• Tolerating “toxic” relationships. What’s toxic? Any relationship that involves physical or psychological abuse. An emotionally abusive partner may make demeaning comments (“You’re lazy/fat/stupid”) or take more than he gives. If a relationship causes you pain and sadness most of the time or leaves you feeling battered spiritually, it’s toxic. When we let these relationships continue, it means we have holes in our fabric of self-love. You’ll need to seek therapy together or bring the relationship to an end. Ask yourself this critical question: What in me would tolerate disrespect? And begin the work of repairing your self-esteem.
• Procrastination. Sometimes the notion of actually completing a personal goal or fulfilling an aspiration can be so daunting we fear beginning the task. Whatever you are longing to do is what you were created to do. Begin again and again, if need be. Shore up your courage and remind yourself to focus, focus, focus. Your projects, goals and dreams are calling for your attention.
• Not trusting your intuition. All of us have stories about receiving prompts from our intuition, our inner voice, that we ignored. That small voice within is the wisdom of the spirit guiding us toward the best course of action, or in some cases inaction. The key is not just to listen to our sixth sense but to obey it.
• Round-the-clock snacking. Ice cream, cookies, leftovers. We all sometimes get the urge to overindulge in these treats, especially at night. But be careful: If this behavior becomes a habit that is triggered by stress, it could develop into a weight and health problem. Keep your refrigerator and cabinets stocked with finger foods that are fun to eat and healthy to boot–fresh fruit, raisins, popcorn, pretzels, carrot sticks.
• Not speaking your mind. Do you often swallow your words when you feel speaking the truth is important? When we hold in our deepest feelings, we not only place others’ opinions and feelings above our own, but we also suppress our ability to fully express ourselves and create intimacy. Practice telling the truth and saying what you feel in a kind, loving way.
• Oversleeping. Do you hit the snooze alarm more than once before getting up in the morning? This could be the result of staying up too late and not getting adequate rest. On a deeper level, it could mean you want to avoid the job you’re going to or the day ahead of you. To stop your snooze-alarm dependency, take the time to create a morning routine–and a life–you look forward to. For me, it starts with 20 minutes of Tae Bo followed by a jumbo mug of fresh-squeezed lemon tea with honey. For you, it may be morning prayer or stretching or journaling time followed by an assessment of your goals and dreams.
• Remaining in a dead-end relationship. You hope and pray he’ll be ready to marry you even though it’s been six years. You hang in there because he keeps promising that you’ll get engaged soon but that time never arrives. Or you’ve been engaged forever, but he won’t commit himself to a wedding date. These are signs to heed. It’s time to have a serious, conversation and perhaps deliver an ultimatum. If he can’t commit, you may need to give each other space to reevaluate the relationship or bring it to a close.
• Doing it all ourselves. The if-you-want-it-done-right-you’ve-got-to-do-it-your-self attitude is often behind our compulsion to take on more than we should. But there is more than one right way to make up a bed, hang a picture or write a memo. Let go and trust that others are also capable of doing a good job.
• Going to bed late and waking up tired. We try to squeeze in just one more thing before hitting the sack, and then that one more thing turns into three or four. The next day, we’re groggy and ineffective. Instead, set your clock to alarm at night to remind yourself it’s almost time for bed. Once you’re in bed, reset your clock to go off the next morning.
• Seeing–but not hearing–our kids. Your daughter, son or niece may be asking for homework help or trying to tell you a story, but you’re busy opening the mail, watching television or talking on the telephone. What children really want and need when they are trying to communicate with us is our undivided attention–both eyes on Tamara or Tyrone as if she or he were the most important person in the world. When a child speaks, listen actively and attentively.
Like many sisters, I’d planned to make major changes in my life back in January 2000. Top of the list: to drop my bad habits. You know those unhealthy behaviors that creep, creep, creep their way into our lives, consuming precious time, eroding our self-esteem, zapping our spirits. But by February, as I considered my 20-minute exercise routine that had dwindled to 10 minutes, the excess pounds still clinging to my thighs and the growing stack of clutter in my office, I knew the insidious habits would not evaporate on their own. In order to change, I had to take a look at my goals and evaluate behaviors that were not aligned with those goals. I had not only to make a commitment to myself but also to reinforce that commitment every day.
Now the 20-minute workout is back in effect four mornings out of seven, the pounds are slowly melting away and I’ve bought several file organizers to curb the clutter. You, too, have the power and inner resources to break any habit you decide to move beyond. The magic that makes bad habits disappear is a combination of focus, discipline and a commitment to having the life you desire and deserve. Once you draw the line in the sand and decide this is it, you’ve taken the most critical step of the journey toward change and renewal.
As you begin to identify and eliminate bad habits, remember to be gentle with yourself. During this season, which represents new beginnings and the seeding of new ideas, use the following list as a guide to spring cleaning–and reinventing–your life.
- Putting ourselves last. We often put the needs of our kids, mates, parents, friends and so on before our own, but it’s time to reverse the order. First thing each morning, nourish your mind, body and spirit. Read, exercise, meditate–whatever makes you feel good. You’ll find that there’ll be even more of you available to give to others.
- Making excuses not to exercise. If you need help getting started, join a friend who works out regularly, or if you’ve got the bucks, hire a trainer. Then, to keep fitness at the top of your priority list, schedule workouts on your calendar or incorporate exercise into social plans. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, ask her to join you for a walk ‘n talk in the park or a class at the gym.
- Lateness. Being on CP time contributes to unneeded stress. Not allowing ourselves enough prep time in the morning has a domino effect on the rest of the day. If you tend to run late for appointments and events, schedule an additional 20 minutes as “buffer” time.
- Holding grudges. Focusing on an old grudge creates a hard place in our heart that makes it difficult to give and receive love. Let go of hurt feelings by deciding to forgive the person who wronged you. Begin by forgiving yourself for your own missteps.
- Creating clutter. Dusty stacks of old bills, letters and papers easily accumulate on our desks and tables or in a corner. To kick the clutter habit, keep only essential items from the last 30 days and file other “keeper” items in an accordion file or file cabinet.
- Spending money you don’t have. Oh yes, I’ve been there–had to have my clothes, hair and nails hooked up even though my budget was tapped out. To enjoy these rewards, we must budget for them. One way: Instead of charging or writing a check for such expenses, set the money aside in advance in an envelope labeled, for example, “personal appearance and grooming.”
- Brotha hatin’, Claiming there are “no good brothers” may give some sisters temporary satisfaction, but when we hold on to the belief that the good ones are scarce, guess what? We keep having a hard time “finding” the love we want. If you have a pattern of attracting men who fall short of what you want in a partner, take heart and spend time loving and working on yourself. Say you want a mate who’s health-conscious, spiritual, financially stable, family-oriented. You’ll attract him by polishing up those particular qualities in yourself.
- Banking on today instead of tomorrow. Right now, how much money do you have invested in your future? Only 48 percent of Black women have saved for retirement, compared with 70 percent of all women, according to a 1999 Employee Benefit Research Institute survey. Your first investments can be as simple as participating in your employee retirement plan, buying stock in your company or contributing $50 to $100 to a mutual fund every month. The key is to grow your money, not just spend it.
- Mindless television watching. We get so used to having background noise in our daily lives that quiet can start to become foreign to us. But our spirits thrive on peace and silence. Instead of turning on the TV as soon as you get home, give yourself some time to decompress. Light an aromatherapy candle, sit down and put your feet up. Just be. Your spirit, and anyone you live with, will thank you for it.
- Forgetting health exams. How long has it been since you visited your OB-GYN or had a physical? The high incidence of heart disease and breast cancer among Black women means we can’t afford to skip checkups. Schedule–and keep–doctor’s appointments. Only you can give yourself this gift of love, and it’s far wiser and less costly to invest in prevention than in treatment.
• Not saving money. We know it’s imperative to pay ourselves first, but we’re often more eager to spend that hard-earned paycheck than to put some of it aside. Instead, begin to think of your money as a precious resource, much like energy. You don’t want to give it all away and leave yourself depleted. Develop the habit of retaining a portion–say, 10 percent of your next paycheck–for yourself.
• Giving in to the green-eyed monster. A good friend or coworker meets the love of her life or gets a great promotion, and we feel less than enthusiastic about her success. Next time you’re feeling envious, shift the focus from the other person and ask yourself, Why is her success making me uncomfortable? Are there parts of my life I need to pay more attention to? Use that energy to take care of your needs. And remember, the good that comes to others is also available to you.
• Delaying downtime. With our hectic agendas and incessant demands, it’s difficult to squeeze in time to simply relax. To make the time, schedule it just as you would a meeting. Block out at least half an hour each day on your calendar to do something that soothes you: Listen to your favorite music, sit in silence, get a massage or read a good book. Honor it as you would any key appointment, because it is.
• Expecting your sweetie to read your mind. No matter how much he loves you, he cannot anticipate your every need. The most effective way to get what we want in relationships is to ask for it, respectfully. For example, say “Honey, please pick up the children from school” or “1 would really love some flowers on my birthday next week.”
• Not taking a compliment. A friend or colleague says something like “You look great” and that devious inner voice counters with “No, I gained two pounds” or “My hair is a mess.” Next time you’re tempted to refute praise, tell yourself to cancel that, and simply reply “Thank you!” Replace negative self-talk with positive, self-loving words–I am beautiful or I am valuable and deserving.
• Dating unavailable men. Have you repeatedly dated men who are not available to you emotionally or physically? He may be married; still licking his wounds from a divorce or recent breakup; or so absorbed in work that he doesn’t have “spare” time for you. Rarely do we equate attracting unavailable men to deeply buried self-worth issues. To break this pattern, ask yourself: Do I feel worthy of attracting someone who is available to me emotionally and physically? Do I have any fear about creating intimacy with a man? Nothing breaks up a negative pattern faster than a dose of self-reflection and self-love.
• Saying yes–without thinking critically–to yet another commitment or invitation when we don’t have the time, energy or interest to commit ourselves. There will always be causes and people in need of our time and skills. It’s good to help out–but not if it’s at the expense of our own well-being. Learn to honor yourself by saying “1 appreciate the opportunity, but I’m unable to …”
• Credit addiction. Those little plastic cards are certainly convenient, but the interest we pay on most of them is exorbitant. Make a plan to pay off your debts within three to six months, even if you find that you need to talk to a credit counselor. Then do a little “plastic surgery” and cut up your credit cards. Adopt the slogan: Cash only.
• Not saying “I love you” to family and friends. Don’t wait until a tragedy strikes or a life-threatening illness comes along before you share your innermost feelings with those who mean the most to you. Before this week is out, let significant people in your life hear you say “I appreciate you. I love you.”
• Losing track of money. For example, we use our debit cards and neglect to record the transaction in our checkbook. Or we write a check and forget what it was for! Here’s a better way: Keep your receipts and update your checkbook nightly.