For years, I felt swallowed up by life. I gained baby weight and hated my body. I sat at home, feeling like I should be grateful for the opportunity to stay with my little ones, but instead, I felt unfulfilled, ungrateful and trapped. I looked around at the other moms who looked like they had it ALL together (i.e., looking cute and NOT wearing yoga pants) and felt like a loser because I was miserable but couldn’t see any way out.
I tried shaming myself out of my funk. You KNOW better, you’re a positive person, Kristen ... pull yourself together! I tried will-powering my way out of my funk. If you just think happy thoughts, you’ll be back to the old you in no time!
Guess what? It didn’t work. Bullying myself into feeling better only made me feel worse. I started believing that I was bad for feeling bad and, well, that just turned into a vicious little cycle.
And then, something clicked. I'd heard it over and over in my life: to make lasting changes, you have to change your habits. To make something a habit, you have to take action and practice the new, desired skill you want to master every day. It had never occurred to me happiness was a skill that could be learned. If I could rewire my brain to eat healthy foods or exercise regularly, I could certainly rewire my brain to choose healthier thoughts, right?
So, I made happiness my job. I started incorporating new behaviors into my daily routine to start rewiring my brain to naturally lean toward happiness, gratitude, passion. And there are a bajillion different things you can do, but there are a few at the foundation that are so simple and incredibly powerful.
1. Set intentions (and reminders).
I set intentions for everything: my days, my workouts, my client sessions, even my naps. Why? Because this puts me back in the driver’s seat of my life instead of being a passenger thrown around in the back seat. I decide at the onset of an activity how I want to feel and why. For example, before writing this piece, I set this intention: I want to feel focused and centered so that I can be productive.
Now, the trick to setting intentions is to check in periodically and ask yourself, Am I feeling the way I intended to feel? If not, what do I need to do differently or let go of in order to realign with my desired feeling? Two bonus tips to consider while you’re incorporating this new habit:
- Write your intention somewhere you'll see it often.
- If you need to, set an alarm on your phone for every 30 to 60 minutes to remind yourself to check back in.
2. Swim in gratitude.
I read somewhere recently that our brains are not naturally wired for gratitude, they’re actually wired for survival. But here in 2014, in most areas of the world, we’re not in any real danger. Thank goodness for neuoroplasticity! We can just do a little rewiring to make different connections.
My go-to trick? Find three new things each day for which you're grateful and write them down somewhere. Bonus tip: If one of your three gratitude items is a person, TELL that person. Post it on Facebook and tag them. It might just set off a gratitude chain reaction.
3. Have a plan.
One of my favorite quotes is “the first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you are not going to stay where you are.” It’s true: the first step is definitely deciding, but it can’t stop there. We need to action. Rewiring our brain takes daily practice. So maybe you know that how your life looks like right now just isn’t enough. You KNOW you're meant for bigger and better. You KNOW your purpose in this world is for something important and meaningful. But do you know what that looks like? Spend some time brainstorming vision and then exploring how you can get there.
4. Get inspired.
What gets the good feelings a-flowing? Is there a song that moves you to tears because it’s message makes you feel so empowered? Start your day listening to that. You know that TedTalk that inspires you to do something meaningful? Watch that. Dance. Paint. Get outside into nature. Run. Whatever it is that you do that makes you feel energized, hopeful, amazing, stimulated ... incorporate a ton of that into your every day routine.
5. Find a happiness accountability partner.
I guarantee you there is no shortage of people in the world who desire something better, something bigger, something happier. Find a person in your real life (or online) and start this journey together. Commit to cheering for each other and supporting one another when you stumble. We're so much more likely to stick to our new habits when we know someone is watching. Use that little nugget to your advantage.
So, yes, today I am a girl with a brain wired for calm, happiness and love but it’s because I trained it to be that way. It doesn’t take long to create new habits ... 21 days according to most research. Don’t be fooled by my smile and bubbly disposition ... it takes serious work to be this freaking free.
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