Rules to Make Life Awkward (but better)

I found myself recently thinking of my Oma (German Grandma); a fearsome, resilient and determined woman who had lived through war, personal tragedies and loss the like of which I can barely comprehend. She was health-obsessed and incredibly self-disciplined – 2 hours yoga daily; muesli, honey and yogurt for breakfast daily; and a moisturising routine that would put Madonna to shame. In fact, there was only one chink in her armor: like many people back then, she smoked.

And yet, after 40 years of smoking, she quit. And she didn’t go back. I asked her once how she managed it, fascinated by this apparently vulnerability in this defiantly strong woman. She told me, she’d set rules. Firstly, she was no longer allowed to smoke near food. This meant that her habit of enjoying a cigarette with a coffee came to an abrupt end. Then, it became a rule of not being able to smoke inside the house. This meant that when she wanted to smoke, she had to go out to the back door and stand outside. Then, it became a rule of having to stand fully outside, near the garage, which she did – in wind, rain and minus temperatures. Being proud as she was, it wasn’t long before she began to think, “What the hell am I doing?” and this was enough to just stop altogether.

Essentially, she made her habit gradually more and more inconvenient, until it just wasn’t worth it anymore. 

If you saw my last post, you’ll know that I’m currently working on re-wiring my unhelpful Jiu Jitsu habit of fighting from my back, primarily by enforcing the rule that I’m no longer allowed to fight from this position. If I’m put in this position through the skill and technique of my partner, then the rule is that I have to get up as quickly as possible. I’m trying to change my unhelpful habits and behaviour, by adding rules that make it less convenient to do so. 

And I’m thinking now, about other rules that I can use to make other bad habits and routines less convenient and more uncomfortable….

For instance, my morning routine has been less-than inspiring of late. As my gym buddy has been M.I.A and apparently taken my motivation with her, my mornings have consisted of sitting down in the living room, with multiple screens and distractions for company; a routine which breeds negative thoughts, self-loathing and lack of focus.

So I’m thinking I’ll throw in a new rule – I’m not allowed to sit in the living room on a morning. As this is where the TV is, I know that I’m much less likely to watch the telly if I’m not in there. When I sit in the kitchen on a morning, it’s usually for a quick meditation – so sitting here at least has some good connotations which will lead hopefully to better behaviour, and certainly better posture. Obviously, if I’m determined enough I’ll be able to distract myself with phones and laptops in others rooms throughout the house – but it won’t be quite as effortless as it was previously.

When we try to tackle and change habits directly, making some grand, dramatic gesture like, “I’m never eating donuts again!” it rarely works. At least it hasn’t for me. Because the part of me that loves eating donuts (and has eaten many) is of course going to kick off! Setting smaller rules though, whereby the inner-donut-lover feels like there’s at least some form of compromise, is much more likely to bring solid results.

At least that’s the plan. Or rules, even.



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