How do I really take care of myself? Why do I get derailed so easily? Why am I tired? Why can’t I stop [insert unwanted habit here]?
All of us have so many ways of ‘checking out,’ like watching TV, browsing Facebook, arguing with our partners, drinking, smoking, snacking, worrying. Our mind equates some of these habits with with ‘winding down.’ And others have a compulsive pull on us under stress.
But what are we really seeking when we behave in these ways?
Mostly, what is missing is integration. Integration is the feeling of life coming together in a still point, where the mind lets go, the body relaxes, and we feel peaceful with what is. Integration is the “ahhh” moment, when your world feels right and manageable and good. Integration is missing from so many people’s lives.
For me, many habits have come and gone over the years. Snacking was a major one, and my Netflix habit still remains as my go-to after a long day. Oh, and then there’s the wine drinking! Over the years, I have witnessed in myself that these habits are not always negative. They have their time and their place, but what I’ve grown in, and hope to impart to you, is the ability to discern, in the moment, what your system needs, vs. what is a craving arising from your subconscious.
I think that each and every person struggles with vices and negative habits in their life. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a dysfunctional way of escaping or coping. Some will cop to it and some won’t, but undoubtedly, it is there. The reality is that our world is intense and challenging, and beyond just that, we are each in an imperfect learning curve, struggling to find ways to get our needs met, whether we are aware of it or not. And when the real need feels evasive, we tend to reach for something or act out in some way to at least take the edge off.
The trick, though, is in going back to the real need, so that we can learn to take actions that actually satisfy us.
Here are a few of my personal tips for getting to a place of real integration and satisfaction, rather than just partially recharging or worse, getting caught in a cyclical loop of craving, overwhelm, and dissatisfaction.
- Pay attention to your cravings and knee-jerk reactions
Part of the challenge of finding real integration is that most of us don’t really pay attention to our actions when we are in a ‘checked-out’ mode. You can’t change something that you aren’t aware of. So, the first step is self-tracking. Not in a judgmental, “what the F is wrong with you, weirdo,” way, but more in the spirit of a non-judgmental witness. When you do get into a witnessing mode, you’ll notice that there are patterns of thought or outer stimulus that trigger your addictive/repetitive behavior. Those thoughts could be, “I hate this job. I should be doing something else with my life.” Or perhaps something reminds you a painful rejection. The thoughts and triggers underneath our habitual responses are what we need to bring attention to, if we ever want to change our habits.
Getting curious about why we do what we do is a very interesting self-study, and the awareness can lead to actually having options. Without the awareness, we really have no options.
So the next time you crave an escape through food, or television, or sleep, or smoking weed, or spacing out, or talking rapidly to an audience of eyes-glazed-over co-workers who really wish you’d shut up, first pause and ask, “where is this impulse coming from? Am I overwhelmed, running a repetitive mental loop, worried, angry, feeling disconnected from someone I love, can’t figure out how to connect?”
- Know your needs
If you’re caught in a negative habit like over-thinking or insomnia or impulsively calling your ex-girlfriend, there’s a basic need that is not being met in you. That’s the simple bottom line of it. However, it’s hard to get a need met when you don’t know what it is! Luckily, our needs are somewhat basic and universal, and therefore, approachable.
Some of our needs are: love/connection (that’s #1 in my book), inspiration, letting go, rest, support, independence, to name a few. Which need are you not accessing when you reach for your vice or get stuck in your habit? If your life is low on connection or low on inspiration, it is easy to turn towards something to fill that feeling of “something’s missing.” It’s human nature to want to feel satisfied, but the trouble with vices is that they don’t lead to real satisfaction, only temporary breaks from reality.
Other basic human needs are exercise/movement, spiritual connection, structure, and challenge, to name a few more. As I mentioned before, these are universal needs, not just needs for a certain type of person. All of them can be cultivated no matter where you’re starting from. Take a look at which feel unfullfilled in you as a first step in your quest for real integration and real rest.
When I first started doing energy work, I carried around a lot of buildup of other people’s energies. By the end of the week, I felt overwhelmed and irritable, but wouldn’t have been able to say why if you’d asked me. It took me awhile, and some guidance from mentors and friends, to understand that I needed to work on letting go of energies that weren’t good for me, that weren’t mine. I needed to let go, to be free and unhindered. Once I knew that, I was able to start learning skills to work with it. Now I exercise to release the energy, I meditate, take salt baths, and I inventory what is mine and what isn’t. (Usually it works!) My point here is that once you know what you need, you can start working towards fulfillment. If you don’t identify the source of your discomfort, you’re doomed to be stuck with it.
- Cultivate integrative habits
This could be hiking, finding beautiful spots to watch the sunset, cooking, saying mantras, a million different things.
It takes focus and attention to create new habits. Habits drive our actions tremendously! Overriding old habits takes re-paving ingrained brain pathways with better options that lead to fulfillment and self-esteem. So much of becoming a healthy, fulfilled person comes through creating better habits.
When we cultivate a wide range of positive habits on many levels of being: spiritual, emotional, physical, financial, relational; our life starts to take on a feeling of fullness, of rightness. And better yet, once a positive effort becomes ingrained, we start to function effortlessly.
So many clients ask why their healing feels so hard at the beginning; this is because the positive habits that promote healing, like positive self-image, self-love, getting enough rest, eating well, etc, are like foreign concepts at first. Only when the positivity becomes habit do we get to experience joy, rest, and integration.
Creating better habits and feeling more at peace is a long-term process, and one that is always changing. The payoff is that you get to feel the beauty of your life instead of just getting by. Just intending to have deep time with yourself is the first step. It is possible to live a life that feels totally supportive to your authentic self, which is always what you are missing the most when you act out.
PS: What if you’re not sure whether a habit is helpful or harmful for you?
- Does it occupy your mind in an obsessive way?
- Does it create difficulties in your relationships?
- Does it harm your body?
- Does it disturb your peace of mind?
- Does it cause you to live outside of your means?
- Does it put you in situations where you feel you have to lie?
- Does it make it feel hard to get where you want to go in life?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it’s at least worth looking more deeply at your habit/vice.