It is now mid-February. Did you set intentions or resolutions for the new year? How is it going?
I ask, because I've been reflecting on how to track and be accountable for changing my habits. I have upgraded how I've been doing that this year, and it has been working really well so I thought I'd give you a glimpse into my process. If changing your ways or living up to your intentions in this new year hasn't been going that well for you, or if you haven't even thought about monitoring it, you may want to continue reading. This process I'm about to share I learned from Sri Patanjali (the sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras) and Seinfeld (as in Jerry- the comedian). What do these two distinct legends have in common? They share a belief in a certain psychology of self-motivation which can be used for anything you want to do more of in your life. Whether it is more yoga or writing jokes.
Let's start with Patanjali:
We learned this sutra the first day in yoga teacher training. A firmly grounded yoga practice is one that is practiced every day. Without hesitation, without grudges, without reluctance, resistance, or fear. Now keep in mind, there are 8 limbs of yoga. This doesn't mean, it has to be physically demanding everyday. Meditation will do. What Patanjali is telling us, or offering us, is a simple formula to experience the peace and joy of higher spiritual states. He believes that if we don't enjoy our practice, if we have to intimidate ourselves to practice, or practice irregularly we will soon have a less focused practice or no practice at all. The power of habit, is that it is like brushing your teeth. You just do it. Without even thinking about it. In fact, it feels weird if you don't. So, if you are looking to bring a new, healthy habit into your life- yoga or not, do it everyday, with enthusiasm. How long is a long time? Until it's ingrained. Possibly, if it's good for you, for the rest of your life.
There is a famous story of how aspiring comedian Brad Isaac asks Jerry for advice on writing jokes. Seinfeld tells him that the key to writing better jokes is to write everyday. He says he has a calendar and marks a red X on each day that he writes. Eventually, you will have a chain of X's. After a few weeks, you'll like seeing the chain. You'll like seeing the progress.
I admire the work ethic Jerry has. Even to this day, after his multiple successes, he still works at his craft. It's easy to see that what both Seinfeld and Patanjali are getting at is that your practice must be done everyday. To do it everyday, you must enjoy it. To reap the benefits (and I can't promise Seinfeld level of success here) your practice must be firmly grounded. In fact, neither Seinfeld nor Patanjali promise success. This is less about the results and more about the process. That in itself is self-motivating. If you base this on a certain level of achievement, you may be discouraged if you don't get it and then break the chain. However, if you just practice without attachment, you may be surprised by the results. For instance, if I only practice yoga with the goal of reaching handstand, I may be discouraged on the days I don't go up. I may then give up. If I practice doing a handstand everyday, because I enjoy inversions and the steps involved, I will be fine knowing that some days I can go up and others I can't. I will keep trying. I will have enthusiasm.
Set a daily program. Be practical. Choose wisely here. Choose something that is feasible for you to do daily that you wish to become a habit. It is not feasible for me to go to the yoga studio every day to do my practice. I don't live close to the studio, so I know there will be days I won't be near that neighborhood. Choosing yoga studio class everyday is not something I would select. I would end up beating myself up for not wanting to commute. I needed to find something else. For me, I am choosing a 3 pronged goal. One of 3 categories must be done to create my chain. The 3 categories are part of a SELF-LOVE package. They are SPIRIT, CREATE, & FUN. Let me explain. Spirit is my yoga practice- that includes all of the 8 limbs. It can be meditation, breathwork, asana practice, restorative, and self-study. Even a nature walk! Something, that aligns me with my spirit. As an extension of that, it is important for me to create. My sewing and knitting etc. are a form of meditation for me. So, if I skip a yoga class or a workshop I wanted to go to because I'd rather stay home and knit, I'm still refilling my well. I then added in fun, because I have work-a-holic tendencies and I want to squash that bad habit. Think about what will work for you based in reality. Estimate time involved. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Start a diary. Make a daily chart. You can use Seinfeld's Xs or just write down what you did each day. If you are looking to create healthier eating habits, write down what you ate. This is an important step because we will need it to track our progress. A tracker to create that chain. We will also be able to see where we can do a bit more on a given day, week, or month. You can see in my example below; I created my 3 categories for the week on the left column. Each day, I write what I did for any given category. I can then assess how I may make the next week better. I might want to add in breathwork that I didn't do that week, and/or call on more friends. I also feel pretty happy that I did make it my yoga studio for four classes and did more than one category on a given day. But the overall feeling is that of not neglecting myself. I'm developing habits that feel weird if I don't do them. That morning japa mala meditation is a lot easier now than when I first started! I don't begrudge going to yoga class because I took off the pressure of commuting to the studio everyday. And I'm not neglecting my creative side for my physical side. I feel whole, which is how I wanted to feel. How do you want to feel?
Enjoy the process and don't obsess with your progress. Review and revise as you go but be loving. I may start to write in how much time was spent on each, or how I felt by doing each etc. Make it work for you so it is achievable. Good luck and feel free to share in the comments below or over on my FB Page how it is working for you!
Be sure to download my FREE meditations to add to and aid your daily practice! Namaste.