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The Power of Soft Habits


It’s crept up on me, but I seem to have become more healthy: I’m usually having a big fruit smoothie for breakfast every morning, I’m usually swimming once a week, and I usually meditate every day. I’m also now trying to add a new habit to the list: one big salad every day. We still have to see if that one sticks, but I’m hopeful.

I know for many people this would not be a big deal, but for me it’s pretty cool to see myself doing these things which are pretty much objectively good, even if they require a little bit of effort and don’t seem absolutely necessary for survival. I haven’t been so good at doing such things before. One reason for that is that I reject the concept of “self discipline”. I simply won’t order myself around; I won’t let other people do that to me and I won’t do that in my inner dialogue either. The replacement, it seems, has been self love, a quality that I’ve taken years to develop. I’m now able to often genuinely feel caring towards myself, which allows me to feel that extra energy to do something that is good for me but not obligatory. It also allows me to make lifestyle improvements from a place of sincerity, rather than using harsh discipline as a way to punish myself under the guise of being “healthy”.

Self love and self gentleness is the key of my success here. What’s also interesting, though, is a concept I’ve come to call soft habits.

Most personal development bloggers, it seems, advocate hard habits. The idea is to do something every day, without fail. I remember reading about Steve Pavlina using his iron hard self discipline to go jogging every day, even in the rain or when he was sick. I’m not aiming to be like him.


Soft habits, then, mean that I really don’t hold myself to such harsh standards. If I skip a day it basically means nothing. Soft habits are essentially a sort of checklist of things I’d like to achieve once a day or once a week. I find the best time to do them – not the same time every day – and I do them if it works, and only then. With meditation, I’ve been known to forget (though I’m getting better). With the smoothie, sometimes I lack ingredients and sometimes I’m not at home for breakfast. So far I haven’t missed swimming though once I ended up doing it on Sunday evening. And so on.

Soft habits work for me because there isn’t even the thought about beating myself up for failure. There is no failure. There is only good, wholesome self care. The difference from doing self care completely spontaneously here is, that with soft habits I have the idea to find a space in my day each day to do a particular thing, and usually I manage to. It’s a very gentle way of doing things.

I meditate with a meditation timer app, so I even have statistics. Since I started my soft habit last June, I’ve used the timer 40% of days. I would generously make that 50% because I haven’t used my timer every time. I guess I’m doing it more like 75% of days now. But let it not sound like I’m making excuses – 50% is also a successful soft habit as far as I’m concerned. The important thing is I’m doing it regularly and it’s not falling by the wayside.

When I was 14 or so, I spent about a year with what I would now call a soft habit – of swimming every day. In reality, I suppose I also ended up doing it about every second day. But it helped improve my otherwise not very good mood. In hospital, I was told that my blood pressure was that of an athlete.

In the end, this works and feels gentle and good to me. Harsh discipline feels bad to me and for most people, it doesn’t work. Steve Pavlina says discipline is like a muscle you grow; but I don’t want to give my inner disciplinarian more strength in the first place. That mental partition can go fuck off and hopefully merge back into my mind as a whole, into a more unified consciousness. That’s the idea anyway.


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