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How to Break Free of Old Habits

As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard.” Perhaps you know you want to parent in a different way. You know, at least in theory, that it’s important to be calm and compassionate. To be present and responsive. Yet in the heat of the moment we find ourselves falling back into old habits. Reactivity, impatience, judgement, worry. If we’re aware, we see that these patterns and habits are not working but it can be challenging to know what to do next or how to change.

Recently I found myself stuck in some bad habits and wondering how I got here yet again. I realized that it wasn’t some sudden event or a single choice that put me there but a long series of small decisions moving me in this direction. Staying up too late, hitting the snooze button, shortening my morning meditation, drinking too much caffeine, feeling restless and unfocused. One thing leading to the next resulting in an overall feeling of just not being my best self. Yet at the same time feeling that I lacked the energy to make the changes that I knew were needed.

Once I realized this though, I saw that I also had the opportunity to start making a series of small decisions to move me in the other direction! I didn’t need to tackle everything at once. I started with the snooze button. I set my alarm and got up when it went off, no exceptions. This felt do-able. Right away this meant I had more time in the morning for my meditation and started the day feeling more focused and centered. Gradually I started to go to bed earlier and wake up feeling less tired and needing less caffeine. Having more energy allowed me to make better decisions throughout the day to support this continued expansion of energy.

"Success is hastened or delayed by one’s habits. It is not your passing inspirations or brilliant ideas so much as your everyday mental habits that control your life." -Paramhansa Yogananda

Parenting, like all of life, is a long series of small decisions. Sometimes an overwhelming number of small decisions all at once! And yes, sometimes there are big decisions too but it’s usually the small ones that we make again and again that support the direction we’re trying to go.

First it's important to get clear and know what direction we want to go, to know what matters to us and what our intentions are, especially as conscious parents. Our intentions are what inform, guide and support all our decisions big and small. Being clear on our intentions also helps us to know when things are going off course.

Then, if you find yourself off center start with some self-compassion. Changing our habits can be challenging, especially those that we have spent a lifetime (or many lifetimes even!) practicing. Remember that you're not alone in this and give yourself credit for recognizing that you want more for yourself and for your family. When you're ready, choose one small thing that can help you move in the direction you want to go. Be specific, be positive and make it actionable. For example, rather than setting the goal of "not yelling," try to focus more on what you do want than on the habit you'd like to get rid of. Instead of setting yourself the vague goal to “be more patient,” decide on a specific way you will practice patience each day. Perhaps taking 3 breaths when you get in the car before you drive off. Maybe taking 5 minutes to center yourself during your lunch break. Or maybe it's as simple as drinking more water or having more snacks handy to help you feel more grounded, making it easier to access patience. Start with something that you feel willing to do to help you get started and build some momentum. Set yourself up for some initial success and remember that good habits, just like bad ones, are built on repetition. Do something twice and you're well on your way! Our choices, our actions, often speak much louder than our words. Children are always watching and looking to us as models. It's not always the big changes or the large gestures that have the deepest impact. It's the small things, done over and over, that define who we are and create lasting change, both for ourselves and for our families. A thunderstorm may wash away the dust but it's the continuous flow of the river over time that can carve through mountains.

If you'd like some support in getting clear on your intentions or how to change old habit patterns sign up for a one-on-one coaching session. You can also join our monthly circle where we take time to reflect and set goals together. Remember, you don't have to do this alone!


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