December in January: Adding good habits

guy brushing teeth

Just before the end of the past year, I decided to forgo my usual habit of cramming my annual planning into the most riotously busy time of the year. Hence, “December in January,” where I spend the first month of the chronological new year planning my own, to begin in February.

My Nei Kung instructor and I have been talking a lot about the process of change, one of my favorite topics.

And to be clear, when I say "favorite," I mean something I spend a great deal of time thinking about, not necessarily something that I enjoy engaging in. I hear the change junkies talk about how all-fire fantastic it is, and remain skeptical, unless by "fantastic," they mean "other worldly and outsize," in which case I'm in 100% agreement.


I was late to the idea that the most efficient way of eliminating a bad habit is by replacing it with a good one, or at the very least tying it to a positive, values-based motivator. Why? I'm an idiot! Okay, I'm not an idiot, or at least, not completely. But my tendency toward impatience made me move sometimes rather more quickly than I might have prudently, and to act like an idiot. That test in the eighth grade that's 479 questions long, and whose first command, read all the way through to the end of the test before starting to answer the individual questions, is critical to the successful completion of the test? I failed that test. Leap first, look later. I'm the world's best im-patient.

Reading and working through Your Best Year Yet several years ago helped start the shift. It's so dense and chewy, you can't skip steps, so I didn't. It took me a full week-ish to slog through it, but by the end, I had a much better handle on myself, and my first taste of what life felt like when you took time to actually look at it.*

Working through the Great Hypnotherapy Project with my friend, Greg, gave me my next taste of swapping out bad for good as methodology rather than just brutalizing the bad out of yourself. The type of hypno that Greg practices involves coming up with lots of positive replacements for the habit you want to let go; before we did the session to help get me back on my Crohn's diet, we spent a long time going over the requirements of the diet, what was allowed and of that, what I liked best, and where I was getting stuck. While I was listening to the tape regularly, I felt almost no cravings for the stuff that was disallowed.

Jim, my Nei Kung instructor, who is also a licensed therapeutic hypnotherapist, confirmed that the replacement of "bad" with "good" is a straighter route than just dumping the bad. Trying to stop something is much, much harder than replacing it with something else. I think it has something to do with, to paraphrase Marshall Rosenberg in his a-ma-zing book, Nonviolent Communication**, us bucking at having choices removed, even when it's in our best interest and it's us doing the removing.

So I'm looking at framing all of my goals as additive (per Greg and Jim), as well as awesome (per Naomi, who oughta know because boy, is she ever!) Full and final list (fingers and toes crossed) next week, in time for Groundhog's Day, but here's what we've got so far:

  • Read 52 books. No-brainer additive thing. If you were watching a lot of TV and wanted to stop (as I did, a few years ago), you might want to look at this as an additive replacement. I hope to read many more than 52 books, but this is a start.
  • Practice Nei Kung 30 minutes daily. Additive thing to replace "stop being someone who is a brain without a body." Kidding, but not far off. Nei Kung is gentle but fairly easy for me to do, as I apparently am both built and wired for it. FINALLY. Because that running thing totally didn't work out, plus who knows when I'll have good enough health insurance again to replace my knees.
  • Feng shui my place. Additive thing to replace "declutter," which I love and has helped me, but which is starting to feel a little brutal, especially as we get down to the bone. Okay, closer to it. OKAY, through the first layer of the epidermis. It's a teensy cheat, since part of feng shui-ing means removing clutter, but it's way more fun to make it a game with all the doodads of feng shui. Plus, you know, built-in feature for the blog!
  • Eat SCD-compliant six days per week. Additive thing to replace "Get off Crohn's meds," plus my way of easing myself into something good for me by leaving myself some wiggle room. I don't get to go off the meds until I've been back on SCD sans flares for a minimum of one year, possibly two. But I'm not going to worry about that now.

I have a few other ideas I'm still working on, some of which will probably remain private, but others that I may be able to share once I survey the full schmear. "Music" is still floating around, and I'd like to do something that has me caring for my friendships a little more consistently than I have in the past. Never know when you'll need those darned things.

I'm still looking for additive ways to switch up some of my more destructive habits, especially procrastination and web surfery. I have a feeling that the way-in is connecting more deeply to the things I do want to do, which is going to mean yet more of this messy and painful opening-up-and-letting-go stuff.

I am, however, very open to suggestions right now...


*Other than the five months I spent recovering from my Crohn's onset, but that was less a choice than something thrust upon me.

**In a year of outstanding books, this is the current front-runner. I cannot thank Havi Brooks enough for tipping me over into finally reading it. (THANK YOU, HAVI.) Look for a review soon, but feel free to buy it immediately. If you have to talk to anyone, yourself included, it will make the experience better and might just save your bacon. Oh, and I've already read/loved the How to Talk So Kids Will Listen book (thank you, my shrink), so I'm guessing that third one on the page is killer, too.

Image by skippyjon via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.