What I Learned from Working on My Habits

As I’m looking over January’s theme “Relaxing with my work”, I’m beginning to really see how hard I am on myself. I expect myself to master concepts that only great writers, CEO’s, and Zen masters fully understand.

Just because I tell myself to breathe all nice and deep and relaxed over the next week when I’m feeling stressed out doesn’t mean it will happen right away.

Maybe that should be a theme of the month. Stop being a big bully to myself.

I wanted to publish this review of my theme two weeks ago, but I felt like I was still processing my information. Now that I’m ready, let’s begin the review…

Week 1 – Breathing

The first week I wanted to focus just on my breathing. I found that I didn’t give myself goals that were well defined. Because of this I didn’t really get focused on my breathing until halfway into the week.

This is a weakness of mine that needs a little tending to.

When I did remember to take relaxed breaths I felt a lot better. My mood was serene and my mind was much more creative. For example, when I became tense, my breathing was shallow. When I relaxed I opened up my lungs and let buckets of air in. I became much happier.

It’s amazing how the breath is so closely tied to our happiness.

When I take the time to relax with my breath, it’s not hard to be happy. When I let my emotions carry me away, I lose track of my breath and happiness, constrict my breathing and creating a cycle of worry.

Week 2 – Muscles

The second week I wanted to focus on relaxing my muscles. Because last week’s goal of relaxing with my breath wasn’t very organized, I took a more disciplined approach.

I wrote down just one way that I could be more aware of my tense muscles.

So whenever I switched tasks, I focused on my muscles. I noticed if I was tensing them or just not paying attention to them.

By only focusing on one area of relaxing with my muscles, it was much easier to notice when I was straining and when I was relaxed.

Week 3 – Be Playful

The week 3 theme didn’t go as well as planned. It was too broad.

I tried to laugh quietly to myself when I noticed my breathing becoming shallow or my muscles tightening, but I had trouble connecting with this concept.

Maybe I should have been more imaginative. I’m not sure.

What do you think?

Week 4 – Watch the Changes

This was my favorite week. I noticed myself transitioning from one task to the next with a slight smile on my face.

The transition between working on reports then going to a meeting used to irritate me. My thoughts would stray to everything I didn’t like about this change. After relaxing with my work, my transitions were much smoother.

I had to attend an important meeting and instead of worrying about how boring it would be, I focused on enjoying the interactions. My muscles and thoughts were relaxed. I actually sat back in my chair and smiled. I couldn’t believe that I was privy to this cool little show.


I didn’t think that week 3 was a very good theme, but now looking back on it I wouldn’t have leaned back and smiled in that meeting during week 4. I was feeling playful. I was actually cracking jokes to boost the mood level in the room.

I did a 10 minutes deep dive by doing the Dig to Fly Method and realized that I enjoyed the concept of creating a theme of the month, but I felt a little too encumbered by the weekly process. I think I will move back to working on one concept each month without breaking it down into weeks. If I don’t see the progress that I expect from making habit changes then I’ll try another method.

What career or personal development theme would you create for yourself?

* Psychology today has an awesome piece about our inner voice and how to deal with the extremes within each of us. It’s called, The Wolf of Hate.

19 thoughts on “What I Learned from Working on My Habits”

  1. Hi Karl

    Ha, that is funny – “stop being a bully to myself” – but all laughing aside, you know I always encourage people to go lighter and more loving on themselves.

    The world is already pushing and pulling on us so much (if we let it) it seems and expecting so much of us, why should we be our own enemy instead of our own friend too?

    And I am not saying to just sit back and do nothing, but accept yourself and love yourself now. Not for what you did or did not do yesterday, or for what you will or will not do tomorrow.

    Understand that self expression and self growth is a life long journey, but in this moment, you are exactly where you need to be, and how you need to be.

    I am not sure how else to help people with it, as I have the type of personality that I do not beat myself up for anything, that feeling is just foreign to me. But I imagine the feeling and I know it cannot feel good. That is not to say that I don’t question myself, say after I write a piece or give a talk. But question in the way of what can I improve on for next time or learn from it, type of thing which you are also doing too as you reflect back, and that is great. But no beating yourself up, ok 🙂

    The way I see it, is that you had an AMAZING month. You learned so much and you helped others so much. Try not to get too caught up in the “business” or “corporate” world out there that is always pushing us for “more”. It causes way more stress than happiness, I find.

    Just learn to love and enjoy who you are and what you accomplished in this moment – that is a huge gift you can give yourself 🙂

  2. Hi Karl — that sounds like a valuable realization — that the ways that you’re unconsciously holding tension in your body can affect how you relate to your work, and checking in with the body once in a while can help to release those areas and change your whole experience of what you do.

  3. Karl,
    I think the concept here of actively working on your habits is a really good one. And you have done a great job of detailing how your month went. I tend to agree with you that having one thing to focus on for the month is a great direction to consider. My belief is that it takes more than one week to make changed habits “stick”. And I know for me personally – too many newly introduced habits usually means that something in there isn’t going to get as much attention as it should to make lasting change – and even more likely, for me, is that none of the habits will end up lasting – as I give none of them the full attention they deserve.

    And I personally really love the focus you had on week 3 around being playful! That’s a great mindset to get into!!!

  4. Karl, I love the idea that you were able to sit back in that meeting of yours and view it like a show. That’s something I’ve done in many different areas of life — sometimes out in public, sometimes interacting with just one person. I’m able to separate myself from being all tied up in what’s happening, and can view it like a play on a stage — even seeing MYSELF as one of the actors. It’s very liberating, and allows me a detached vantage point which adds objectivity to my experience.

    Now, what if someone told you that everything you did during all of those theme weeks was perfect, per the Divine Plan of your life’s unfolding? What if you found out that you did everything exactly right? How would you feel then?

    Think about it, but better yet, reach deep within you and feel if that’s not the case.
    You do what you do, and you do it so well that God would never dream of giving you do-overs or repeats. You won the gold on your first try.

    Happy Friday!

  5. Karl,

    I’ve been watching my breath more the last six months. About four years ago I got a free sleep CD in a hotel as a gift. My husband and I listened to it before falling a sleep for at least three months. It’s all about breath and muscle relaxation. Now we don’t even need to listen to it we automatically breathe correctly and relax. If you want it I’ll send it to you. Give me your snail mail. I no longer have to practice breathing deeply I just have to remember.

  6. LOL. I found myself being a real bully this week to myself because I wasn’t feeling the way I wanted to feel.
    A very wise women told me sometimes-we just have to forgive ourselves. It seems to offer so much needed dialogue within. I am a cruel task masker sometimes and it is okay not to live up to my expectations. More importantly, it okay to forgive myself for my so-call lack.I can’t pretend the tension does not exist and forgiveness seems to open the flow of life. Watching the breathe is heart. I struggle to pay attention to my breathe in yoga. They say in yoga if you catch yourself not paying attention gently bring yourself back without judgment. I don’t think week three was a failure because it was something hard to do. All you can do is return to the breathe-if you never return that could be an issue.

  7. Re: Week 3. I get daily e-mails from the Onion, Dilbert, etc. I have a calendar reminder at the end of the day to read one to laugh before I leave for the day. If that’s not enough, I send an email to all my friends under 30 and ask for the funniest thing they’ve seen lately on Youtube, funnyordie, etc. They always come through with some crazy stuff!

  8. One of the simplest ways to change how you feel, is to change the question. Changing the question, changes your focus. For example, if I need to relax, I simply ask myself, what’s my favorite part of today … and it kills two birds with one stone.

  9. Hi Evita, I agree. I guess it’s just hard for me not to push for greater things. I know it creates stress, but it also pushes me to help more people. I am getting better about being kind and encouraging, but it’s a slow process. One I enjoy, but very slow. 🙂

  10. So often we overlook how important habits really are. When we consciously choose to create our habits instead of let our habits create us our life gets that much better.

    I like how you took a week for each one of the habits. One of the greatest things I’ve ever done is write down every activity I did for a week. It was really an eye opening experience for me.

    Thanks for sharing man.

  11. Hi Bud, Habits are not easy to change, but I believe it’s what pays the most dividends for happiness. We just need to take the time to work with our habits and gently encourage change. I feel much more relaxed than I did before my thirty day trial. Have you ever tried a thirty day habit change trial?

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