The repetitive, regular tendencies or practices in daily functioning, those often eliciting our involuntary participation, are known as habits. They become an integral part of our lives as helpful, as well as limiting, entrenchments; the self-care habits that support the health of our physical form stand alongside the pesky, self-sabotage of stress-induced or reactive patterns that become the hard-to-relinquish ruts of daily life.
Habits manifest in all shapes and sizes and are often thought of as an observable behavior. Frequently, our existing habits occur automatically without our consistent or conscious participation, mostly because we lose the need for active focus. Take driving, for example. Once we learn to drive, the methodical thinking through every step to execute the mechanics of operating our vehicle becomes unnecessary. It just organically happens because a habit was formed.
We all have habits of various purpose, creation, and strength – some, borne out of a need for safety, others devised for ease, efficiency, or to fulfill rules or norms. Brushing and washing, for example, live alongside cleaning our room and tidying our home, as well as the larger community care of recycling and maintaining our dwellings and/or properties. Kept in balance, these habits serve to honor our physical temple and proverbial home. Both witness the Divinity within us and all things by loving ourselves, others, and Mother Earth.
As we move beyond our perfunctory and reflexive world to engage in self-reflection, personal growth, and spiritual development, the life of many habits comes to the fore. Some may be easily seen, while others remain an elusive part of our day-to-day operations and reactions and are a bit trickier to detect. Many have their roots in thought or emotional patterns, like the knee-jerk reaction to a perceived negative comment or our slide into self-criticism when we feel we’ve done something wrong.
Taking a closer look at the vast array of habits in our life, their origin is one aspect all hold in common; we can trace our habits’ literal birth from the womb of our beliefs – a belief about ourselves and/or our world. Returning to driving, for example, the proverbial fuel for this American activity lies in the belief in independence, a teenage rite of passage and an alignment with societal norms. Looking deeper into the habits within habits, we might also discover nervous navigation, road rage, or a compulsion to speed fed by corresponding beliefs in danger, others’ wrongdoing, or hurrying through life.
So how can we work with the habits we’ve developed, especially addressing those that don’t serve our highest good? Traveling on the road to discovery and change, we can free ourselves from old habits through examination and relinquishment. Other interventions require intentional re-patterning. Calling, for example, on the Japanese practice of datsuzoku – the freedom from habit, daily routine, or the ordinary – opens us to the new by transcending convention and our personal ruts. Applied, it is the choice to “do something differently”, to break the steps of our routine, or think out of the box in an innovative way and move past our typical ways of operating.
Working at a deeper level we can examine the belief that created our habit in the first place, asking if the habit serves us or we’re serving it. As beliefs that find voice through the patterns of our limiting attitudes become discovered, we can intentionally allow them to fall away because we see how they block us from living freely in alignment with our True Nature. And while releasing these kinds of beliefs moves us forward on our path, the accompanying patterns and habits often remain scored into our psyche like a well-traveled hiking trail until we re-pattern or completely release them, too. In other words, as we liberate ourselves from constraining beliefs, it’s often the habits and patterns that remain intact to plague us, feeling as if they pull our mind and heart back to the ways we left behind, though not nearly as potently as when the attached belief remains active. As we invest energy into new, healthy behaviors instead of our outdated habits, the heavily worn trail of these entrenched neural patterns grows grass again to blend once more with the mossy forest floor of our psyche. Removing all energy from old habits or merely acknowledging any diversion as a tug in the “old direction”, we also practice datsuzoku to move forward on new and exciting paths.
Changing habits, because of their nature and ours, often feels challenging and uncomfortable. But know that discomfort serves as a marker to demonstrate our progress, a sign that we are just where we need to be, even in the midst of change. So hang in there! Remember that habits take approximately eighteen months to form, so their dissolution and/or re-patterning takes time, too.
Listed below is a partial inventory of behavioral, thought, and emotional habits. Those that appear helpful, sustaining, or growth-enhancing remain alongside those that may not serve our highest good. While incomplete, this list shines first light on that which we tend to ignore or do automatically, demonstrating that nearly any behavior, thought pattern, or emotional recurrence may indicate a habit needing our conscious attention. Because we tend to categorically label patterns or habits as “good” or “bad” influenced by our judgment-driven world, in the journeys to come, let’s broaden our scope and instead consider how each habit may be serving our highest good. Are they growth-promoting, health-based patterns, which demonstrate our self-love? Or are they a call to examine what is unhealthy or inhibiting – a notification to shed light on the work yet to be done? For a deeper look, we revisit this topic in Letting Go in Volume IV.
Here lies the opportunity to witness whatever the Universe calls us to observe, re-balance, or shed to be the master of our world, lovingly caring for ourselves on this big, beautiful rock floating in an infinite sky.
“Seeing” a silver lining
Driving a car
Assuming “bad” outcomes
Looking for “the culprit”
Defaulting to frustration
Needing to be right
Doing, doing, doing
For journaling exercises linked to this chapter purchase Volume I of The Soul-Discovery Journalbook Series by visiting www.pathways2innerpeace.com.