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The Journey to a New Habit.

In any journey to a new place, it serves us to have some sort of map.

A map may be less than complete and may even offer several very different pathways to the same endpoint. But even when our maps are less than precise, having some guide to what we may expect in our travels can take a lot of anxiety out of the process and increase the odds that we will not give up before reaching our desired destination.

Working toward being more regularly “Right Here, Right Now” is no different. Like all behavior changes, living increasingly in the present is not an event but a process. As such, while no two people have identical journeys, there are some somewhat predictable elements in becoming more aware that are worth knowing about as you begin making some changes.

The first stage in any habit change is some sort of realization that things as they are are not entirely comfortable for us.

We may see others as seemingly more content than we feel. We may come to a sense that the way our lives are proceeding is not all that we might hope. Our discontent may be small… a sense of annoyance, restlessness, boredom…. Or more dramatic…. an “existential crisis of meaning” or sense that our lives are not headed in a direction that we want to continue. Whatever the ‘symptoms,” some kind of sense of disequilibrium is always the beginning of any behavioral change. We may not yet know what this is all about nor what to do next, but we begin to sense that what is no longer ideal.

The next stage of change depends upon our ability to make meaning of the gap between “what is” and “what we might prefer.” In the case of being more present, we may start to notice that we are least peaceful when we are thinking about the past or the future rater than being in the present moment. We may start to connect our sense of “deadness” to the fact that much of life is being lived on “auto-pilot.” How ever we get to this realization, it is the beginning of trying new ways of being.

Stage three has to do with identifying an alternative path. Having found “Right Here, Right Now,” for example, can be the start of trying new ways of freeing oneself from the negative aspects of not being present more often. You may begin by jumping into all the program has to offer: reading the website content regularly, putting some of the RHRN icons in your path, setting up “bump” reminders for yourself, connecting with others in the RHRN online community….all with great excitement about making a real and meaningful positive change. Stage three is about trying on some new ways of being.

There is a “high” that comes with these first stages of becoming more present…

What can feel almost like an awakening. It is as if you have put on a new set of lenses and are seeing the entire world in a new way. You are not only shocked by just how much of the time you are everywhere but in the present…. but amazed at how this could have been the case for so long! How did you not see this? It feels so obvious! And you notice the lack of presence not only in your own behaviors, but in all those around you. You see how often people seem to be not truly ”with you” in conversations, how often the focus of attention in a group is on the past, how much people you encounter in daily life seem to be going through the motions rather than being truly present. It can be stunning and exhilarating to suddenly see from this new vantage point. You feel sure you will never lose this perspective again.

With a little time, however, we acclimate. This is the next stage of change. No matter how revolutionary the new experiences and how positive the changes, the initial excitement wanes. We may still be engaging in some new behaviors but the sense of novelty diminishes. We find that we have stopped practicing the new behaviors as consistently. We see the “bump” reminders but do not pause to come back into the present. What is going on?

At this stage, our first impulse is often to decide that a new way of doing things just doesn’t work. We may feel discouraged with the process, ourselves or both. It is a point in the process at which it is easy to revert back to old habits. Underlying this response is a failure to appreciate just how hard old habits die. In truth, it is human nature (and human biology) to resist change, no matter how positive. At this stage of change, it is crucial to recommit. But only when we recognize that this phase of diminished excitement is an entirely normal phase of behavior change can we redouble our efforts and persist. By anticipating this stage of behavior change as a normal part of the process, we can overcome its impact when we encounter it.

Taking the steps to be more consistently “RHRN” is a journey.

Early discomfort, confusion, elation and even a loss of our initial excitement are all part of the adventure. The more we understand the normal stages of the change process, the more likely we are to avoid derailment and to successfully achieve our aims!

~ Dr Mary Jen Meerdink Ph.D