The Joy of Making Your Habits Into Old Acquaintances and Boring Them to Death
They won’t hang around if you stop entertaining them
We all share at least one thing in common; we have many habits that don’t serve us. But we hear so much about changing them in the media and in popular psychology and wellness books that the subject feels boring.
If anything, too many change-your-habit stories can put you off actually improving your lifestyle and behaviors. Nonetheless, the truth is that habits can make or break us because they change what happens to us next.
We can’t control every event, but we can do something about our actions that affect the rest of our lives. Like dominoes, our habits influence each other. Engage in one regrettable behavior, and another follows.
For example, you may feel an urge to snack on a cream bun during your coffee break. “It’s just a one-off,” you say. But in a couple of days, the urge strikes again.
Your brain, or maybe your body, remembers how yummy that cake was last time, and it nudges you to continue snacking on cream buns every time your coffee break arrives.
Before you know it, you’ve developed a bad habit. Then, another bad habit follows close behind. For example, snacking on buns makes you thirsty, so you need an extra coffee to wash it down daily.
“That’s not so bad,” I hear you think.
But when you buy your coffee from the expensive shop outside your office, it hurts your wallet. By the end of the month, you’re twenty dollars down and have nothing to show for it other than insomnia.
Not to mention the cost of the buns and your growing waistline.
Bad habits sneak up on us when we’re busy doing something else. They begin with a whim. Something catches our imagination or attracts us, and we engage with it half-heartedly.
We’re not entirely switched on and aware of our actions, and we begin our habits on autopilot.
Mindfulness can help us turn on that inner light of awareness that shines on what we do and give us a chance to make an objective decision about whether it’s wise to buy that bun or an extra daily coffee.
To be mindful, you need to be in the present moment. This means you’re not absorbed in the past, future, or a task like writing a story or watching a movie.
You might think you’re engaging in mindfulness when absorbed in something. And the description fits. After all, mindfulness involves being in the present.
However, mindful awareness can involve engaging with the entirety of the moment. So, rather than only recognizing yourself tapping away at the keyboard as you write, you also notice the sensation of stretching your fingers to hit the keys.
You note the temperature of the room and the comfort, or discomfort, of your chair. Then, you hear noises outside your office window or downstairs in another room. You know a dog barks in the distance and a bee buzzes somewhere.
And why does all of this make a difference when you want to keep an eye on your habits?
To notice what you’re doing, you need to be aware of the present in all ways. You must see when the urge strikes to knock back a fizzy drink when you have already decided not to, but the idea grabs you.
You must recognize when your focus drops and you begin surfing social media sites rather than cracking on with your work.
How can you step up mindfulness?
There are several ways to make yourself more aware of your actions and the present moment. For example, you could download a mindful bell app to remind you to stop and consider what’s happening at specific times of the day.
Or you could time mindfulness to coincide with something specific you already do regularly, like stretching, taking a break, or checking your emails.
Whenever you carry out your chosen action, pair it with mindfulness, bringing your awareness to the present. Note your breath, how your body feels, and your thoughts. What’s happening in the environment? What, if any, urges threaten to pull you off track?
What to do when a bad habit insists on recognition
There’s no need to fight the urge to engage with a bad habit. In fact, it’s helpful to acknowledge it. The more you try to send it away, the more it will tug at your heels, demanding attention.
So recognize the urge to eat, drink, smoke, or whatever you want to quit and say “hello” to it.
Next, sit with your discomfort. Yes, the idea sounds a little nutty, but you’ll be amazed at what happens when you let yourself experience your urge and do nothing about it.
The hunger for whatever it is will pass. Just stay with it rather than reacting to it and let it exist alongside you. You can continue writing, working, or reading: there’s no need to focus on the desire to engage in the bad habit. But know it will pass and relax into it as you do something else.
Bad habits are often sources of guilt, resentment, and frustration. We know overeating, guzzling soda, or doing other unhealthy things are bad for us, yet, our bodies send us the signals to continue doing them, and they’re hard to resist.
But you can combat the seemingly endless need to do things you want to give up by boosting self-awareness with mindfulness.
Catch a bad habit the moment it enters your thoughts before you do it, and acknowledge it. Then let the discomfort visit you like an old acquaintance.
Imagine the acquaintance isn’t a soul mate. You’re not the best of pals, but you’re not enemies. They can sit next to you as you carry out chores and work.
You might see them in your mind’s eye. Or you could feel them poke you now and then. But know they will eventually pack their bags and wander off if you are neutral about them, not caring whether they stay or go.
In short, bore them to death.
We all endure habits that do us no favors, but we can do something about them. Try mindfulness and acceptance, and watch your old habits sidle off into the distance.
Of course, you will need to repeat the process often until your new habit of sitting tight takes hold, but with patience and time, your old acquaintances will stop coming to see you.
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