How many things do you do everyday on auto-pilot? What are the foods and drinks you automatically reach for? What things do you say on the regular without even thinking? How do you constantly feel without really knowing why? What is the story you tell over and over again that has made you... you?
This is the habit of you.
We are all a collection of beliefs, perceptions and habits. Everything is a habit.
A habit is a way of behaving that is regularly repeated, redundant.
A habit is something that you do often through frequent repetition.
A habit often has a tendency to become automatic, where you don't even need to think about it.
A habit is when you do something so many times, your body does it better than your brain.
The hot water side of my bathroom sink froze up this summer and wouldn't turn. For a couple of weeks, I kept going to turn on the hot water side and when it wouldn't move then I would say "oh yeah, I forgot." And then my body would respond to that thought by moving my hand to turn on the cold side.
After repeating that enough times, I didn't even touch the hot water side. My body would automatically ignore the hot side and reach for the cold side without me having to think about it. My body had been programmed through repetition.
Two weeks ago the knob got fixed and now I have hot water! How many times do you think I've turned it on out of all the times I've gone to wash my hands? Two. The first time was the first day it happened, and then not again until last night, which is what inspired this article.
Unless I'm consciously focusing on being present, I don't turn it on. So, who's running the show? My mind or my body? In this case, my body is running the show, running on a program to automatically reach for the cold water knob because that's what I trained it to do.
I had the thought while I was on the toilet to remember to use the hot side but by the time I got to the sink, I had already forgotten and my mind was out of the present moment and onto something else! I had to work to stay focused and present long enough to remember. I had to stop my body from automatically reaching by bringing my brain back online to re-mind the body that we were going to do something different.
Doing it once, like on the first day, wasn't enough. I'll have to keep repeating it until it becomes more familiar. Forming a new habit takes consistent practice. Eventually, I will retrain the body to remember that the hot water side works and then it will deprogram the old program and recondition the body into a new habit.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
This format is the same for all habits. Once you know how it works, you can use it to deconstruct everything, step by step.
We are running on a program of all the things we've done so many times that they have become our personalities, just "how we do things", "set in our ways," who and how we are.
Who have you become?
When we go to do something new, we have to work at it, it takes more energy to do something new and unknown than it takes to do the familiar and known. If you don't have the energy, your past becomes your present which then becomes your future because the old programmed habit of you is running the show.
So how do we break the habit?
#1 Become conscious of where you've gone unconscious in the first place, where the body is running the show on autopilot (funny, I reached for the hot water side again without thinking)
#2 Insert a new thought (the hot water side works now, you can turn it)
#3 Then our body will respond to that new, conscious thought (body reaches for the hot water side).
#4 The thought + action creates a feeling (hey, I did it, now I'm reaping the reward of hot water)
#5 The feeling helps reminds you to do it again by igniting a new thought. The cycle continues.
Here's the kicker: Whether it's a bad habit or a good habit, a bad feeling or good feeling - we want more of it. We can get very addicted to emotions that involve pain, suffering, stress and adrenaline just as we can to those that create joy, love and happiness.
Think of it as your body being the animal and your mind, the trainer.
Everyone knows the image of someone who is walking their dog. (mind is in charge)
Then think of a time where you've seen the dog out in front walking the human. (body is in charge)
Then think of the time when you've seen a human and a dog that are walking in sync, no leash, in perfect harmony, each making tiny adjustments to stay as a unit. (mind and body working as One)
What kind of feeling does the third image invoke?
Ease, harmony, grace, perfection? Like a flock of birds or a school of fish moving as one unit, the human and dog do the same. This is the same for your brain and your body, invoking a feeling of peace and ease in your heart.
Remember, everything is a habit.
From which side of the bed you get up on, to the way you brush your teeth, to the route you take to work, to the way you talk to your self, to the way you feel about the holidays, to how you act and feel around your family or strangers, to the foods you eat, to the times you do certain things, to the way you hold your body, to the way you walk and talk.
If you want to do any of those things differently, you're going to have to 1) wake up to how you've been sleepwalking on auto-pilot. You're going to need to 2) take inventory of what you've been thinking, how you've been acting and how you've been feeling. And then you're going to have to 3) get really clear on what you would rather think, how you would rather behave, and how you would rather feel.
Because your Thoughts + your Actions + your Feelings = the Habit of You
What you Believe + How you Behave + How you Feel = Who you Become
Writing things down and saying them out loud helps to get out of your head and into your heart by getting honest with yourself. And the heart is the source of it all. It's the union point where your body and your mind merge into One and operate harmoniously, in sync, in coherence, in alignment.
The heart is the home where ease, grace, and harmony reside.
Thoughts drive feelings and feelings drive thoughts. Some people do better with getting clear on different thoughts, others do better by working with feelings. I'm getting better at being a feeling person so I go right for the fast track of the heart. I find that when I hone in on the feeling I want to feel, 95% of my thoughts clear up.
I have developed the habit of beginning each morning by loading up an elevated heart emotion of how I see myself becoming now and in my future. And I'm telling you, it's the most worthwhile habit I've ever created.
Everything else works so much better, so much more easily, when I let my heart feed my brain and body instead of running on an old, outdated, unconscious, automatic program. When I activate this feeling first, my brain and body follow.
My heart becomes the driver for my thinking which in turn drives my actions.
Then, throughout the rest of my day, we're working as One. No leash, no tug, no pull, no choking, no yelling, no dominating.
If I do the opposite and let a limiting thought run like wild fire or choose a dis-empowering action, it is so discorded, so glaringly obvious, that I can't possibly pretend not to know. The gap of the me that I've been rehearsing and the me that I've slipped back into being is too big not to see. I see that I'm falling back into the program, letting my past - old hurts, betrayals and heart breaks - run the show and define my future.
This is useful information! It's not failure, it's feedback! Now I'm waking up.
Now I'm noticing the habit of me. And that puts the responsibility back in my court to choose a thought and action that IS in alignment with the feeling that I want to feel, that I have been practicing feeling, the me I want to be, the me I'm trying on, like a new pair of shoes, every morning.
And if I don't, there's no one to point a finger at, no one to blame because I now know that I am in charge of what I think, how I act, and how I feel.
As Maya Angelou said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."
It takes work. It takes training. It takes practice. I've had to settle my body down when the propensity has been to get up and do what it's always done. I've had to be with and observe the pain in my back and stiffness in my hips that want me to get out of that position, talking me out of it. I've had to bring my thoughts back to the present moment instead of the coffee that's waiting for me or the clients I need to reply to or the easy-going-cop-out thought of "just do it tomorrow."
More good news: I'm gentle with myself if I stop... as long as I start again.
The good news is that anyone can learn to do anything. Like any skill, it starts out a little choppy, a little rough, until it becomes more familiar and you begin to feel progress.
2023 has been a year of experimenting with meditation for me. Now, my body is starting to surrender. My mind comes back to the Now moment quicker, more easily, more often. I'm looking forward to seeing how good I can get at staying longer. I'm less afraid of the unknown and more curious about how deep I can go. I'm embracing possibility. I'm getting better, more skilled. I'm getting to know myself and loving myself for taking the time to show up. I'm delighted by how I'm rewarded in tiny, miraculous ways in my day to day life, how my baseline for what's possible is elevating.
Me and the dog are walking together without a leash, without running after every squirrel or trying to one-up the other. The love we have for wanting the best for the other is now running the show. The heart is leading. My heart-breaks and hard-knocks of the past no longer determine my future. The only thing I bring in from my past is Wisdom.
So, at the risk of sounding obvious, the way to break a habit is to not do the same thing you did the time before. And the way to create a habit is to do something new over and over again, mastering the discomfort until you surrender into a new familiar.
It can be really uncomfortable. Parts of you that have been with you from the beginning might need to die or at the very least get a sustainable upgrade because our identities are inextricably linked to our habits. It's the only way a habit will stick.
But if we don't like who we we've become or there's some aspect of ourselves we want to change, might it be useful and worth it to carve out time to practice rehearsing what that ideal version of your self might feel like?
What's one thing you could focus on, one thing you could add in to crowd out an unwanted thought, behavior or feeling?
And if you let yourself rehearse that one thing, how might that make you feel?
Proud? Triumphant? Aligned? Joyful? Worthy? Happy? Whole? Rich? Healthy? Wise?
Let the intention of that heart feeling give you the energy you need to begin. Just begin with a willingness to feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, trusting that the greatness that is you is just on the other side.