, successes or failures.

And if you think you don’t have any accomplishments or talents or beauty, that will change when you see yourself as a worthy human being.  Once I gained the knowledge of my value, I no longer felt like I didn’t ‘fit in’ and was able to stop trying so hard to do just that.  I made positive changes since there was no reason to keep myself down.  I was no longer second rate and began to accept the weird stuff in my life.  I now know that my dignity, as a human being, is no more or less than any other person on this earth.

This does not mean that everyone is the same.  We are each valuable in unique ways. That’s the beauty of knowing our worth. We can share our uniqueness without worrying about what everyone else thinks.  We can help make our lives, and the lives of others, better.  We can stop trying so hard.

Read more about overcoming binge eating:     Binge Free- The Beginning                                                                                                                   Binge Free- First Steps

“Even if I didn’t believe in God, I would have a good case for the significance of life.  We are all made from the same stuff as the universe. Who am I to think that I am any less than anyone else, or even the universe?” MD

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What Makes You Happy?

A few years ago, while attending a rehab retreat in Iowa, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker Ward Foley, AKA ‘Scarman.’  Foley was born with serious birth defects requiring many years of painful surgeries.  While working in a donut shop as a teenager, he burned both arms, up to the elbows, in a vat of hot grease.  A few years later, he was almost killed by troubled teens he was trying to help.  He’s been in a serious auto accident and his best friend died of cancer.

Despite everything he has been through, the first words of his presentation were, “I am the happiest person I know.”

Those words burnt a hole in my heart.  I couldn’t imagine how anyone who had gone through what he went through could ever say that.  I always thought happiness was situational.  When things were going my way or were better than expected, I was happy. When they didn’t, I complained.  And when I thought things were really bad, I got depressed or anxious.  This seemed normal to me, being at the mercy of my circumstances.

For a few weeks after I heard Foley speak, I tried to figure out what could make him be so happy after living a life so full of pain, humiliation and heartbreak.  And he wasn’t just happy at this stage in his life.  Throughout his talk, I realized he had been optimistic his entire life.  I thought the secret was that he had a close relationship with his mom who showed him love and support while growing up.  I figured since I didn’t have that, I could never be that content with life.  I was adopted as an infant and didn’t bond with my adoptive mom.  I felt like I missed out on this important love and support and used it as my excuse for not being able to sustain my own happiness.

But something kept me searching for that elusive happiness, anyway.  I eventually realized that I didn’t need an excuse to be happy or unhappy.  In other words, I didn’t have to have everything going my way to be content.  I didn’t need to have been born happy. I didn’t need a loving and supportive parent while growing up to make me happy.  In fact, I didn’t need anything in particular, I just had to have the desire to be at peace wherever I was at this point in my life, and I could choose to be happy for no other reason than just because I wanted to be.

hAPPINESS

That fact that happiness doesn’t have to be sought after is not obvious or popular.  For years I thought happy people were either born that way or had a perfect life that made them happy.  And that could be the case, but the reason someone else is happy has no bearing on my life.  It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right where I am now.  It took time and effort to learn, but I am glad I stuck with it.  The secret to happiness is, well, there is no secret.

The erroneous thought that I had to do something to earn my happiness is gone.  I no longer feel like I have to wait for a time when I feel worthy, like when I’m thinner or more accomplished, or when things are just right in my life.  And since I decided to be happy regardless of my circumstances, I have developed a foundation of joy inside.  I no longer feel like I have a hole in my core. (which I used to try to fill up with food) This core of joy is what sustains me when bad things happen around me.  I’m not giddy or bubbling over all the time, and things happen around me that are troublesome.  But I do smile a lot, and regardless of what happens around me, I have an inner peace and an optimism that things will always work out.

To be happy and at peace, you don’t need to be thin or rich or possess any certain characteristics or personal qualities.  You don’t need to have everything just the way you think life should be.  I challenge you to figure out a way to say, “I am the happiest person I know.”  Take the risk and watch your life change.

More info on Ward Foley- Scarman.

The picture inside this article is a work by artist Rodney White called ‘The Hardest of Easy Choices’ .  For information on his art and other works, click here.

Sunset image from pixabay.

brake-clipart-13309573511112670181decorative-lines-2_large-hi“Instead of trying to find the thing that makes you happy, be happy and you will do what you are meant to do.” MD

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