Not all ‘bad’ habits are of real concern for us, somehow needing our attention and commitment to transform them. Some might very well be considered just mildly irritating but tolerable, contained within our accepted threshold.
We may view them as basically ‘harmless’ so we pay no real attention to them and like ‘good’ habits some may even become so familiar that we unconsciously ‘befriend’ them, draw them close to ourselves. Unfortunately not all ‘bad’ habits are considered harmless. At the other end of the spectrum there are those that disrupt our lives creating great pain, many leading to tragic consequences. These habits may very well be part of our lives but there always exists an underlying tension, hatred even for their presence. Our desire and attempts to rid ourselves of their ‘grip’ on us is understandable but often results in disappointment and failure. So what can we do?
THE FIRST STEP is awakening, a full recognition that we have a ‘problem.’ We are no longer ignoring or denying the existence of our troubles but trying to fully acknowledge their problematic existence. No action is taken at this stage, we are just being present and reflecting on the nature of what it is that’s upsetting us, feeling the full weight of its attendance in our lives. This is a non-judgemental witnessing were we are trying objectively listen to what our pain is saying. Then, after due reflection we are hopefully ready to engage, we are ready to turn over a new chapter in our lives and do whatever it takes to heal ourselves.
“ Look for a long time at what pleases you, and longer still at what pains you”
THE SECOND STEP After due reflection – where the impact of our individual behaviour gains clarity – we are summoned to take action, but how? What is it we need to undertake? What plan do we have to implement? At this stage we must undertake our own research to find out what precise strategy we need to deploy. One method I could suggest for further exploration is replacement behaviour where we try to substitute our ‘bad’ habit for a good one. Simply put, all habits can be considered to be ‘triggered’ by a stimulus so if we can consciously recognize this experience, when it surfaces in our lives, and intervene then our behaviour will eventually change. In other words we are awakened to the stimulus that ‘cuts in’ to inform our habit to start but because of our awareness and intention to change, we intervene and substitute the origin habit with the new, more positive one. This could, very well take the form of a mindfulness practice. When we feel the trigger of the old, offending habit about to kick in we can stop everything we are doing and find retreat in our inner world of silence and stillness. Soon a more relaxed, calming mode will settle in and we can start to focus in on our breathing, paying attention, mindfully, to its rhythm and pace. After a few minutes we will start to feel the benefits of this practice and all we have to do now is simple – prolong it!
THE THIRD STEP With enough practice our new behaviour will become embedded in our minds – adopted and nurtured as a normal functioning routine, just like our old habit was. But a word of warning – all this does take time. Some research has indicated that 28days is the ‘threshold’ that we should aim for, the point at which the new behaviour becomes stabilized. But obviously there is wide variation in this dependent on the nature and severity of the offending behaviour and the individual in question. But undoubtedly regular, sustained practice will win the day. If, for any reason there is some sort of fall back we must avoid, at all cost, remonstrating with ourselves. Slip ups are part of our journey, indeed an integral part. We must take note, there is no direct trajectory to anywhere worth going. Slip ups do occur but there always exists new moments, fresh moments for reappraisal, for re-vitalization; moments of potentiality, moments of renewal. Endless moments pregnant with opportunities to begin again and so we must seize them – trying, trying, trying again until we succeed….
Article by Michael Lewin