New Healthy Habits: Timing and Persistence Matter by Anne Kreamer


If you are starting the new year with a resolution to get fit, it's worth remembering that patterning new behavior takes time.  A few years ago, at a time in my life when I was feeling particularly burned out, I happened to pick up a book about Qigong (pronounced "chee kung"), a Chinese method for building and balancing "life energy" through ritualized exercise. The "Qi" part of the word represents the vital energy that Taoists believe exists throughout the universe - energy held in perfect balance by the optimal relationship between the opposing forces of yin (soft, feminine, calm) and yang (hard, masculine, energetic). The "Gong" is the part that requires study, practice and training.

At the time I was craving a sense of balance, and the exercises outlined in the Qigong book I bought seemed like something that could help. I also bought some videos so I could see the exercises performed.

One night while I was following the exercises on one video, my younger daughter joined me and halfway through the program, she turned to me and excitedly said, "Mom, my fingers are tingling!"

And while I never had such a visceral response to the exercises, her experience, provoked without any knowledge of what was supposed to happen, proved to my satisfaction that something subtle and real was at work. I tried to develop a consistent practice and succeeded for a while. During that time I felt calmer and more resilient.

But as with so many things that require effort and consistency and time, once my immediate crisis passed I lapsed back into my old patterns and abandoned Qigong.

Recently I happened across something in one of my favorite magazines, Scientific American Mind. In a larger piece about the psychology and neurobiology of happiness was the statement, "Like a drug or a diet, the exercises work only if you stick with them." Right. I'd sort of forgotten that.

The piece also suggested that timing is important when trying to adopt new behaviors. I know that from the number of times I quit smoking before it finally stuck. Timing is everything.  So with fingers crossed and a sense of hopefulness, today I begin anew.

10% Happier by Anne Kreamer

In his book, 10% Happier, newscaster Dan Harris, suggests that rather than trying to be happy all the time it's more attainable to imagine what it might feel like to be incrementally happier. A modest improvement can be transformative. Harris honestly reveals his struggle with drug addiction, ego, competitiveness and the journey he takes to quiet the negative voices in his head.

"...The voice in my head can be a total pill. I'd venture to guess yours can, too. Most of us are so entranced by the non-stop conversation we're having with ourselves that we aren't even aware we have a voice in our head...To be clear, I'm not talking about "hearing voices," I'm talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It's a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It's fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It's what has us reaching into the fridge when we're not hungry, losing our temper when we know it's not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we're ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn't all bad, of course. Sometimes it's creative, generous, or funny. but if we don't pay close attention -- which very few of us are taught how to do -- it can be a malevolent puppeteer."

Harris' exploration of faith -- encountering Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama and Mark Epstein -- leads him to meditation. When a colleague asked him "What's with you and the whole meditation thing?," he replied, "'I do it because it makes me 10% happier.' The look on her face instantly changed. What had been a tiny glimmer of scorn was suddenly transformed into an expression of genuine interest. 'Really?,' she said, 'that sounds pretty good, actually.' Boom, I'd found my schtick. 10% happier: it had the dual benefit of being catchy and true. It was the perfect answer, really -- simultaneously counterprogramming against the overpromising of the self-helpers while also offering an attractive return on investment."