RA, habits and happiness.

A Clean Slate

It's not New Year's, but in a way it's like the beginning of a new year with the last days of summer fading away and autumn soon falling upon us. You can almost feel change and transition in the air. Well, I can at least. Last December/January I fully meant to write a post about my New Year resolutions and for some reason didn't get around to doing it, regrettably. But! I think right now is a great time to take stock of what's going on in one's life and to reevaluate goals and habits for the present and future.

I always feel that Fall is a time of new beginnings anyway, but what specifically prompted me to write this post is an E-mail I received from Gretchen Rubin's E-mail list. She is the author of New York Times bestsellers The Happiness Project and Happier At Home.

I read The Happiness Project a few years ago, and it's been on my mind again. I remember liking it a lot--liking the author's witty, personable style of writing, and the dedicated care, research and passion she put into the book. It felt that she not only wanted others to connect and gain wisdom and help from it, but that she needed it too. It made you wonder, Are there really things I can do to have a happier life? That can actually work? According to Gretchen Rubin, yes. This book is enjoyably smart and insightful and I continue to recommend it to others. I feel I also need to refresh my memory with more of those happiness tips.

Based on how much I liked The Happiness Project, I recently decided to sign up for Rubin's E-mail newsletters and blog posts from her website. A blog post that caught my attention the other day was about "clean slates" and habit changes. Rubin's new, forthcoming book is about habits--how we make them, break them, learn from them, etc.

So why do I care about habits and clean slates and happiness strategies? I think I would be interested anyway, but living with RA causes me to question these things more often, and on a deeper level, as a way of possibly trying to understand and cope with the disease. Basically, I'm open to just about anything that might help. I'm tired of feeling like my health and life are out of control so often.

You can read Gretchen Rubin's blog post here if you like:

Has a "Clean Slate" Ever Led to a Major Habit Change for You?

In the post, she writes:

The fresh start, the do-over, or the new year is a crucial time, because it offers tremendous opportunity for forming new habits — but it can also pose great risk to existing habits that we want to maintain. It’s important to stay alert for signs of a clean slate, because too often, we fail to use the opportunity of a clean slate to form a desirable habit, or we fail to recognize that a clean slate is triggering a habit that we don’t want to form.

The slate may be wiped clean by a change in personal relationships: marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new puppy, a break-up, a new friend, a death. Or the slate may be wiped clean by a change in surroundings: a new apartment, a new city, even rearranged furniture. Or some major aspect of life may change: a new job, a new school, a new doctor.

I definitely feel like I need a clean slate, that I've tried to create a clean slate numerous times (without much success), and that I've tried to make good habits and break bad ones. Yet, I feel I'm almost always stuck in the same rut regarding my health, career/jobs, relationships, happiness. Then usually what happens is that I give up on the "slate"--clean or dirty or non-existent--and fall into apathy and general frustration and unhappiness until the next moment(s) of inspiration and motivation happen to strike again. Maybe I'm trying to clean too many different "slates" at once, instead of focusing on one thing at a time? That could be it.

Off the top of my head, habits I need to form or change, that I feel could greatly impact my RA are:

  • Exercise: regular physical activities that I can do with my bad feet and ankles (swimming, biking, light weight-lifting)
  • Nutrition: no caffeine, less sugar, no processed foods, more water, less/no alcohol, less gluten and bad carbs
  • Weight loss: better nutrition, more exercise, smaller food portions, less emotional eating
  • Stress management/reduction: more/better sleep, yoga, meditation, exercise, creative work, "me time," less worrying, self-forgiveness, realistic expectations/limitations, giving self-permission to rest and relax when necessary
  • Relationships: developing and maintaining good friendships and meaningful connections, effective and respectful communication with others, self-respect, forgiveness, love, patience
  • Self/spirit/soul: holding onto dreams and goals, keeping passions alive, finding time and courage for adventures, helping people, life-long learning, self-discovery, creating with others, creating for myself, remembering what's important in life

Whew. That looks like a lot of stuff to take care of and work on. Can I do all of it? Probably. All at once? No way. And I think that's where I run into problems--wanting to change many things all at once, and then ending up feeling overwhelmed and giving up.

Rubin talks about the power of "The Clean Slate" and using it to bring about good habits and changes in life:

The Clean Slate is so powerful that it’s a shame not to exploit it, and by making ourselves conscious of times of beginning, we can harness these crucial moments of opportunity to forge new and better habits. For example, in one study of people trying to make a change — such as change in career or education, relationships, addictive behaviors, health behaviors such as dieting, or change in perspective — 36% of successful changes were associated with a move to a new location.

A new location, eh?  A funny coincidence, perhaps, but moving to a new location is something that's been on my mind for a long time--an idea that sometimes quietly, fearfully lurks in a little corner of my brain, and other times practically screams at me to pack my bags and book the next flight out of town. My recent trip to North Carolina gave it a much-needed kick start, I think, and reignited some instinctual, gut feelings wondering if finally moving might be the new beginning I need. The clean slate that I've needed for a long time. Moving to a different city or country, even, doesn't guarantee instant happiness or a fix to all of your problems, of course. But I do think it's good to take risks and try things, if they could lead to positive changes. Maybe moving somewhere new for a while could help me follow my list of new/better habits. I'm not sure, but it's something to seriously consider--as are the habits and goals I listed in this post. Whether small or big, I think they're all important and valid. I just need to take things one step at a time and not give up. I know my RA would feel better. And so would I.

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