Intention Not Habit

Human beings are conditioned, moulded to our own particular design keeping us trapped in repetitive behaviours. It’s easier to live by habit than intention, but when you do, you are ensuring that your life remains the same – fine if it’s all positive, but not so good if you’re unhappy.

I read this quote on Twitter a couple of days ago: “Live less out of habit and more out of focused intention” – Herman Siu. And it struck me that this is really so important, it amounts to an acutely mindful approach to living and when adhered to, this mantra allows us to continually grow and develop.

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Drinking too much and suffering all of the associated self-loathing and regrets was only one element of my life that was an outcome of habit as opposed to intention. My intentions were always, don’t drink too much; drink water in between alcoholic drinks; leave whatever social event you are at early; don’t text old boyfriends late at night when you are feeling maudlin and pissed…and so on. But I operated out of habit and so perpetually broke all of my own rules.

I occasionally catch myself now leaning towards old habits. Not booze-related but behaviours that I don’t like and no longer wish to demonstrate. They’re like kneejerk reactions to situations; I slide into them before I even know where I’m headed. Sometimes I don’t think things through fully before I act, I have this impetuous nature that I consistently need to reign in. I have a tendency to the negative, which I hate. I have to really talk to myself quite sternly and switch things around so I expect good things to happen instead of the worst-case scenario (I think this is a hangover from my drinking days when bad things did happen all the time because I was always doing stupid things drunk). I can be slightly anti-social and talk myself into spending too much time alone, which never has a good effect on me but somehow I convince myself it’s OK.

To do the opposite of all of these things requires Herculean strength on some days – massive mind-over-matter brain games, strict talking-tos inside my head, unnatural actions that are completely opposed to my automated responses. It all feels very weird and difficult. But, when you act out of intention rather than habit, you can chip away at ingrained behaviours and start to carve out new ones. And that’s how your life changes – wholesale.

Sometimes It’s The Little Things…

After an extraordinarily stressful couple of days, I just went for a run. I passed a bench, erected by someone in remembrance of a loved one. The wording on the bench said the person’s name, and the years of their life (just 54 years) and then, “Stop. Feel the sun”.

I stopped, I felt what it is to be alive. I stared at the inscription. I breathed. I ran.

About a mile further on in the woods, I took a break from running to wait for my dog who had paused to sniff around in the bushes. After a while, she looked up and noticed how far ahead I was, and set off at a fair old pace to catch me up. The air was cold, my breath hung in it briefly when I exhaled. I bent over, putting my hands on my knees and waiting for my dog to catch me up, her tail wagging, tongue hanging out of her mouth.

And it was the most alive I’ve felt in a long time.

Sometimes it’s the little things…

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What Lies Beyond?

What lies beyond that obstacle, the one that prevents us from making real and lasting changes? The obstacle that takes residence in our hearts and in the pit of our stomachs, the one that governs our actions and holds us back in a place that, while familiar, is not necessarily where we want to be. The fear that stops us growing and moving forward in our lives can be almost tangible; I am aware of it festering in my whole being at times, and it can be an almighty challenge to ignore it, refuse to bow down to its demands and ultimately, to overcome it.

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I’ve been frightened of so many things throughout my life but my biggest fears have arisen when I’ve been contemplating quitting bad habits – alcohol and certain boyfriends, primarily. I have often been virtually paralysed by the dread of what lies beyond that which I know, the thing that may have been causing me so much pain, but the thing that I am familiar with. Better the devil you know. The comfort of not changing can be so enticing that we are frequently rendered incapable of taking a leap into the unknown and embarking upon a new way.

This is how I look at things now, largely aided by my successful mission in stopping drinking (I always say to myself, if you could do that, you can do anything!). I ask myself first, what will happen if you do not see this person/eat that bar of chocolate/any other behaviour that I am trying to not engage in? Will the world end? Will I crumble? Will anything around me change in any way at all? Will I be in danger? Will my children be badly affected? Will there be any catastrophic consequences as a result of me not doing this thing? The answer to all of these questions is, obviously, No. Nothing will happen. I will sit with an uncomfortable feeling for a few minutes, yes, but that’s it. The sky will not cave in. I will not spontaneously combust.

These emotions, the slightly edgy, raw feelings that come from just sitting with a craving, will reoccur, several times, maybe for a few months, intermittently springing up out of nowhere and making us feel unpleasant for a matter of minutes. But that’s it. That’s all that will happen.

In the midst of those unpleasant feelings, I now try to find the space to sit down in a quiet room, breathe deeply, focus on whatever the behaviour is that I am trying to stop, and to bring back a sense of calm and order to my headspace. Or I go for a run in the woods and listen to music. I have learnt not to allow the spiral of discontent and negativity to erupt within me and send me into a whirlwind of bad thinking. It never helps. It never did.

BiTN Meditation

Eventually, with a little bit of patience and time, bad habits and unhealthy behaviours can be relinquished to the past. Without hardly realising it, you can find yourself in the place that you were so frightened of initially, the place where the unhealthy relationship, the drinking, the overeating, no longer lives. And when you get there, you’ll wonder why on earth you were so terrified of making the shift.

Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon, you were so right. We human beings have a tendency to spend almost an entire lifetime with one foot in the past and the other in the future, and in doing so, the present moment continually whizzes by so quickly that it’s barely registered. Like a speeded up video of a motorway, where the taillights are streaming: long, meandering streaks of red. We never see the present until it becomes a memory, part of our past to be dissected and reflected upon. Sometimes regretted, other times remembered fondly, a mental image wrapped in the soft glow of rose-tinted nostalgia.

My eldest daughter and I arrived home a short time ago and, in my usual breakneck style, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner from the cellar head and motored it around the kitchen and living room with the dog chasing me, barking and attacking the machine. My daughter screamed and laughed, jumping onto the settee with her legs pulled up out of the way. I laughed, it was funny, this hectic domestic scene that is just how we live. Mad dogs and frantic cleaning carried out in and amongst the mountain of other daily tasks I try my best to plough through.

My daughter will be leaving home in a few short years. At sixteen and a half, I am eminently aware of the fact that she will soon be flying the nest, and these times – the silly times, with the barking dog and the vacuum cleaner that nearly clips her painted toenails as she leaps out of its path – they won’t last forever. It’s these times that are our lives; these are the bits that matter.

In the old days, with a bottle of wine inside me, I would drift off into a fantasy world, not present, no longer in the here and now. The morning after I would be consumed with that bad head and dry mouth and dragging sense of lethargy, and I would barely speak. I was unable to fully notice my life, or my daughter’s. Sinking in the quicksand of alcohol and an insidious dependency on it, it didn’t occur to me that I never, ever spent a moment in my present: perpetually fearful, anxious or regretful, or longing, planning, lusting after that next glass.

The second that just flashed by was the only one that mattered. Now it’s this one, and this one, and this one. They dissipate like a puff of smoke, and you have to train yourself in order to grab them, fleeting and precious, unique. I could never do that when I drank, I didn’t even have any awareness that I should be doing that. But yes, John Lennon, you were so right – life is what happens while we are busy making other plans, or worrying about what we did last night, or when we might be able to open that bottle that is sitting patiently in the fridge. It’s passing us by all the time, like a relentless steam train, and it’s not going to stop for anyone.

Life Is A Journey – Make It Your Own

Life is a journey.

This is a maxim that we often hear, and maybe we like to imagine we spend our time on earth just enjoying being in the moment, soaking up all manner of different experiences, and learning more about other people and about ourselves. But deep down, how many of us are fixated on goals, on the life stages we are desperate to reach in order to tick them off on a mental check-list of all that we must achieve before we die? How many of us waste vast amounts of our time worrying about reaching a place, a position, a status?

There is a lot to be said for aiming for things – it keeps us motivated, and helps boost our self-esteem when we are successful in achieving what we set out to. But there are some goals that are not so important, and it’s these that prevent us from living in the moment.

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When I got divorced ten years ago I threw myself headlong into finding a replacement husband. I wanted the company, I needed the constant reassurance that I was attractive/nice/funny/desirable, but more than that, I simply wanted to feel normal. I hated how I felt consigned to the ‘no good’ rubbish heap of the unwanted, that I must be somehow flawed in ways that my friends were not – after all, they were still married and I was not. During that period of my life I did not consider myself to be partway along a journey; the aim of remarrying stood loud and bright like a beacon, impossible to ignore, a fixed end to my struggles, a place that I must reach before I could live again. The days, weeks, months and years before I was to settle down again were ones in which I was not living in the present. All I could focus on was the future, reaching that destination and reclaiming what I felt was rightfully mine.

Looking back, I was far too concerned with society’s expectations of how we should live our lives, and not mindful enough of the things that would make me happy and fulfilled. Sometimes it’s difficult to remain true to yourself, in and amongst the bombardment of ideals and aspirational lifestyles that we are surrounded by every day. It takes true strength of character to turn inwards and tune into exactly what will make you content, what will give your life meaning and how you wish to live it.

A big part of quitting drinking and the problems encountered in doing so, is that the world we inhabit expects us to consume alcohol. There is an assumption that you just do, and when you don’t, a sense of being strange, an oddity and of sticking out like a sore thumb can conspire to lure you back to the bottle. Listening to the real you – the one who resides quietly inside, beneath the various outward layers of character that are presented to others – takes real effort. Acting upon that genuine, undiluted element of who you are, takes courage and strength.

And when we can live according to the true person we are, life becomes a journey again. We stop striving to conform and no longer contort ourselves into all sorts of predicaments purely to fit in, to be accepted, to reach wherever it is we are told we should be heading. If we can perceive the challenges we face, the idiosyncrasies that make us unique and the alternative ways in which we opt to live our lives as vital components of who we are as individuals, then we can focus on just being us. Different. Interesting. Exciting. Special.

That’s how we can make life into a journey – and one we can enjoy.

My latest book, ‘How to Lead a Happier, Healthier and Alcohol-Free Life’, published by Accent Press, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/lead-happier-healthier-alcohol-free-life-ebook/dp/B00NSIN986/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

When ordinary becomes magic

It’s perhaps something of a cliché to state that the best things in life are free, but it’s true; they really are. What makes certain everyday things suddenly wonderful is a magical combination of factors, impossible to recreate, elusive to the end.

It’s as though the world and everything in it secretly conspire to conjure up the perfect ingredients, quietly and behind closed doors, purely to afford us one instance of wonder in and amongst a melee of ordinariness.

Yesterday was mostly spent in bed, the wind and rain noisily raging against the windows as I snuggled under the duvet with tissues, Lemsip and a pile of books and magazines. Maybe this one day of hibernation was partly behind how appreciative I felt of life in general today; my cold appears to be on its way out and, despite some torrential rain, there were reasonably lengthy periods of sunshine.

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As the baby slept this afternoon I tackled our garden pots, digging out the dead sticks that were once flowers and replacing them with some beautiful blue pansies and miniature narcissus. I haven’t been in the garden for any longer than a minute or two since last summer, usually dashing through with the dog and pram, or clutching the baby’s chubby little hand as I guide her away from puddles and mud. But today as I knelt on the cold ground with my trowel and bag of compost, I felt the cold air on my neck and watched the clouds scudding across a bright sky. For a moment I was utterly at peace, full of joy, and in love with the world.

Later, as I arrived home from an early dinner at a nearby restaurant with my sister, her little boy and my two daughters, I had another perfect moment. We’d had a lovely time, everyone in a good mood and lots of laughter and happiness at just being together. My eldest waited on the pavement as I retrieved the baby from her car seat, and then we saw the bright and shiny moon beaming down on us.

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The baby is mad about the moon. We paused outside our house beneath the black starry sky, and watched her face light up with a huge, completely natural, full-of-wonder smile. Her fingers stretched out to point upwards and the three of us stood for a few seconds, ordinariness becoming magical and a memory being painted in all of our minds.

We often go to great lengths to seek out the exciting, the different and the remarkable, and simultaneously miss out on all the subtle but amazing aspects of life that are all around us and free for the taking. Frequently caught up with anxieties over irrelevant and unimportant issues, we too easily forget to notice the present, thus missing out on the little gems of perfection scattered all around us.

Today I got two, and feel very lucky indeed.

Mindfulness Meditation

Negative emotions are a fact of life – for many, the easy and obvious response to feeling down is to reach for a drink. However, excessive alcohol exacerbates depression and anxiety, and results in an inability to effectively manage the issues we face in everyday life.

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Mindfulness Meditation is an EXCELLENT method for dealing with stressful situations. It can help by equipping individuals with a significant degree of self-awareness, increasing their sensitivity with regards to surroundings, and allowing them to train their minds to achieve a state of tranquillity, no matter what difficult situations are faced.

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Those who practise Mindfulness Meditation are able to focus on the present, without being dragged down by the past or wasting time worrying about uncertain futures.

When I meditate, I sit cross-legged in an upright position and train my scatter-brained mind on a dot which I visualise in my mind’s eye. Over the course of a few minutes I concentrate on decreasing the size of the dot, until it has vanished completely – then I try and hold that empty state of mind for as long as possible.

Image courtesy of © Bparish | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I usually spend about 15 – 20 minutes on Mindfulness Meditation. When I’ve finished, I feel relaxed and calm.

You can meditate alone or in a group, sitting or lying down, in the morning, afternoon or evening. It’s a case of fitting it in to your lifestyle in a way that will allow you to practice regularly. It’s free, and it REALLY works. For me, it has been one of the most useful tools in beating the booze.

Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being

Welcome to the start of Soberistas’ 4 Weeks of Well Being. Over the next month, we will be posting loads of informative articles, blog posts and helpful pointers (on WordPress, Twitter and Facebook) on the following four areas of well being;

Week 1 – Mindfulness Meditation

Week 2 – Mood Foods

Week 3 – Positive Pastimes

Week 4 – Me Time Moments

As January has now ended and New Year’s resolutions are nothing but a distant memory for most, we hope to inject a little motivation into your day with some ideas for feeling good.

Quitting drinking is about so much more than simply putting down the bottle. For a start we are left with huge amounts of free time, and boredom is a key reason why people often cave into temptation. Secondly, if we are in a good mood, we are more likely to stay on track, think positive and feel energised enough to try new pastimes. Self-esteem can be seriously depleted through years of heavy drinking, so spending time on bolstering inner confidence and self-image is time well spent; feeling down about yourself and life in general means you’re far more likely to pick the bottle up again.

BiTN Meditation

There are many things you can do to help speed up the process of recovery from alcohol dependency – think of it as getting your hands on some effective ammo for fighting the wine witch.

Over the next seven days, we’ll give you the low-down on mindfulness meditation – it’s the first of four areas of emotional and physical well being which should leave you feeling happy and healthy, and full of joie de vivre!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html

Happy to be a Non-Drinker

When I first decided to stop drinking alcohol, the idea that I would spend the rest of my life feeling miserable as a consequence and as though I was missing out on something was never an issue I paid much credence to.

Living by a self-imposed regime of teetotalism when my heart was still firmly attached to the bottle and yet consistently denied its effects was a prospect too miserable to contemplate.  My attitude towards becoming a non-drinker was bloody-minded, and I have remained determined to always continue to seek out the numerous positives to be found in living free from the alcohol trap.

With this mind-set which has now become an inherent part of who I am, I am forever mindful of so many seemingly insignificant events and occurrences that happen each day which I am fully aware would never happen should I choose to drink again.

Yesterday as I pushed the pram up an almighty hill, hot and tired and feeling the strain in my calves, I suddenly remembered the horrific physical state of being hungover – queasy, sweaty, with stinging eyes and clammy skin, dehydrated, and exhausted in a way that never hits me as a non-drinker despite being up and dressed by 6am most days. And no matter how difficult that hill was to climb, I just kept on thinking about how awful I used to feel on an almost daily basis – even when simply sitting in front of the TV, never mind pushing a toddler up a steep hill in the sweltering heat.

thCAWWIG85Last night I poked my head out of our Velux bedroom window shortly before I climbed into bed, and stared for a while at a beautiful yellow moon hanging low in the sky. How many moons I wondered, had I missed as a drinker when night after night I would either fall asleep on the settee not even making it upstairs to bed, or was so drunk that I couldn’t remember what I’d seen the following morning?

Waking each day and acknowledging the marvel of a fully-functioning memory, feeling no regret or anxiety and with nobody to apologise to for my stupid drunken behaviour of the previous evening, is something I don’t think I will ever take for granted. I feel so lucky to be present and to notice all the important things around me, and to be completely in charge of my life and who I am.

For me, maintaining a commitment to sobriety is much less about steely willpower, and more about bathing in the beauty of a life lived untainted by alcohol. I wouldn’t give that up for the world.

A Day Not To Forget

I had a brilliant day today. Nothing out of the ordinary was planned which may have marked it out as stand-alone from any other Tuesday, although I did wake up feeling full of energy and desperate to go running, and that usually results in a positive start to the day ahead. The sun was beaming and even at 7 am the promise of the glorious day to come was obvious as I jogged around the park dragging the dog along behind me (she is 7 this year and not quite as fit as she once was).

After lunch, baby rejuvenated from her morning sleep of 3 hours, we did a few jobs around the house before settling into the lounge to play. At 14 months, Lily has just discovered the incredible concept of putting something inside a container before removing it again, a look of total concentration on her angelic face as if she has happened upon a remarkable piece of magic.

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For an hour I lay on the rug next to her as she placed her items into the pots I had lined up. I couldn’t take my eyes off her; for sixty minutes we were there, Lily and her very serious face as she put something in, took something out, and me, gazing at her in awe as though she was the first baby on the planet to engage in this activity.

I thought afterwards how grateful I am to the world at large for propelling me along the many different paths in my life which eventually got me to that rug this afternoon with Lily and her selection of pink pots filled with small wooden blocks. Rarely do I manage to fully live in the present and banish all worrisome or niggling thoughts from my mind in order to wholly soak up the here and now, but this afternoon that is precisely what I did and it was magical – I’ll remember that passing of time forever, I just know I will.