New Habits Require Practice, Patience & Patience

April 22, 2011 4:22 am

As the clock struck midnight December 31, 2010, I entered the New Year with a few clear goals: I am ready for adventure. I am ready to stretch and grow and challenge myself this year.

For 2011, I decided to take my fitness to another level. Forthose of you who don’t know, I played women’s basketball at Princeton University and then went on to play professionally in Brazil, England andSweden. For those years I was a workout fiend—always lifting at the gym, doing laps at the pool or shooting baskets on the court. I was in great shape.

Just before my first child Maggie was born, I tore myAnterior Crucial Ligament (ACL) bringing my basketball career to an end. Even without basketball, I stayed active. I continued lifting weights and took daily walks at high speed. When my Nigerian in-laws came to the U.S. to visit,David’s mother, Mama Margaret, remarked, “Your wife should take it easy o…Why does she walk so fast?!”

With motherhood, my approach to fitness became increasingly laid back. Yoga, walking and light weights have been just what I needed thelast few years. Suddenly, though, I am feeling renewed passion to give my body attention. With January here, I found something new.

Near my house is a unique kind of gym that offers workouts called “Cross fit.” The idea is to engage all your body muscles in an intense 20 to 25 minute strength training and cardio vascular workout several times aweek. I jumped in whole heartedly, completing the intro class which taught me the basic techniques.

Each session the instructor moved me through several exercises. I’m used to having fitness feel easy. But this was new. I felt awkward! I was out of my comfort zone. The exercises looked simple when theinstructor demonstrated, but when I tried to imitate her form, I couldn’t get it right. I received feedback and correction. Then more correction. I had to laugh at myself. The drill continued. Instruction. Correction. More correction.

Na wa for me o. Some of you may be saying, “Dis oyinbo woman dey craze o.” And maybe that is true. Last night I could hardly walk up the stairs. As I sit writing today, my bodyaches. I am working my leg muscles harder than I have worked them in 10 years. I am paying for my effort! Yet I know from years of fitness training that I will get the results I am after if I stay focused and keep at it.

Just a few minutes ago a friend in the neighborhood stopped in. She said she hardly slept at all last night. Her mind was racing. I put my“Thought Dr.” hat on to offer her some help, “What thoughts are keeping you awake?”

She lists them verbally as I write them down, “I am short ofmoney. I am afraid I won’t have enough to feed myself and my baby. I am also scared my new boyfriend might leave me. I’ve been hurt so much in the past. I don’t want to be betrayed again. Iam concerned that I won’t achieve my goals. I want to feel better physically. I want to go back to school. I want a healthy relationship. I feel so far from all of that. How will I ever get there?”

Together we looked at her list of thoughts. “You are spending tremendous energy worrying about your future,” I reflected. “Do you think the worry is helping you?”

“No,” she replied. It’s not. It exhausts me, but I can’tcontrol my mind. I start thinking. Then I can’t stop. My mind spins me in circles. I am tired of this. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.”

“You can learn to slow your mind down”, I assured her, “Ittakes practice but it is worth it.”

She sighed. “It just seems so hard. It feels awkward. It hurts my brain to focus. I’m not used to this.” She sat slumped over in defeat.

I listened with compassion recalling my own feelings at Crossfit. Life is sure a great mirror. Physical muscles. . . mental muscles . .. life was giving me an opportunity to school myself. My thoughts jumped backto the days when I first learned to play basketball. My form was terrible. I missed almost every shot. But day after day I practiced. With repetition and dedication, I started making shots. Shooting became simple. What had at first seemed impossible became natural.

To observe my thoughts, I felt overwhelmed—my mind was riddled with negativity and fear. I was tired of mental misery. So I brought to this goal of building muscles in my mind the same determination I had used to develop as a basketball player. I persisted in watching my mind and choosing new thoughts. I knew that mastering my mind would help me feel better.

I was also very patient with myself. I realized that it takes time for new practices to become habits. I had spent most of my youth becoming a master of negativity. It would take me some time to gain mastery at empowered thinking.

“You can do this,” I told her. “Developing any new habit takes practice, patience and persistence. The pay-offs are fantastic. I’ll help you if you want.”

“I guess it can’t hurt to try,” she said. “Where do I start?”

Here are some of the thinking exercises I shared with her.

Slow your mind down. Try meditating. Even a minute or two at a time. Just sit quietly and breathe deeply. Focus on your breath. Notice it going in and out. Listen to your breath. Feel it. Expect your mind to start churning as you attempt to enter silence. When it does, notice the parade of thoughts.

Design a healthy morning routine. Where do your thoughts go when you wake up? Do you turn on the radio or TV to get your “fix” of the world’s happenings? Do you reach for the daily newspaper? If news is your focus, you are no doubt bombarded with opportunities for anxiety. Perhaps this news could wait. Consider starting the day with inspiration. Express your gratitude for a new day. Pray for guidance. Give your burdens to God. Envision warm interactions and positive outcomes. Put on inspiring music to fill your spirit. Energize yourself and affirm, “Today is a fresh start. I enjoy this day fully. No matter what circumstances come I am supported. I have the power and courage to do my best.”

Choose good mental “food” throughout the day. A mental dietof gossip, complaint and judgment saps energy. Why not turn your attention to positive interactions? Offer compassion to people you encounter. Share uplifting words and stories. Stimulate yourself mentally with books that get you laughing or bring you personal encouragement.

Carry these empowering questions with you throughout the day, “What good can I find in this day? What good can I find in others? What good can I see in myself?”

Practice presence. No matter how far away your thoughts take you, keep returning to the present moment. When anxiety arises, offer up a prayer to release the worry. Then let it go. When painful memories intrude,whisper a prayer for forgiveness and healing. Then come back to the present moment. The present is the only point of power you have.

Develop a wholesome evening routine. Consider ending your day by making a list of ten things you are thankful for (big or small). Say a prayer. Commit yourself to God. Relax your body, mind and spirit. Breathe deeply and invite peace and rest.

Your assignment this week is to choose one of the above thinking exercises and give it a try. Practice it for an entire week. Be patient don’t judge yourself if you don’t see immediate progress. Persist! Keep practicing. With time you can learn to master each exercise above. Once you get the hang of one, move on and incorporate the next.

You have the power to develop positive thinking habits that support you in creating an empowered, happy life.

Food For Thought

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, and practice.”

Ray Bradbury

Patricia G. Omoqui 2011, All Rights Reserved