We have a horrible relationship with habits.
We struggle, we buy videos, we join clubs, we set our alarm clocks, we buy different foods. We have New Year Resolutions, we buy gym memberships, we buy pants in smaller sizes. We spend huge amounts of time, money and energy focusing on removing bad habits and creating good ones.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” –Apostle Paul, in the Book of Romans
In my practice of presence, I’ve found an amazing method that’s freed me from the vicious “habit cycle” of doing what I don’t want to do, and not doing what I do want to do.
What Are Habits?
A “habit” is a story we tell of what we’ve done before, what we’re doing right now, and what we’re planning on doing in the future.
At its core, we’re saying, “I chose to do this in the past, I’m choosing to do it right now, and I’ll probably choose to do it tomorrow.”
Can you see how that’s just a series of moments? We group them all together and call it a habit- but it’s not anything but a series of moments, of decisions we’ve made back then, we’re deciding to make again now, and we’ll probably make in the future. If you said, “I have a habit of skipping breakfast,” you’re telling me the story of how you’ve skipped breakfast a lot before. Whether or not you skip breakfast tomorrow is a choice you’ll make tomorrow.
How to Break “Bad Habits”
1. Ignore your old decision, and stop reinforcing it. Every time you tell that story you make it more and more true for the present. Start saying, “up until now*” instead of “I always” or “I have a habit of…” if you feel you must address the past, do it in this way to reaffirm its not still happening now. “Up until now, I’ve been skipping breakfast/not doing yoga/gossiping at work, but I’m choosing something else, today.”
*Thanks to my friend Lucy for this phrase!
2. Make only one decision- what you will do RIGHT NOW. Often new “habits” fail because we imagine and feel all the decisions it will take to make this a “habit” and project a huge amount pain into the future. You have only one choice: what you will do NOW.
3. Acknowledge the ego’s role in your past. The ego secretly feeds on your stories of weakness and failure. It seeks commiseration, validation and pity. When you acknowledge that the story you've told of having a bad habit, or not being able to create a good habit, has been serving your ego, you can let go of the ego's attachment to pain and choose the true joy of the present moment.
4. Have fun with this moment. When I first started playing with my old “habits”, it was so much fun! The stories of my past actions started to melt away as I chose differently, again and again. To open my eyes and look at this moment as a choice is incredibly freeing! Instead of saying, “I always,” I started saying, “RIGHT NOW I…” When we stick to the present, we can do anything!
Right now I’m writing part of an incredible book.
Right now I’m scheduling my first pilot lesson!
Right now I’m learning how to say “thank you” in Chinese.
Right now I’m cooking an amazing, healthy meal!
See how those don’t drag in the past or borrow the future like these do?
“I ate so badly yesterday, I have to eat less today”
“I’ll try to learn Chinese but I don’t know if ill be good at it.”
Nonsense. What are you doing right now?
You Have a Choice
“One is not “forced” to feel resentment by a negative memory, nor does one have to buy into a fearful thought about the future. These are only options. The mind is like a television set running its various channels for selection, and one does not have to follow any particular temptation of thought.” –David Hawkins and Scott Jeffrey, Dissolving the Ego, Realizing the Self
You make choices in this moment. You can only make a choice right now. You may tell yourself that tomorrow you want to get up and go for a run, or you may tell yourself that you've been a runner for years. But whether or not you run tomorrow morning is a choice you make right then.
You can make choices easier for you, but they're still choices.
A habit is only a story you tell about the choice you're making today.
How to Create New Habits
1. Tell a different story about your habit. I don’t use the word habit much anymore, because I know it’s an illusion, a fantasy “box” I put my choices in. But I can tell myself a completely different story that’s much more fun than being stuck in a habit. Personally, I love going for a walk every day. I love writing and new ideas seem to come to me all the time. (Formerly, my stories were, “I just can’t get into the habit of exercising” and “I wish I could discipline myself to write everyday.”)
2. Be present with your choice now. Do you love going for a run? Then enjoy putting on your running shoes. Be grateful for your body as you stretch. Smile as you take the first few steps into the street. You don’t have to run tomorrow’s run today, and you don’t have to carry yesterday’s run with you now. Stop telling the story of what you did or didn’t do yesterday, and just enjoy what you want to be doing right now.
3. Decide what choices you’d like to make in the future. What do you enjoy now? Does writing make you feel alive and productive? Does running make you feel exhilarated and connected with the earth? Does yoga make you feel brilliantly relaxed and light? Whatever you’ve done in the past has absolutely no bearing here- you decide what you love now and what you think you’d probably love to keep doing.
4. Set things up so your future choices are a little bit easier. Because I enjoy writing, and walking, and drinking green juice in the morning, I also enjoy setting up my environment to make those choices easier for me whenever I want to make them. I buy green veggies when I go to the store, and we’ve invested in a great juicer. As the weather gets cold, I’ve put my warm winter shoes by the door so my toes stay warm on my beautiful, fall-fresh walks. I keep my note program handy for taking notes when inspiration strikes to write. When you truly love something, it’s also a joy to make doing it a little easier the next time you want to do it.
5. Most importantly, stay present. If that means not making a choice you thought you would, don’t feel guilty or beat yourself up over it. Know that being present is much more important to your health, success, happiness and joy than any story of “habit” you’re carrying with you in life. If being present in your body tells you that it’s time to stop running at mile 3 instead of 6, or if your stomach tells you it’s not hungry at breakfast time, don’t stress. Listen to the present moment and honor where you are and what you’re doing right now.
If this helped you, I would be so grateful if you would share this post via Facebook or Twitter, or post about it on your blog. Thank you!