It was Saturday morning. I wanted to be home in my PJ’s making an amazing breakfast, listening to my favorite music and feeling that energy that only Saturday morning gives. But I wasn’t.
I was sitting in a small room with about 20 other people, all strangers to me, listening to a woman address positive ways to work through grief! I had recently lost my beloved grandson and I knew I needed help. But, Saturday morning!?! I felt more than a little resistant. I found myself saying something to myself that I vowed I would never say: “Maybe I’m too old for this kind of stuff!”
My mind just couldn’t stay focused. I sipped a cup of coffee, looked out the window, noticed the cute shoes of the woman sitting next to me, and only heard every third or fourth word the speaker said…until I heard her say ‘habit stacking’. I liked the sound of it, but didn’t have a clue what it meant.
Suddenly, she had my attention.
“Habit stacking is when you add something new to an old habit”, she continued. “It’s when you want and need to make a change in your life but you know that you just aren’t up for any change because the best thing you have going for your sanity right now is your routine, the familiar everyday things that you do over and over that just keep you going, keep letting you know you are still alive. This is when habit stacking can work for you.”
She then added an illustration about her need to build strength in her legs at her stage in life ( she was somewhat past middle aged) as she had been losing her balance and was afraid of falling. She went on to say that she knew if she tried to join a gym or an exercise class that she would probably only go a week or two then drop out because she hated to exercise, and she hated gyms. She knew that after the newness wore off she wouldn’t make room for it in her schedule. So! Her solution was to add some sort of leg-strengthening exercise onto something she was already doing regularly and decided that her tooth brushing habit was the best opportunity. She had a tooth brushing routine that gave her two minutes of brushing on each quadrant of her mouth twice a day. If she stood on one leg for the first two minutes, then changed legs for the second, went back to the first leg for the third, then the other leg for the fourth, it would add up to eight minutes of strengthening each leg every day. She would add this new necessary habit on to an already established habit and create a much needed change in her life…one minute at a time.
Brilliant idea, I thought, brilliant!
At my age and in my situation of adjustment to retirement (or refinement or to the Gran Finale of life), I didn’t welcome a lot of change. In fact, the routine of daily life, though sometimes boring, gave me a rhythm that felt secure. But I could use a change of mind and perspective, a more positive outlook. I knew I needed to ease my grief and free my body and Spirit from the affects of sadness and be more present in each moment instead of mulling over the ‘if only…’ and wallowing in denial of what had already happened and was unchangeable.
What daily ritual could I use to ground me in the present moment and re establish emotional balance without upsetting my routine too drastically?
One of my most profound habits is the early morning ritual of my one-and-a-half cups of coffee, sitting in my favorite corner with my dog and watching the daylight ease across the sky. What if I added to this habit? Instead of letting my mind wander, which eventually ends up focused on the pain of my loss, I purposely name 3 things I can see around me that bring feelings of gratitude. I begin to make my morning coffee time a time of connection with the tangible, material NOW and cultivate the positive mindset of gratitude at the same time. When I finish, I light a candle for my grandson and wish him peace for the day.
“It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” – Confucius