Many habits have to do with how we manage difficult emotions, such as discomfort, boredom, anger and fear. These grooves can play out in how we eat, our level of activity, conversations and relationships, and how we spend time alone (or don’t).
And let’s be mindful of how we label behaviors as good and bad. We can find greater freedom within these practices than a rigid subscription to what we “should” be doing.
The first step in evaluating habits is awareness. Become sensitive to what is happening in our bodies and minds. I had a teacher describe yoga as sensitivity training; the work you do on the mat helps train your body, mind and breath to be more aware. This is a practice of becoming strong, centered and connected.
Sometimes you need to spend time observing before you make any changes. When I started my meditation practice, I spent dedicated time observing. I didn’t make any changes, simply watched myself. How I thought, spoke, spent my time. What thoughts led to what actions.
3. Patience and Kindness:
This work is not always comfortable. You need to be both brave and kind to yourself. Everyone has patterns. You can be truly loving to other people when you can be loving to yourself.
4. Press Pause:
Be with these feelings and notice them. Observe what is happening. Within the sensations, begin to slow down your breathing, allow your lungs to fill deeply and release. Pay attention to the sensation of your breath, your skin, your beating heart. Allow the feelings to wash over and
through you without trying to get rid of them. See what happens.
The previous steps prepare you to disengage from your patterns. You’ve prepared yourself to be able to ask, what choices do I have? It can be a helpful reminder that whatever trigger is fueling a grooved reaction will generally hold its intensity for a few minutes and then pass.
Instead of the old behavior:
- Walk around the office or the block
- Take a 1-5 minute break to stretch
- Breathe in and out for an equal amount of time. Start with 3 seconds and increase over time for 1-5 minutes.
- Listen to music
- Do nothing
6. More is Not Better:
One block in creating new habits is the idea that you need to overhaul everything right away. This can work for some people. However, what I have noticed is that making intentional, small changes can impact our lives in big ways.
When I began a meditation practice, my teacher said to not underestimate the power of 5 minutes. It’s better to sit for 5 minutes every day (and I started with 1 minute), than 20 minutes or longer only occasionally.
There can be many ways to view habits: with shame, rigidness, hopelessness or a combination of effort and ease. What would you like to start changing?