‘If you want a better life – develop better habits’ sounds so simple but habits are tenacious little blighters. They become so familiar that we don’t even notice them anymore. I’m not just talking about the little things like clicking your pen during meetings (isn’t that so annoying…) or rolling your towels up rather than folding them but thinking habits that can shape our entire lives.
Take how you deal with new experiences for example – you might embrace it and think ‘yah – this will be interesting’ or you might shrink away from it thinking ‘I will just make a dork of myself’. Our habits can become our ‘thought and action prison’.
The pinball wizard
Life is a bit like a pinball machine where we bounce from ‘Feel-Think-Do’ or ‘Do -Feel-Think’ or any one of the 6 permutations of these pinball targets (do you remember the permutations without repetition formula from maths – 3x2x1 =6? Big admission – I actually like maths because you can get it completely right – not like this head and heart stuff – so full of grey areas…).
We can bounce off Feel or Think or Do first and ricochet into any one of the other two next. Let’s take smiling as an example:
1. Do (smile at a stranger) – Think (most people are friendly) – Feel (a sense of belonging)
2. Feel (calm) – Do (smile) – Think (we live in a beautiful world)
For the sake of simplicity let’s say Feel = heart, Think = head and Do = body. It makes it easy to see that we are not a Lego figure made up of different parts that don’t communicate, even though sometimes our heads would lead us to believe that our heart and body wisdom is flawed.
When we are living on auto pilot with our habits running our lives we sometimes bypass ‘Think’ and just ‘Feel’ then ‘Do’. Now don’t get me wrong – we need habits and useful ones free up thinking power to contemplate more important things but limiting habits take away our freedom. Investing creative thinking energy into how we brush our teeth is unlikely to change our world for the better.
Resilience is usually a good thing but we can become resilient to the discomfort caused by our limiting habits that we no longer notice how disempowering they really are.
I always thought it would be fascinating to jump into someone else’s body and experience life through their feelings, thoughts and actions, but we would probably crumple to the ground or go a crazy because we hadn’t built up resilience to their physical discomfort and negative thought patterns.
Work your ‘Ahhhhhhhhh’ moments
So if some habits are pervasive and limit our freedom to make better choices in our thinking and doing, how do we escape their clutches? The usual answer is mindfulness and presence but I would like to add ‘moments of clarity’ to this.
Moments of clarity are akin to the clouds parting and a bright shaft of sunshine coming through (optionally accompanied by angels singing – ahhhhhh). These are the times when all the challenges we are facing seem very surmountable and we see the beauty in all things (more or less anyway – I would still struggle to see the beauty in a gorse bush – might be great in Scotland but nothing but spiky and invasive in temperate New Zealand…but I digress).
These ‘ease and grace’ moments give us a great opportunity to make plans for when things are murky and you feel like your path through life is uphill, in deep mud with a sleety head-wind (Am I the only one who has these days? Thought not.)
Be prepared – Scouts honour
‘Make a plan while you can’ (sounds like a Girl Scout motto) faces the fact that sometimes life feels hard and you’re all fresh out of sunshine and lollypops and moments of clarity are few and far between. Be prepared!
For example, if you are installing healthier eating habits and you know yourself well enough to realise you reach for chocolate when you are disappointed or sad (I ate half a big block the other day before I felt sick and finally gave my disappointment the attention it craved – jolly fascinating that half a block of chocolate couldn’t ‘sweeten’ a bitter experience, whereas just acknowledging my feelings was instantly comforting). Anyway lost my train of writing thinking about chocolate – emmm chocolate, but back to making a plan!
When we have the days where the 20 things on our checklist almost seem to check themselves off, our energy is high and our mood buoyant we are able to access our greatest creative thinking powers. Therefore what better time to make a list of all the things you could do to comfort yourself instead of chomping chocolate eg. Go outside and listen for birdsong, 10 belly breaths, look at photos of your family, phone a friend, hangout with a beloved pet for 5 minutes… These are all great ‘state changers’ that interrupt our sucky, I mean limiting, habits.
Next time you are having a moment of clarity (sometimes we may even have a whole day or week of clarity – cue Lego Movie music ‘Everything is awesome’) write down a few habits that don’t serve you and what you could do differently. Here’s one of my crappy habits to get you started:
Situation: getting kids ready on time for the bus
Feel: frustrated when the kids won’t eat, pack their bags and do their teeth quickly
Think: the kids are doing it on purpose to wind me up, I am a disorganised and grumpy Mum
Do: rush around and bark orders at them – unpleasant for everyone!
Alternative Do: get up half an hour earlier, don’t go on facebook until the kids are on the bus (an ipad is great but a bit too convenient at times)
Alternative Think: I love this opportunity to set the kids up for the day by providing a fun and loving morning atmosphere, I am a great Mum
Alternative Feel: calm and loving
Please share with your friends as they are likely to be imprisoned by some of their habits too!