On Building Habits & Touching Trees
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
For almost 5 years, I tried really hard to start my days early at 5 am.
I did that for a day or two. A week or two. A month or two. But I’ve always found myself stopping!
On the days I woke up early, I always felt happy, energized and productive.
On the days I did not, I often felt moody, drained, and distracted.
Though I am a morning person, no matter how much clarity I had about the benefits of waking up early, I still have always ended up stopping.
Exercise. Meditation. Eating healthy. Sleeping early. Less social media. Reading. Writing. Time with family. They are all examples of habits I attempted and failed to build.
Isn’t this a common struggle for everyone?!
Every attempt to change my habits seemed to be following the exact same story…
Start. Struggle. Stop.
And the more I read about simple and logical tactics on how to build habits, the more I added frustration to my failing attempts. They were so simple that I felt so stupid not making them happen.
Soon, the story in my head was upgraded to…
Start. Struggle. Stop. Hate Myself!
I felt defeated, sad, and ashamed every time I ended up not committing or not starting a habit of my choice.
However, recently all of this changed for me.
I’ve been waking up at 5 am, exercising, meditating, breathing well, eating health, taking breaks, spending quality time with family, writing (a lot!), getting more shit done, and starting/keeping any new habit I want.
What’s different now? Two things:
Every routine you are attempting to start or keep has beautiful details in it. Details are any unnoticed or unacknowledged, physical or non-physical, micro-level elements of your routine. Details can be so small that they’re attached to moments. Connecting to a detail connects you to the present moment.
(Try this now… If you look right now at the camera lens of your phone and touch it with curiosity for 3 seconds, you will feel a sense of connection with the present moment).
For outdoor running, details include the sound of the birds, the smell of flowers, the movement of ants on the ground, the movement of tree leaves, the passing clouds, the air breeze, the warm sunlight on the skin, the itchy sock, the truck’s exhaust smell and so on. You can find infinite number of details in any routine.
Details have two magical powers: they are Immersive & Memorable.
Details are Immersive because you can find as many of them as you want. The more you find, the more you are immersed in the activity and the harder it is to get distracted by something else when you are already immersed in details.
When you say you are going for a run, it’s easy to separate and distance yourself (I) from the habit (Running). When you connect with its details, you become more immersed in the activity. You both become closer and connected until you become one (i.e. I am Running).
Details are Memorable because every detail carries an emotional attachment. We are emotional human beings longing to connect and express at an intimate level deeper than logic. Connection is not only limited to humans; it can also be with objects (that’s why we keep objects from our past for the memories they bring to us).
When you are running with your cool Nike socks written on them “Just Do It”, a feeling of fearlessness and a kick of willpower are attached to them. As you become one with the habit, you are building an intimate relationship with the activity. Instead of running to logically lose weight, you are running because your Nike socks make you feel fearless.
For example, I start my day early and run around the park to shake hands (or shake leaves!) with trees I made friends with. I know them and they know me. We expect to greet each other every day in the morning (They are unable to come to my house which is a good excuse for me to go to them).
One detail is not enough to make your habit immersive and memorable, hunting for ten or more details can start to build that committing immersion and memorable intimacy (You can get started now by listing down all those details about your new habits).
When you try and fail, it’s easy to feel frustrated and sad. It’s easy to hate yourself for failing. After all, failure doesn’t feel nice at all!
I’ve come to realize that the only reason we are frustrated is because we are frustrated. For example, I noticed that I was frustrated on day 2 of building my habits, because I was frustrated from not following my habit on day 1. The accumulation of frustrations and the carry-over of shame from one day to the next can create a sabotaging feeling of hating yourself. This feeling only perpetuates into addictive feeling of victimhood and stuckness.
There is only one way to break the cycle. To give yourself what it’s avoiding: Love.
Letting go starts with loving what you are afraid to face. If we allow that frustration, self-hate and shame to be seen and loved for what it is, our ability to bounce back from a negligible micro-failure on day 1 will be stronger. Day 2 will begin anew, promising, and detached from the expectations and patterns of our old story.
Micro-failures lead to grand failures only if given a space to accumulate. Cleaning your emotional home from self-hate daily (Forgiving yourself and loving your failures) will allow you to bounce back and experience life with a fresh new heart. Only then, you can achieve your next micro-successes that will accumulate day by day to a grand success.
The desert heat here in Dubai is starting to cool down, as we start to say goodbye to the summer season. That means more outdoor activities and more chances to enjoy nature without melting down in the heat.
How about testing the above while building a new outdoor habit?
All you need to do is to hunt for as many immersive and memorable details as you can, and to give yourself the gift of loving your self-hate when you fail to commit to your habit on any day.
Wishing you a wonderful day filled with possibilities, wonder and lots of tree hugs!
Yours in Magic,