Habit Experiment Wrap-Up

March Recap

March’s habit:

Reduce yelling and swearing.

My goals:

1) Continue bringing awareness to my moods before I lose it through mindfulness and lovingkindness practices.

2) Sign up for Gretchen Rubin’s 21 Day Project “Quit Yelling At My Kids”

It would be awesome if I could say, “Well, folks: It worked! Every time I felt angry with my kids this month I took a deep breath, thought of one of Gretchen Rubin’s tips, and was able to manage the situation without throwing a tantrum.” But then I’d have to publish this post on April Fools Day because that’s not really how it worked.

Most of the month I yelled very little despite some stressful events. Then last week we were late for music lessons even after I’d utilized all of my advance-planning, early warning techniques to count us down to departure time, and I just lost it. I yelled all the way to our lessons, saying really ridiculous things, like how I was no longer going to buy them Lego kits because I didn’t want to turn them into little American consumers always obsessing over the next “thing” to buy. I recognized even in the middle of it all that I was being ridiculous. “I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore!” I yelled.

In the rearview mirror, the children stared impassively through their windows at the dirty snow and mini-malls. When we got to our destination I apologized, and we had hugs all around, and we’ve been pretty good since. I’ve snapped at them a few times, but I’ve calmed myself quickly and apologized. (We call it “hitting reset.”)

I think now that my yelling is related closely to anxiety. This article about postpartum rage captures the feeling fairly well. Although it would be a stretch to label my situation “postpartum,” the link between anxiety and rage feels right-on to me. My cat does the same thing. We thought he was aggressive, but the animal behaviorist said he lashes out just because he’s high-strung and generally misperceives small threats and even non-threats as really big threats that require fight or flight. We helped reduce his anxiety using conditioning techniques that involved small pieces of poached chicken, but as much as I like chicken, I suspect I’ll need a different approach for my own anxiety.

My kids and I have a lot of open discussion about my attempts not to yell and the quest for self-control in general. We talk about how, even when we try to stop ourselves from losing our cool, we aren’t going to be successful all of the time, and about how unpleasant and scary it is to feel like we’re out of control. It feels like progress. Even if I’m not 100% cured of yelling and swearing, sharing the process with my kids has to help. If nothing else, it shows them that I love them enough to work hard at something that’s very difficult for me, and maybe it even shows them ways that they can manage some of their very big emotions.

Looking back over my old blog posts, I came across this post I wrote a few years ago during my original Happiness Project in which I hypothesize about what happens when I lose it:

My newest hypothesis is that I live my life basically just trying to get through the day, shoving aside any of my own emotions because I don’t want to make time to deal with them. I was thinking about how in seismology, frequent small tremors help relieve pressure and prevent a major earthquake (this is probably poor geology here, but it doesn’t have to be accurate for the metaphor to work). Using this analogy, I’m thinking that if I can recognize my emotions as they come up and perhaps even express them, maybe I can avoid the Big One that could cause California to break off and become an island.

My science is suspect, but I still think it works as an analogy and as an argument for self-care. I find it—perhaps oddly—comforting that I’ve been writing about this for at least four years.

Oh, and Gretchen Rubin’s tips: They won’t be new to anyone who’s read her books. It’s kind of nice to get them as daily reminders, but not enough that I plan to buy another round for a different habit.

Habit Experiment Wrap-Up

So, now that it’s over, how has this whole Habit Experiment thing gone overall? It’s been okay. I’ve been exercising every day for almost four months now, and I do feel myself slightly less tied to the internet than I was before I started, but I don’t feel like I’ve gained the insights I realize now I was hoping to gain. Looking back at my Happiness Project posts, I think I got a lot more out of that structure and the themes and resolutions I set for myself back in 2010-2011. I would even consider doing a Happiness Project reboot if I weren’t such a slave to novelty. (I’m such an American, just like my kids.)

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