Wooing Yourself into New Behaviors

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July 6, 2011
For Occupy (Decolonize) Oakland: Why meet in separate groups?
October 12, 2011

I am not much of a daily routine person. I often find routine confining or boring. But as many of you know, doing something over and over is how we learn to do things well, whether it is playing an instrument or communicating clearly. During a recent crisis I really appreciated the value of repeated practice, because during this most challenging of times it was impossible for me to practice anything new. I was only able—and just barely!–to access the practices that I already knew by heart. These were the practices that got me through.

So repeated practice is really important. Dr. Richard Schmidt writes in Motor Learning that we need to repeat a new physical behavior 300-500 times to create a new motor pattern in our bodies, and 3000-5000 times to replace an entrenched motor pattern with a new one.

Those of us who love routine find it easy to practice the same thing every day at the same time. But some of us–like me—cannot seem to meditate each day at 6 AM! And many of us have crazy schedules; we work long hours and juggle kids, parents, debts and pets. How do we practice something 300-3000 times, so that it becomes embodied?

The best way is to gradually woo ourselves (as in “court, send flowers”, etc.) into a new practice relationship.

Here’s what I suggest:

· Pick a practice that you want to get good at. Maybe you want to experience gratitude each day. Or maybe you want to criticize yourself less, appreciate yourself more. Perhaps you want to be more relaxed. Maybe you want to walk or dance or rest more. [For other ideas on what to practice, see my December 2010 blog Emotional First Aid practices at www.vanissarsomatics.com]

· Pay attention to your body sensations. This is crucial! Make sure that whatever you practice, you pay attention to the sensations in your body: Sensation is the language of bodily transformation. In order to change something, in order to heal, you need to feel.

· Keep it brief! At first, practice for very brief periods of time. 5 seconds. 1 minute. 5 minutes. Then stop.

· Do it again. Repeat your practice several times a day, whenever you remember to. Each time you practice, even for a few seconds, you bring your attention to the new behavior, which means it will gradually get easier to remember.

· Appreciate yourself! At the end of the day, notice how many times you thought about the practice or practiced it; and appreciate yourself for your effort.

· Don’t give up! Keep inviting yourself to practice again. Each time you practice, your body becomes increasingly convinced that nothing bad is going to happen—that this practice is a safe thing to do. Remember to appreciate yourself for practicing.

· Keep going! Eventually your body will discover the benefits of the practice, and it will become magnetic–something you longto do. You will find yourself doing it more often–and spontaneously!–for longer periods of time.

· Like drops of water dripping into a cup, you will be amazed at how quickly all these brief practices add up to 300 or 3000 times.

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