Begin today with a library of resources to create your courageous life.
1. Understand that probably, you really don’t want to break your “bad” habits. This is an important thing to know if you think you want to break bad habits : probably, on some level, you really want to stay on the couch (exercise? ugh!) and keep drinking (sobriety? ugh!) or that some part of you is still caught up in “negative thinking” or old patterns for an infinite number of reasons.
To break bad habits would require change, and almost no one wants change. So first things first? Understand that to break bad habits you’re going to need to acknowledge that change will be required, and might be difficult.
2. That is, almost no one wants change until the pain gets to be too much—so one way to break bad habits is to honestly assess the present or to forecast the future.
If you honestly assess the present, are you deeply suffering due to the habits that are in place? For example: perhaps you notice that you’ve got a habit of thinking you’re not enough, and it’s the habitual place you return to, every time you are embarking on a new project. You think that you want to change that habit but really (back to point #1) most people also don’t want to change. It’s more comfortable to shy away from taking a risk by telling yourself that you’re “not enough” than it is to do the work to change—that is, unless you really deeply acknowledge how painful it is in the present to miss all those opportunities because you have this bad habit of telling yourself that you’re “not enough.”
You could also go deeply into your future forecast of regret because you tell yourself that you’re “not enough.” The recognition of what is inevitable if you keep the bad habits around can be enough to prompt you to get serious about changing your life.
3. In other words, you can do what I call “telling the truth-truth-truth.” To tell the truth-truth-truth, the very real truth, the down-to-the-core-truth, is always scary and deeply courageous. It is also the doorway to everything that you actually want in your life.
4. Speaking of the things you want in your life? You can also break bad habits by forecasting into the future with all the things that you want, that are light-filled, joy-filled, courage-filled. This is your courageous life , and the great gift is that you’ve been given these lungs that breathe air and that, more often than not, there’s at least some kind of choice available to you. I’d never tell someone who lacks access to basic human rights to just spout some pithy positive affirmations, but I’d definitely tell them not to give up on seeing where choices are available, whenever they are available (and, by the way, I’d ask, “How can I help?”). My point: you probably have lots of choices that you don’t take advantage of. What are those? And how can you break the bad habit of not seeing or acknowledging those choices?
5. Focus less on how to break bad habits , and more on how to create better habits. Imagine, if you will, this metaphor for your life: let’s say that you have an ugly green chair. It’s a million years old, ugly, the cat has peed on it, and you’ve tried to resuscitate it several times but really, the thing is falling apart.
You tell yourself, “I don’t have the time to figure out what to replace it with, right now—I’ll wait, next year will work better.” You tell yourself, “I don’t have the money to replace it, right now.” You tell yourself, “Maybe the chair isn’t so bad; maybe I don’t need to get rid of it, after all.” Maybe you ask ten of your friends what THEY think you should do with the ugly green chair. Meanwhile, that shitty chair keeps sitting in your house.
And then, one day? You finally get so tired of looking at it and smelling it that you decide that it’s time for a change. So, you take it to the upholsterer to get re-done, or you haul it to the curb to go to the dump. Either way, what happens when you walk back into your house is that there is this new space where the ugly green chair used to be. Your brain starts turning with what you want to put there, instead. Also? You need somewhere to sit, so you’d better get to taking action.
There’s an ugly green chair, somewhere in your life. Maybe it’s your habit of making excuses for the soul-sucking job (“It’s not the right year to change careers,” “I don’t have the money to change careers,” “Maybe this job really isn’t so bad…”) or maybe it’s your habit of thinking that you’re not enough when you try to go after your dreams.
The ugly green chair is the bad habit that you want to break, but breaking bad habits means empty space. Spaciousness is great—and—you probably need something to replace it with. So how about a better habit? Creating better habits is more effective. Instead of completely changing careers, try moving to a different company in the same industry while you figure the rest out. Instead of trying to forever banish negative thinking, try to reframe limiting stories that you tell about yourself.
So really, you could sum this up as:
– Be real about the fact that change is difficult (and that’s okay).
– Be real about how the current “bad” habits are not, in fact, okay. Stop settling for the status quo.
– Be real about your desires for something more for your life. Tap into your Most Courageous Self, and dream into that space.
– Focus less on trying to break bad habits and more on trying to create better habits, the habits that make it easier for your most courageous self to emerge.
Let’s be real: people don’t want to create short-term habits. People want to create healthy lifestyle habits that truly encompass their entire lifestyle, their way of being and interacting with the world. I don’t want to eat fresh vegetables for a 30-day vegetable detox; I want to eat fresh vegetables as part of a healthy lifestyle habit that I default to, without having to motivate myself to do it.
That “needing to motivate myself” part? That’s what trips so many of us up when it comes to creating lifestyle habits that we can truly lean into without a ton of effort. When we constantly need to motivate ourselves, we’re going to quickly exhaust ourselves—and that’s why including habit-formation strategies into your desires to create a life where you live each day with courage is essential.
Lifestyle Habits : What Lifestyle?
What lifestyle do you actually want? I refer to the part of you that makes bold moves and lives with courage rather than complacency the “Most Courageous Self.” That Most Courageous Self knows what she wants, what she’d do with her life if she had no self-doubt or hesitation to face.
Some people have a Most Courageous Self that quietly knows it’s time to leave something behind: the job, the marriage, the lifestyle that isn’t really “her.” Others have a Most Courageous Self that wants to look at a personal pattern—a pattern of self-sabotage, of people-pleasing, or of getting overwhelmed and giving up.
So stop and ask yourself: if you wanted to create a better life, what would it look like? What do you want more of, and what do you want less of?
Habits for a Healthy Lifestyle
Of course, when I’m talking about a “healthy lifestyle” in this post, I’m talking about something that goes way beyond exercise or eating vegetables. Of course, those things are part of living a healthy lifestyle, but I want something deeper for you. Something like:
– Trusting yourself to make the right decisions, even when those decisions seem difficult.
– Speaking what’s true for you, rather than people-pleasing or saying “yes” when you don’t really want to.
– Having more fun! Really allowing yourself to have fun with creative expression, being your authentic self with others, or relax and cut loose.
– Going after the big dreams without getting so overwhelmed or stuck in self-doubt that you end up losing momentum or giving up altogether.
Habits always start with a trigger, a cue. They follow with a routine (a response to the cue) that is designed to get to the reward.
What if your self-doubt is just…an old habit? What if the way you talk to yourself, or how you always put other people’s needs in front of yours, is just a fear-based habit that could be changed?
It can be. You can create a new, healthier lifestyle through healthier habits that actually support your mental state.
You can create the habit of thinking, “Even if I don’t know what I’m doing, this dream is worth pursuing.”
You can create a habit of saying to others, “I’m holding off on saying ‘yes’ just now, until I have a chance to pause and really think things through” rather than agreeing just to be agreeable.
A Better Life
When your daily habits are things that nourish you, like making time for having fun and going after the things that matter to you, most, then you stop waiting to feel inspired before you take action. You just take action—courageous action.
In fact, to create a healthy lifestyle–one that truly is a full-on lifestyle and not just an exercise routine–IS courageous. It’s courageous to ask yourself what you want, most (the work of the Most Courageous Self). It’s courageous to start examining the fear-based habits you default to and then decide to start practicing courageous habits, instead.
I don’t discourage other forms of work—I see the work of habit-formation as being done alongside other work. It’s a strategic approach that gives you more clarity for getting unstuck. When you can see the habits that I keep playing out, over and over, that don’t support your life, and replace those habits with courageous habits, then you’ve got a real shot at change that truly lasts.
What we are used to, when it comes to courage, is pushing: pushing to get to the “next level.” Pushing to create your “big thing.” Pushing to grow, to achieve, to be a better version of yourself than the version that you were, last year. Innovate, innovate, innovate—and never be happy with the “status quo.” To simply tread water, to stay in your comfort zone and be where you are without trying to get to a better place, is for suckers (or so they say).
And…reality requires more nuance.
Yes, there are times where we need to push and fight for every step of our growth; growth is uncomfortable and without the push, we’ll live stagnant lives. These are the times when we need confronting with kindness, the person or internal advocate who will say, “Don’t sell yourself short; this is hard but you need to forge ahead, anyway. DO NOT GIVE UP.”
Other times, we need to practice the courage to allow ourselves to simply tread water. Sometimes, it’s fear that’s driving us to hustle more, hustle harder. It becomes a fear-based choice to push-push-push. All that pushing leads to being at war with yourself.
So how do you know the difference between when you need to push and when you need to simply…be?
Primarily, you’ll learn through time and discernment, through accessing the body to observe what you feel, and through attention to the repeated patterns. You start noticing that, say, every time your career really starts getting hot, you get overwhelmed and feel the need to take a long break. Or every time things finally relax in your relationship, you feel a strong urge to pick a fight. Or it might hit you that when you want to leave a situation, you have a tendency to make the circumstances and everyone in them “wrong,” so as to justify your leaving—and that this creates unnecessary drama and heartache.
But speaking as someone who has struggled with practicing the courage to simply tread water and be where I am? The biggest sign that I’m in need of it is the degree to which I’ll resist doing just that.
It’s easy to spot the resistance when it comes up for me: at those times, if I look at my life I will see all the places where I’m hustling and none of the places where I’m willing to practice the principle of “just be where you are .”
Maybe you can relate?
If you examine your own hustle-hustle, you’re likely to find some spot of pain that you’ve been trying to avoid. There’s some pain of not feeling good enough, some place of feeling lost and confused. (Hustle-hustle is a great way to avoid needing to feel those feelings.)
Sometimes, you will need to let it be enough that you are simply living, simply existing. Be where you are . Breathe where you are.
Sure, courage can be found in the hustle and push for something bigger and bolder.
It can also be found in those times when we are simply treading water, trying to be where we are because that is in fact, the boldest move we could make at that moment.
* * *
As I write this, I am thinking of the people I have known: the people who are trying to tread water as they birth new babies, or keep mental illness from taking over their lives, or bury people they love, or survive a divorce, or get sober, or figure out what to do as they’ve lost their financial footing, or make it day-to-day with a special needs child who is the love of your life but also the exhaustion of your life, or process a trauma, or reel from rejection after putting all their efforts behind a big dream.
I am thinking of you, if you are in the midst of that, and how there are messages coming at you—a million miles an hour, it might seem!—to hustle and dream bigger and go-go-go. And meanwhile, you’re feeling like you can just barely manage to take the wheel.
There are two things that are true, at these moments:
One, it is true that you will need to have the hard conversations with yourself, at some point. You will need to dig deep and ask yourself, “What am I going to commit to—what’s it going to take—for me to grow past this?”
And two, that moment might not be right now. If you have needed the permission to just tread water and make it moment-to-moment in the space you are in, I hope you’ll give it to yourself, right here and now.
This, too, is courage.