A month and a half ago, I stumbled across this link
on changing habits, specifically with respect to nail-biting. I figured I'd give it a try, since I've been a lifelong nail-biter and absolutely nothing has gotten me to stop for more than a week or two at a time. I didn't bite my nails at all the week that Kit was born, so I knew it wasn't a stress response; it was something I could be distracted from, or too busy to do. Habit reversal training seemed like a good match for that.
I identified my nail-biting trigger: rough skin, corners, bits that stick out or catch or feel not-neat. I dug back in my brain for the self-observation techniques I learned from Headspace
and practiced observing myself as I noticed the roughness and felt the urge to gnaw it smooth. I redirected the urge into filing or moisturizing, or just sat there with it and experienced the feeling without judgment. I treated it the way I treat Kit trying to punch themself in the eye: "I see that you want to do that. I'm not going to let you do that. I will hold your hands as gently as I can while not letting you use them that way."
Within a month I'd entirely stopped biting my nails. Entirely. I wasn't even using my thumbnails as sacrifice nails. The urge itself is gone. Now I can put my fingers in my mouth or fidget with my nails and not want to bite them.
Two weeks ago I got a manicure, with beautiful iridescent beetle-wing-green nail polish. A week ago I got another one because I use my hands all the time and no nail polish is going to last for long--but I didn't gnaw any of it off. As I type this entry, my nails click on the keys. This is a very annoying feeling, so I'm going to get another manicure either tomorrow or Friday and get them filed a little shorter this time. I can see a near future in which I become one of those people with a fancy nail polish collection, though I will always prefer having someone else do my nails to doing them myself. emilytheslayer
has promised to put nail wraps on me at Readercon, and I might try making my own nail wraps with nail polish
or origami paper
, as it seems easier than painting directly onto my nails (which I am spectacularly bad at).
I'm very lucky that my nails grow very fast and are thick and strong and healthy. If my nail beds weren't so short, you'd never know that I used to bite them. I hope that if I leave them just a little longer than I actually want them, over time the nail beds will regrow--though it's hard to know whether that can even happen after 30 years of biting.
Meanwhile, on the front of forming a new habit rather than breaking an old one, I've flossed my teeth every single night for almost 28 weeks, with the exception of the night X was in labor. That one I did by keeping a tally in dry erase marker on the bathroom wall--dry erase markers write very well on shiny white tile--and telling myself that if I missed a night I'd have to erase my entire progress and start over. My goal was absolute compliance. (I feel entirely justified in giving myself a pass on the single exception; it was an exceptional night.) This is a pretty hard-line approach, but I'd previously tried simply tracking my progress as a positive incentive and it wasn't quite effective enough; it had worked for getting me into a twice-a-day brushing habit, but flossing eluded me. Obviously, the longer my streak went, the less I wanted to break it, and the combination of increased practice and increased incentive was very powerful. After meeting my initial goal of 26 weeks I stopped keeping the tally, but the habit appears to have stayed. It's now just a thing I do.
It feels really good to be the sort of person who works on self-improvement at age 37, and is successful. I'm glad I didn't give up on myself. And I'm really looking forward to bragging at my dental check-up on Friday. :)
Return of the granddaughter of the next generation of the five questions meme! From ivy
:1. Is being a parent roughly like you thought it was going to be?
I had no idea what to expect of this stage of parenthood, but some part of me was stubbornly certain that it was going to be just like our life only with a baby in it, no matter how many people told me that babies change everything. And as it turns out, our life is just like our life only with a baby in it. We haven't suddenly become different people. We haven't lost our other interests or our needs or our quirks and foibles. We're still us, caring for a baby in our own inimitable fashion.
I'm still shaky on identifying as "a parent" but that's gradually coming along.2. What is the best thing you've read lately? What made it so good?T. Berry Brazelton's Touchpoints: Birth to Three
(revised edition) is an extremely soothing and reassuring book about early child development. I read each chapter as we approach the stage it discusses, so that I don't overwhelm myself with info that I can't use yet. The chapter on babies two to three weeks old says things like "it takes work and time to bond (form attachment) with the baby, so don't worry if it doesn't happen right away" and "this is what an overstimulated baby looks like; if you see this then it's time to leave them alone for 10 to 15 minutes to recover". It's the antidote to scaremongering Dr. Google. Reading it is like breathing a giant sigh of relief.3. What artist or spokesperson would you give a wider audience, if you could?
The most obscure brilliant artist I know is photographer Zoée Nuage
, whose images of gender ambiguity and transition changed my life. I'd love to see those photos reach more people who are just starting to have thoughts about their own genders. Somewhat to my surprise, Zoée has moved on from photography and is now making needle-felted jewelry
that's tiny and beautiful.
Less obscure but also brilliant is Thích Nhất Hạnh
. I recommend his writings on mindfulness in daily life to anyone who's ever been stymied by the (false) notion that meditation and mindfulness require a rigorous practice of setting time aside for sitting still in a quiet room. I genuinely feel like the world would be a much better place if everyone attempted some sort of mindfulness practice--we don't all have to be Zen masters, but paying a little more attention and moving a little more slowly goes a long, long way.4. What are your thoughts about education for kids? Do you have a preferred method of schooling?
I'm firmly in the "whatever's best for that particular child" camp. Some kids need a lot of socializing and others need time alone. Some need to be self-directed and others need structure and coaching. Some learn by listening and some by doing. What matters is that they get lots of options and opportunities to find what works for them, the support and attention they need from compassionate instructors, consistent rules and discipline without punishment, and a safe, encouraging space in which to learn.5. If your whole household could be instantly and collectively fluent in another language, which one would you pick? Why that one?
I wouldn't dream of picking unilaterally--that's a decision we should all make together. And if "collectively" means the baby learns it too, that's a different decision from the three adults picking a language in which to discuss things that we don't want Kit to know about. :)
My personal suggestion would be Japanese, since becoming fluent in it the hard way is really super hard, and it's genuinely useful for us (J's stepfather is Japanese and we love traveling in Japan).
If you want five questions from me, leave a comment, and I will do my best to think of something to ask beyond "Can you come over and watch the baby?". :)
As mentioned here
, I recently read Thích Nhất Hạnh's The Miracle of Mindfulness
(which had a very gratifying focus on mindfulness in daily life; for a taste of that, see this shorter piece by Nhất Hạnh
). One of the things he suggests is taking a mindfulness sabbath every week--you do your ordinary daily things, but you do them at about a third your usual speed, with full attention to the thing you're doing in the moment that you're doing it. I like that idea so much better than a day of rest in the traditional Jewish mode, and have been thinking about implementing it in some way.
I tried it yesterday (beginning with lighting candles on Friday at sunset, which was very pleasant in the winter dark) and only sort of managed it. At one point on Saturday night I realized it was dark out and that meant Shabbat was over and I didn't have to be mindful anymore. Then I thought that was a sort of silly way to look at it, and did my best to be very present with whatever I did next (washing my hands, I think). If it were easy, I wouldn't have to make a practice of it.
One place where it was very effective was doing work on Friday evening. I was proofing my pages for the week, which I usually get very distracted from and take ages to do because of the distractions. But I focused on it not in a furrowed-brow kind of way but in a presence and mindfulness kind of way, and it went very quickly and painlessly. Unfortunately I have not yet managed to apply that to the work that I'm currently procrastinating on by writing this, because in order to be present with the work, I have to actually start doing the work, and I don' wanna. But once I actually start it, I will hopefully stay focused despite being incredibly tired, and it will go quickly and then I can sleep.
Today I was taking my meditation walk in the park, and caught myself getting distracted, and thought, "Be here now." And then I thought, "I am
here now," in the sense of, why do I need to instruct myself to be here now? I don't need to actively try to be here now; I'm already here now. I just need to stop being anywhere else (in the mind-wandering sense), and then being here now is the thing that's left. That little moment of enlightenment lasted maybe twenty seconds, but it was a really good twenty seconds. I am here now. No effort needed.
The other day I mentioned taking walks while listening to Headspace meditations, and the friend I was talking with was puzzled because those are intended for sitting meditation. There is certainly much to be said for sitting meditation, and Headspace has taught me how to appreciate and enjoy it, but walking meditation just feels perfectly designed for me. Sitting meditation feels like using weight machines instead of free weights; it builds capability and endurance, but only in very specific ways that aren't necessarily broadly applicable. Walking mindfully feels like much better practice for moving mindfully through the rest of my life. And I'm always happiest while walking, through a park or through my city.
How to adapt one to the other: Whenever the guiding narration says to rest my focus on the rhythm of the breath, I rest my focus on the rhythm of walking instead. That's it! The rest of the practice is entirely the same.
I've been doing Headspace Pro recently, which is unthemed and includes long periods of silence. Nearly every afternoon, ideally after eating lunch and before the sun gets too low, I go to the little park down the street and walk for 20 minutes or so, very lightly guided by the minimal narration, experiencing the park and the change of seasons and the people and animals that pass by. It's just lovely. I dropped the practice in the summer, because I don't need a reason to get out and walk--I do plenty of it without even trying--and my schedule is often so packed that it's hard to find even 15 or 20 minutes for myself. I expect I'll drop it again next summer for much the same reasons. But I'm so glad to have it for the fall and winter and spring, and I hope to bring FutureKid along with me on many future walks (without headphones in, obvs).
Today I started reading Thích Nhất Hạnh's The Miracle of Mindfulness
. I was looking for his book on walking meditation and couldn't find it, but this was sitting right there (we actually owned two copies). It feels like something I would have nodded along with in the past, but not really viscerally understood. Now that I have an actual meditation practice to link it to, I think I'll get more out of it. In the meantime, it's just enjoyable to read. And it feels so validating to read things like this that both echo my experience and provide gentle direction:
When you are walking along a path leading into a village, you can practice mindfulness. Walking along a dirt path, surrounded by patches of green grass, if you practice mindfulness you will experience that path, the path leading into the village. You practice by keeping this one thought alive: "I'm walking along the path leading into the village." Whether it's sunny or rainy, whether the path is dry or wet, you keep that one thought, but not just repeating it like a machine, over and over again. Machine thinking is the opposite of mindfulness. If we're really engaged in mindfulness while walking along the path to the village, then we will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our hearts like a flower, enabling us to enter the world of reality.
I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.