BREAKING A HABIT,
MAKING A HABIT – DAY 3
If you are a nail chewer, or an inveterate snacker, you will know the power of habits on our behaviour. Have you noticed how, despite repeated attempts to break the habit, it stays put? And we can get into a downward spiral of self-dislike when we realise we are still busy with the unwanted habit, despite the good talking-to we gave ourselves this morning.
If you are an anxious type, sometimes these habits have developed alongside the anxiety.
Research suggests this is because while the mind may want to stop the habit, the mechanisms driving the habit are not in the mind but lodged in the body as ‘implicit memory’. Like learning to ride a bike or knit (see Day 1 of this course), the habit is a behaviour that we don’t need to think to perform. It draws on body or muscle memories, independent of thought.
This would suggest that the way to break a habit is to approach it through the body instead.
It means bringing your full attention to the details of the habit. Then, keeping this mindful attention engaged, switching behaviours, and noticing every detail of the new action. This will begin to ‘overwrite’ the old implicit memory with the new behaviour.
To put this into practice, today’s invitation is to make a new habit around a commonly used object. Let’s take car keys (but you can use any object you use on ‘automatic pilot’ – the TV remote, your phone, your toothbrush, etc).
Using the car keys example: engage your mindful attention as you come through the front door. Feel the keys in your hand. Look at the keys and notice details of shape etc. You can even use other senses, such as taking a sniff of the keys (the more body-based activity you use, the more likely this is to ‘install’ the behaviour). Then place the car keys in a location (such as on a shelf) and say out loud, “My keys are on the shelf ”. See what happens next time you are looking for them.
If the habit is linked to a trauma, the undoing of the habit can help to undo the trauma too. Ancient fixed or held patterns begin to loosen, we find new habits. We are more fully awake in the present moment, where the trauma is no longer playing out. By noticing what’s here right now (the car keys in your hand), we are moving away from seeing the world through the old eyes into seeing the world through today’s eyes.
John O’Donohue: For a new beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
From ‘To Bless the Space Between Us’ (US) / Benedictus (Europe)
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