How to Sustain Any Healthy Practice That's Hella Hard
This post originally appeared at IntheNola.com, a badass site about all the good in New Orleans
Who better to tell you how to live healthier than an alcoholic? Kidding! Giving up the hooch is really no different than any other hard thing we do to improve our lives. You need motivation, commitment, a good support system, and an action plan. I’ve learned quite a few things along the way that have helped me stay committed to my wellness goals. (Yes, my wellness goal is mainly to avoid doing a keg stand in front of Lafitte’s bar on Mardi Gras day, but we don’t have split hairs here.)
Write it down: no, really.
Whether you're trying to kick heroin or you just want to make it to a Pilates class once a week, writing down all your whys provides clarity to your motivations. The first time I stopped drinking, I sat down at my computer with a giant cup of coffee and listed out all the reasons I wanted to quit. I tallied the hurt I'd caused others and all spiritual damage, physical tolls, and emotional stunting my drinking had caused me. Every single thing I could think of, I wrote down. Then I grouped them into categories. They're painful to read now, but in moments of profound temptation, I call that massive document back up and read over it carefully. My motivation for giving up the hooch is clear, specific, and devastating, which makes it pretty hard to dispute.
I know what you're thinking. Great, Jamie, you're a degenerate drunk. What about me? I want to eat my greens and start a meditation practice.
Those are admirable goals, but if you want to eat more vegetables because you think you should, you won't sustain your goal. So, getting really clear on why manifests something tangible for your spirit to latch onto. Maybe you want to start a meditation practice, so you routinely calm your central nervous system to avoid snapping at your partner when they eat the last Buttermilk Drop. (True story, happened this week.) Write it all out and return to it when you need to.
Find Your Tribe
We are social creatures, even the antisocial among us, and we need that human kickstart once we lose motivation. The general consensus in habit research is that after the initial surge of feel-good dopamine and serotonin that rush our brains, it's difficult for us to reconnect to our goal. By day 3, everybody who signed up for that 6-week boot camp is skipping burpee time for Creole Creamery. We've lost the buzz. That's where your friends come in.
How do you find your tribe? Well, you join things, you text your friends, you ask your bestie to suffer through a jog with you a few times a week. If you're like me, finding your tribe actually means focusing the limited time and energy available on relationships that deepen your soul.
Drinking turned me into that drunk woman at the party who totally bonds with everyone. We just met? We must become best friends! You like cheesecake? Oh, my god, me too! I formed more superficial relationships than my naturally introverted sober self could keep up with. Now, two years later, my tribe is tight and ready to support whatever goals lead to my ultimate wellness.
Change Your Mind
No, not about actually reaching your goal. I mean, unless you decide it no longer serves you. If that's the case, absolutely change your mind. I mean change your mindset. Don't think of your goal as all-or-nothing, nothing less than perfection. That kind of rigid binary ain't nothing but self-sabotage dressed up in fancy clothes. There are going to be days you can't make it to the gym, mornings you don't meditate, times you lose your cool in traffic and flip off the guy blocking the neutral ground. That's fine. None of those are reasons to give up.
But wait, you say, what about your boozing ways, Jamie? Well, I have to change my mindset, too. It's not about alcohol—although there is a famous recovery adage that if you think you don't have a problem, go out and have a drink and see how it goes. What I have to give myself slack on is the human stuff that bubbles up from the garbage disposal that is my subconscious. I might think because I've been working on a more compassionate response to my mother for a full year that I should have that down. But, the truth is, I'll probably never have that down. So, when I lapse and forget to respond with my best self, I need to change my mindset and be okay with that.
Learn to Really, Really Enjoy Failure, I Mean Practice
I learned this one with writing. I write fiction, and for the past four years, I've been working on a novel. It sucks. I mean, someone keeps breaking into my house at night and replacing my poignant reflection on poverty, race, and class in America with something a fifth grader would write in her secret diary. I don't know who, but when I find this person...
Seriously, though, all of life is a practice. Once I stepped back from the pursuit of a perfect product, an external result over which I had no control, I found that I could actually enjoy the practice of writing. Here's the truth: it all takes as long as it takes. This amazing gift taught me that the consistent practice is the only thing I can control.
Maybe you want to sing. So sing. You can still harbor fantasies that Beyonce will see your YouTube channel and choose you to go on tour with her, but your real energy is in the act of singing. We're all creative beings, and bringing forth that creative energy into the world is what it means to be human. Embrace the practice of whatever you're doing and reap the rewards of the present moment.
I think the most important thing we can all do to sustain our health is give ourselves a break. Being human is hard, so if you try to be kind, helpful, and compassionate, you’re doing all right. Even if you have ice cream for dinner 5 nights out of 7.