Meet Your Needs to Break Bad Habits: A Seven-Step Action Plan from Distraction to Fulfillment

The empty space inside you that gapes open and is not being filled. The passionate fire that pulls you towards something. The tense wrong feeling in your belly or shoulders that says it’s too much even as you keep doing it.

It can be painful to listen to messages from body, mind and heart. It can be painful to feel the depth of our own needs. Sometimes I feel resentful of the fact that I have needs of my own, when I have so many other things to do every day. I catch myself thinking that I should just go on functioning with only minimal self-care, and I resent the time and energy I must commit to keep myself thriving instead of minimally functional.

What need awaits you beneath your desire for distraction?

My modification of a photo by David M. Goehring, Creative Commons License.

But being a good parent doesn’t mean you must settle for a self that is minimally functional. And being a great parent calls on each of us to look deeply into our own needs and nurture ourselves as well as our children. That is hard, and painful, and it comes on top of everything else we are doing already. Sometimes identifiying and filling our own personal needs feels like a project so overwhelming and demanding that it’s a lot easier to just…

  • Check Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever online social hub you frequent
  • Spend an extra hour on your work computer
  • Browse online shopping sites
  • Engage in other distracting, numbing activities, online or offline

Making the choice to spend too much time tuning your needs out this way, though, steals time and energy that you could otherwise be using to actually make yourself feel better in ways that are deeper and more sustainable.

How do you escape the  trap? How do you shift to a life in which you actually meet needs instead of deadening yourself to them?

Distraction to Fulfillment: An Action Plan in Seven Steps

1. Ask yourself. List your top three unmet needs, just off the top of your head… things that you are getting too much of or not enough of. List the top three ways you distract yourself from these needs when they are triggered at a moment when your resources feel tapped out.

2. Notice. As you go through your day, be curious. Ask yourself what you are feeling and why. Notice when you start to squelch something and explore what it’s like to sit with discomfort instead. What is the discomfort telling you?

3. Plan long-term. Sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm the ideal way to meet your most critical unmet needs. Try not to worry about being realistic at first; think big and bold and free. Once you have some initial ideas down, dip your toes in the water by committing to a single chunk of time per week or month to making progress on getting what you need.

5. Exercise patience. You won’t solve most of these challenges quickly or easily, but that is okay. You’ll find that even a small dose of progress towards taking better will make you much more inclined to stay present and use your time well the rest of the time. And occasionally, you will find that meeting a need actually takes less time than you thought.

4. Set yourself up for success. Think about some specific, more fulfilling activities you can do for yourself, instead of numbing and distracting choices. Make these activities easy by making sure you have any supplies, set-up or other preliminaries complete ahead of time as much as possible. Make the numbing, distracting activities harder – for online activitiy, you might set up site-blocking programs, keep your browser window closed when working in other programs, move tempting app icons such as your browser to less accessible parts of your smart phone, keep your laptop out of the living room and bedroom, and so on.

The goal is… less time numbing out, more time tuning in by raising the bar just a bit on those activities that don’t actually serve you, and lowering the bar for the activities you’ve decided will help you most.

5. Be gentle with yourself. Some distraction is healthy and okay. Only you can decide how much that is. And sometimes you’ll resolve to change, only to mess up. More than once. Notice it, forgive yourself, try again.

6. Experiment and re-evaluate. Consider both the long-term planning and the short-term ideas you come up with to be ongoing experiments. Some will work and some will not. Put a date on your calendar to assess how you feel about the new choices you’ve made, what’s working and what’s not, and what you might like to try doing differently. Habit change is a process, not a one-time choice.

Want help creating a more detailed, personalized action plan to start truly fulfilling your own needs while still being an awesome parent and ditching some bad habits? Sign up for a free 30-minute mini-session over the phone.

This is part three of a series about overcoming online temptations. Read part one and part two if you missed them.

What need are you working to better fulfill right now?

Share This:

The Architecture of Unhealthy Online Time: Needs, Reserves and Triggers

Excessive online time impacts my productivity and happiness the most when I have:

  • an unmet need,
  • lowered energy reserves, and
  • something triggers me.

Photo by Victor1558, Creative Commons License.

Unmet needs can be something I actually crave, or it can simply be a strong feeling that I am not truly acknowledging or responding to. Lowered energy reserves can be physical, emotional, or intellectual – anything that lowers your energy also lowers your will power, which is a finite resource. And triggers, well, they can be anything. The last straw. One task that makes another task very easy to do without thinking about it.

Here’s a moment where this happened to me:

  1. I feel lonely because I haven’t made time for socializing lately (unmet need).
  2. I feel tired because I went to sleep a little late trying to finish something and then got woken up twice in the night by my child’s bad dreams (lowered energy reserves)
  3. I use my smart phone to check what time the zoo opens this morning (trigger) and start triaging my work email without quite consciously choosing to… and spend half an hour at it during my child’s nap even though I’d intended to do something else.

Or this one:

  1. I feel anxious, worrying over a highly emotional issue (unmet need/unresolved feeling).
  2. I feel emotionally wrung out by a seemingly unending series of two-year-old meltdowns. (lowered energy reserves… possibly my kid’s lowered energy reserves powered his unusual number of meltdowns, too!)
  3. I get stuck organizing the outline for my e-course and click the Facebook tab accidentlly left open on my browser (trigger)… and stay there instead of writing for longer than I’d care to admit.

We’ll always have unmet needs, times of low energy, and things that trigger us towards poor choices. For parents, this situation can come up easily because we often have been putting off our needs with stop-gap solutions for a long time. We also run into a lot of situations where we delay taking care of our needs out of necessity. Many of us are unorganized, holding a lot of half-finished tasks and projects in our heads which affects our attention span. We get interrupted a lot. And kids can be experts at lowering our energy reserves and triggering us.

Once we get into this kind of situation, the most compelling solution to our discomfort is one that is low-effort, low-cost and highly available. Online time as a distraction thus understandably has a lot of allure. Other habits can fill very similar roles.

This post is part two of a series. Read my introduction to overcoming online temptation here. Part three of this series will be out next week, and starts digging into how we can better meet those unmet needs, even when we are tired out and triggered. Want to make sure you don’t miss it? Sign up to receive all my blog posts via email or in your RSS feed.

What deeper needs do you sometimes fill with a quick distraction fix like excessive time online… instead of finding a way to truly take care of yourself?

Share This:

Overcoming Online Temptations

Do you ever feel like your will power is on vacation when it comes to grabbing your phone to check Facebook or your work email again for just a few minutes? Turns out that Twitter, email and other online activities might be harder to resist than other cravings, including sex and cigarettes, according to a study earlier this year.

Photo by BuzzFarmers, Creative Commons license.

Photo by BuzzFarmers, Creative Commons license.

Study author Wilhelm Hofman theorized in an interview with the Guardian that:

“Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist.”

Social media and email are such a powerful way to connect with other people, but it so easily gets out of hand and becomes a source of disconnection, avoidance and wasted time. Resisting the strong inner compulsion to frequently check these sites is an issue many of my productivity coaching clients have struggled with.

My personal theory about social media use and online time is that a little can be fun and positive, but if you worry that you are online too much it’s probably true. Smart phones are especially dangerous to our will power in this area. It’s so easy to whip out our phone wherever we are and immerse ourselves in its screen.  Turning to social media can quickly become a mindless habit rather than a mindful choice of where our time and attention are going. The costs of these constant small choices can and do add up to impact our other priorities and our quality of life.

If you’d like to dial back on online time in 2013, you need to:

  • Identify the needs social media meets for you,
  • Notice the triggers that prompt you to turn to social media when it’s not a choice you feel good about,
  • Find some other activities you can substitute that will fill those needs more effectively, and
  • Create routines and boundaries around work email use (if that’s part of your challenge).

Read on for part two of my social media series, in which I’ll talk about the unmet needs busy parents have that we cover up with social media and email checking… and the allure of distraction versus seeking fulfillment. In the meantime…

How would you describe your relationship with social media and other online activities… healthy, obsessive or a bit of both?

If you liked this article… please share it! You know, via one of those awesomely addictive social media sites…

Share This:

Dancing Forward

This week, I was good to myself by going to a yoga class…. the second time I’ve gone to this particular class, returning after trying it out last week. I can’t remember the last time I went to a class like this.

I am pretty sure that it was before LittleA was born. I want to add some kind of creative class around music, drumming or dancing, but nothing I’ve looked at has quite felt right. In November, a singing class that sounds inspiring will start up again. I might give it a try.

I was not good to myself in terms of stretching my body between last Thursday and this Thursday. I need to commit to something so easy I have no excuse not to do it. Even 5 minutes per day sounds like too much to promise. I don’t like to admit that, but it’s true.

I seriously might make a commitment to do one world music song’s worth per day and do it right after LittleA goes to bed. I had grand ideas about dancing with him. He likes to dance, but every time I try he starts pulling on my skirt or pants and whining, even when I try to engage his interest in dancing too. I think he doesn’t like it because my head is too far above his. Dancing with a twenty-five-pound weight on me is too hard on my back right now, and dancing while kneeling or sitting down doesn’t do much for me.

So I guess I’m back to finding time for this when he is not around. I have to start really small when I experience this much resistance to changing my habits.

Even though LittleA is now in daycare four afternoons per week as of a few weeks ago, I still have little time to spare, like all the other parents I know. Most of that daycare time is purposed in very specific ways for the household or my coaching business. I love having more time for focused work of all kinds, and I love all the special time I still share with Little A in the mornings and full days we are together. I’m nearly as busy, but I’m doing different things. Despite how much I’m doing, I feel an amazing sense of spaciousness around time that I haven’t felt for… well, about sixteen months.

What do you do to nurture yourself?

Share This:

On Exercise (Why I Avoid the E-Word)

As a mom, I find getting exercise to be really, really hard. I have three strikes against me: one is of course the intense time committment of taking care of my toddler. The second is the time commitment of my work. The biggest is the fact that I actually hate most forms of exercise.

As a child I often preferred curling up with a book to running around. Eventually as an adult I discovered that while I still hated anything I thought of as “exercise” I still loved some activities that included vigorous movement, like dance. And I felt better when I did them.

Back in 2004, I wrote this: “Dance is a way of connecting my body with my heart and mind and soul, a way of catching glimmer after glimmer of ecstasy and bringing that intensity and shimmer into the parts of my life that often feel mundane. When I dance a lot, an ordinary moment of walking across a room can suddenly feel like dance too, the fall of my feet and the shift of my hips becoming a melody, a poem, a moment of perfect connection in the now.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Hard to believe how much I’ve been avoiding it! I had some good reasons to be less active at first. Halfway through my pregnancy I ended up needing to restrict myself to gentle water aerobics and walking. Just as I was recovering from the birth itself, I fractured a bone in my foot and had to spend months staying off it as much as I could. When I did move around, I had to use a walking boot that threw off my alignment and messed up my lower back. All the extreme sleep deprivation of this past year didn’t help, either.

By the time I was body-whole again, I was more than a bit out of shape, and what’s far worse for me, out of the habit of moving. I am definitely in touch with my body – childbirth, nursing, and roughhousing and cuddling a toddler will do that for you – but my body has a lot of inertia and weird aches and pains.

I’m doing better now as LittleA gets more active himself and is finally sleeping. I do tons of walking and toddler-chasing. But I know I need both more stretching and more cardiovascular, well, exercise. Yet I’ve been finding it hard to dance. LittleA and I bop around the room a bit, but that’s about it most days.

I say I don’t have time, but if one of my time management coaching clients said that I would totally call them on it. The real question is what’s in the way of making it a priority? What’s really true is that it takes a lot of energy to push through the dense inertia I’ve developed. Pushing through the inertia is an unpleasant feeling that I want to avoid.

While I have every capability of dancing at home either with LittleA’s company or on my own while he’s asleep or being watched by his dad, I don’t much. When I do, I play music and move a bit and just feel… heavy-limbed. Awkward. Clumsy. Lethargic.

I notice the still-present baby weight, and feel self-conscious about the current shape of my stomach. I notice the back and shoulder strain from bad baby-wrangling ergonomics. My body is different, and my heart isn’t aligning with my actual body quite right. I try to gently push through the feeling by dancing anyway, but it doesn’t go away. I am hesitant to push too hard. I don’t want to make dance feel like work the way I’ve always felt about other things I’ve labeled exercise. I guess showing up and noticing resistance are good first steps.

I took a Nia class on Saturday morning. I enjoyed it a lot, but I think my back wasn’t up to such an abrupt upswing in activity. Ultimately I need to regularly dance in a group environment again to feel motivated, but I think that first I need to do some gentle yoga or something. Now that we are all getting more sleep, I will try again to take a weekend class when my husband’s not at work, or I can look again at childcare possibilities at some of the gyms with dance classes.

Whatever it takes, it’s time to make it happen. I hesitate to label some of the previous obstacles as excuses exactly, since I couldn’t help the physical challenges or the extreme sleep deprivation, but at this point, it’s time to forge through anything else that comes up and make healthful movement a priority. (Note, I’m still trying to avoid the e-word. My subconscious is so much happier calling it anything else.)

Here’s what some of my friends and readers suggested to fellow parents with small children who want to spend more time moving:

  • Get a bike-pulling kid carrier or other solution for toting your child along on bike rides.
  • Go stroller-jogging.
  • Get a good carrier and go on family hikes.
  • Use your kid as a free-weight and develop an individualized strength-building routine.
  • Join a sports team or get a workout partner – have someone to hold you accountable for exercising.
  • Wear your baby.
  • Utilize childcare at gyms.
  • Check out mom and me classes .

How do you stay moving as a busy parent?

Share This:

Noticing Gratitude

Back when I spent more time on LiveJournal, many people I connected with there would post a “Thankful Thursday” list weekly mentioning some things they are thankful for. I’m going to take a moment to write about a few things I’m thankful for in this space, because gratitude and happiness are so closely linked. And the happiness I get from taking moments for gratitude is one of the things keeping me sane right now.

One small thing that I took a moment to be grateful for today: the wild profusion of cherry and plum blossoms covering so many of the trees I saw today. Every day when we go for a walk, I try to notice and fully appreciate something that I see. Spring makes it easy, but even winter has its quiet beauty.

One big thing that I took a moment to be grateful for today: my amazing husband. All that we share. All that he gives and contributes. All that he is, heart and soul. His presence in my life, and in the life we are making with BabyA. I am so lucky, and truly grateful.

What are you grateful for today? Do you find that reflecting on gratitude makes you happier?

Image above by Kate Ausborn, used under a Creative Commons License.

Share This: