When was the last time you sat down and worked to complete a puzzle? Up until a few months ago I would have answered that question by stating “I have no idea.” But now, I can say yesterday!

I picked up two new habits over the holiday season this year, both in a direct attempt to keep my hands and my head busy when I would otherwise tend to stress or become overwhelmed.  The first new habit is working on puzzles.  The second is coloring this amazing book of mandalas, with some fancy new markers I ordered.

Before this holiday season, if you asked me about doing puzzles, or coloring, or anything creative, I would have looked at you like you were nuts.  Who has time for that?!  Everything I did creatively up until that point was completely associated with productivity of some kind.  Mainly I am constantly creating content for LCM Connect, LLC or doing some administrative task for Zach’s care, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything so absolutely non-productive as completing a puzzle or coloring.

But I am a changed woman!  And I am happy to report that with these two new habits I am actually focusing on the creative “process” when I am doing puzzles and coloring.  I don’t attach to the outcomes.  It’s about finding the Joy of just being present in a given situation, and not letting my mind run rampant with useless overwhelm, anxiety and made up narratives.

When I am spending time with Zach, I can work on these crafts parallel to him while he plays with his marbles and beads.  That way I am with him but not sitting idly and thinking about all the things that need my attention.  I am in the moment, with my son.  What could be better than that?

Yesterday, I completed my first 300 piece puzzle.  It was gorgeous.  The picture represented a large octopus in the ocean, and it was full of all the colors I love:  Teal and pink, green and purple and lots of different color blues.  I guess it took me about a month in aggregate to put forth the amount of work it took to complete this.  But ahhhh, the satisfaction of placing all 300 pieces in the exact place where they belonged was super fulfilling!

Now that I have completed that one, I have ordered my next 300 piece puzzle for delivery later this week. Who knows how long it will take me to complete it but now that I have the confidence of finishing one, I will be that much more focused in my pursuit of completing the next one!

Can we relate the formation of new habits to helping us along our healing path?  You bet!  When we grieve our brains can only go down the paths that are already available.  After a death, it can be next to impossible not to continue to follow those narratives and forage the paths that our brain finds familiar.  So engaging in a new habit like doing puzzles or coloring is actually a brain hack.  It can interrupt those old patterns, choices and experiences and lead us to teach our brains that there is more to learn, more to experience, more to be enjoyed and more work to be done.

When we are able to interrupt the former brain patterns by doing something new, we open wake our brain and tell it to start looking for novelty.  Finding it, even if only in a 10 minute session of focusing on a puzzle, allows new patterns to emerge.  And until they do, just quieting the mind with some form of creative ‘busy-ness’ can be a true relief.

Other forms of activity to open your mind can be anything that requires enough of your attention to stay focused, but not so much that you become completely engrossed, things like singing, drawing, knitting, painting, cooking, writing, taking up a new sport and anything that can tell your brain “Pay attention, we are onto something new here.”  That is the first step to communicate to our rigid habit loops that we are about to try something new.

And when we do, we begin a continual process of opening our minds and our hearts, as our habit hacked brain starts looking for proof that there are other things to do besides grieve.  Give it a try if you are so inspired, and of course please share any feedback you may have in the comments!

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