Do you start putting the toothpaste on from the back to the front of in the middle? Where you do start brushing in your mouth? Upper left? Upper right?
We don’t only tend to do the same things over and over, we also tend to think the same things over and over. Doing and thinking the same things over and over are called habits. We all have them. However, few are aware of them.
You want to change, but over and over you find yourself taking on another project when you’re already completely maxed, digging into that bag of chips, spinning in worry or self-criticism, captured in the same argument with someone, lolling about on the couch, again.
Even with the best of intentions to act or feel differently, before you know it, you are barreling down a familiar track doing the same old, same old.
"I am a true believer that when you get comfortable, you start to die. If you are not doing things to make yourself better, then you are slowly getting worse."
Wouldn’t you love to be free of your most confining habits? Imagine being in control rather than controlled, mindful rather than mindless, fully alive rather than stuck in a very deep rut.
There’s nothing wrong with habits, but when they detract from you joy in living life to its fullest, you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at them. For it is your birthright to enjoy yourself, to approach the moments of our life with openness and enthusiasm.
AWARENESS IS THE KEY
So let’s get down to business and discover how you can step out of the prison of your habits. And it starts with being aware.
The nature of habits is that they occur outside of your conscious awareness. When you’re trapped by a habit, you are like a wind-up doll, programmed to play out the same behavior over and over. It’s a script you know by heart, and you act it out without thinking.
And this is great news! Once you realize that habits operate unconsciously, the way out becomes clear. You take each one and unwind it into its elements. You become aware of every nuance of thought, feeling, and reaction that makes up this habit.
BREAK YOUR CHILDHOOD HABITS
If you think about it, and put awareness into it, you may have several habits that are a direct consequence of how you were raised.
In Nicolas Cristakis research, he found that habits are contagious; passed from parents to children, good or bad. One example is that if the parents have an optimistic, positive outlook, their children will have an optimistic, positive outlook. If parents are pessimistic and negative, their children will be pessimistic and negative.
Another study found that self-made, successful individuals were taught by their parents that they were the architects of their lives. You and you alone create the circumstances that make you rich or happy. These successful individuals were also taught that everyone’s got individual responsibility. Self-made’s are not allowed to play the victim. They were taught to take personal responsibility for the good and bad in life and were not allowed to blame anyone but themselves when things went wrong.
In other words, habits spread like a virus. The habits you learn from your parents shapes the life you lead. They will either lift you up or tear you down. Therefore, awareness towards the habits you have from your parents, are necessary in order to change into who you would like to be.
BECOMING AN EXPERT OF AWARENESS
When you’re finally aware of your habits, you can call yourself a habit expert of your own life. When you’re your own habit expert, you know the habit so well and in such detail that you could write a thesis about it. And you don’t shy away just because what you discover is hard or painful.
Each moment is an opportunity to cast a vote for your happiness by becoming aware. And as you become aware, you realize the possibility of making a different choice.
Awareness is freedom. So if you long to be free, become aware of your habits. De-program yourself, throw away the script, and let the tracks of your habits be washed away.
A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR BECOMING AWARE
As you start to investigate habits, here are some important points to keep in mind.
It’s all in the present moment. The past is useful to learn about our patterns, but the rubber meets the road in the moment. So when you are triggered, when you feel your anger rising or you are reaching out for the ice cream when you know you don’t need it, this is the moment to be aware. No matter what you’ve done before, every moment offers an opportunity to be aware, to pause, to embrace your experience.
Awareness illuminates choice. As we untangle our habits by becoming aware of them, we notice options we never saw before. A friend was working on a habit of being concerned about what other people thought of her. As she investigated the pattern, she realized that people weren’t thinking about her nearly as much as she had assumed. She discovered a new option of not paying attention to a thought that wasn’t true. The result? Freedom.
Don’t force yourself to change. Rather than focusing on a goal, keep your attention on each moment. Lovingly embrace things just as they are. Take every fear and disappointment, every tension, every whirlwind of thoughts and create a warm and accepting space where they can be received. The habit can’t hold up to the power of loving attention, and change begins to happen effortlessly.
Your natural essence is whole and healthy. Habits are conditioned. We learn them to manage difficult feelings and situations. As we unwind our habits, the should’s, pressures, and rationalizations fall away. We realize that peace is possible, that freedom is available always.
A LOVING PROCESS FOR YOU
It’s easier to begin to investigate and being aware of your habits than you think it is. Start by being curious and open, willing and patient. Bring to mind a habit you’d like to work on and a situation in which this habit played out. Begin to ask questions: What am I thinking? What story am I telling myself? What expectations do I have? What am I feeling? What physical sensations do I notice in my body? Peel back the layers until all is revealed. Welcome these experiences like a long-lost friend. Say, “yes” to each one. This is the end of the inner fight and the beginning of real possibility.