Are you in control of your life? If you live with any form of chronic pain, fatigue, malaise, or physical limitation, you probably often feel victimized by your condition.
Here are a set of practices that can help you cultivate a sense of mastery and well-being.
Attentional training is what allows us to begin this journey. For example, we all engage in unhealthy habits, many of which are too subtle for anyone — including ourselves — to notice. We can’t begin to change bad habits until we become aware of them. So how do we increase our attention and awareness?
There are two good ways to learn how to increase attention and awareness:
- Sign up for an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) class. These classes are found almost everywhere except in rural areas.
- Take introductory workshops followed by a weekend retreat at a Buddhist meditation center.
Once a mindfulness practice is established, the resulting new level of awareness can help you to begin to recognize new opportunities and choices that previously eluded your consciousness. The more choices you recognize throughout the day, the greater your ability to make responsible behavioral choices. You will become more response-able, which leads to being more responsible.
Choose Your Behavior
Set an intention to consciously choose your behavior from moment to moment. The easiest way to do this is to tune in to your behavior throughout the day, and preface it with: “I’m choosing to…” For example, I notice that I’m holding my breath or breathing too shallowly for my health. I then say to myself: “I’m choosing to breathe too shallowly.” The instant I acknowledge the unhealthy breathing habit to myself, I am able to then change my behavior. Immediately, my breathing slows and deepens.
Choose Your Language
The language we choose has profound physiological and psychological effects. Therefore, it’s important to use language that is conducive to mastery, well-being, and health. For example: My newfound awareness allows me to recognize that I’ve been telling myself that I have to go somewhere or perform some task. That choice of language is disempowering. Start by saying to yourself: I’m choosing to tell myself that I have no choice in this matter. Immediately, you will appreciate a new realization that you don’t actually have to do anything. Form a new healthy habit of replacing every “have to” with “choose to.”
Recognize Automatic Behaviors
We all could benefit from tweaking our health habits. Unfortunately, most of the time, we are not aware of our actions and how they affect our health. This is because we all have certain daily routines. Routines lead to automatic behavior, which is advantageous in terms of efficiency, but disadvantageous in terms of being able to live with full awareness of our actions.
Announce Every Activity
By announcing to yourself that you are about to engage in a behavior, you create greater self-awareness. The greater self-awareness leads to greater options. Preface each behavior with “I am choosing.” Here are some examples:
- I’m choosing to walk across the room.
- I’m choosing to stop at the red light.
- I’m choosing to stop eating before finishing what’s on my plate.
You can do this with simple behaviors or complex ones. The point is that announcing each behavior reduces automatic behaviors that we normally perform each day without any conscious awareness. This practice is a great antidote to the feelings of powerlessness that often accompany life with a chronic illness. It is valuable for a number of reasons:
- It serves as a mindfulness practice, making us fully aware of our behavior.
- It serves to replace automatic behavior with conscious intention.
- For those of us living with chronic illness, it serves to return a sense of mastery — a sense that we are in control of our lives.
- It serves to continually remind us that we can choose our behavior in every moment of the day.
- It can free us from the tyranny of disease.
Man sitting on dock photo available from Shutterstock