Habits – Part II©
In last month’s newsletter, Habits – Part I, I noted that habits are behaviors to which we often give little attention because they require relatively little conscious thought (automatic information processing). That can be a distinct advantage in many situations, but it can also lead to anything from small errors to major disasters when the situation or task requires that we pay conscious attention to what we are doing. Unfortunately, it is also a very tempting (and habitual!) way to approach the daily business of life. I believe that life (learning to take the opportunities we encounter every day to grow into a better version of ourselves) is actually quite complicated for many people (for example, relationships, finding one ’s purpose, manifesting, etc.).
In short, we really should be paying much more conscious attention to what we are doing than is typically the case. But that is a choice, and that choice has a name—Conscious Living. It is a form of controlled information processing available to use as a strategy and means for raising your vibration as well as creating the life you desire. Constructive habits play a major role in this strategy. So, what is involved in this process?
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790; American author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer) once observed that “It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.” That seems pretty obvious, but it is important to understand why this is the case. After all, if habits were so easy to change, all of us would be doing it easily and at will, but that generally is not the human experience.
First of all, you can’t really “break” a habit; it just doesn’t work. Every time you give your attention to a habit you don’t want, you strengthen it. This is the simple Law of Attraction at work — and it works very well! Don’t even try to break a habit—unless you really don’t want to change it at all. The only way to eliminate unwanted habits is to replace them with habits that you do want. Again, simple Law of Attraction. Even then, there are additional steps to take if you really want to be successful.
This is not a matter of “willpower.” The great spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda, frequently stated that “Environment is stronger than willpower.” As my dear Grandmother-in-law frequently noted, “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.” All too often, willpower is just a wish dressed up in fancy clothing. If you really want to change a habit, you have to remove the environmental triggers that stimulate and support the unwanted behavioral habit. Get rid of the reminders. Remove the opportunity. Give yourself no option but to go with the new habit you want to adopt. In other words, don’t put temptation in harm’s way! This is especially true for habits that take the extreme form of “addictions.” It is just too easy (the comfort zone; the path of least effort) to keep a habit going. Make it more inconvenient to continue the old habit than it is to engage in the new one.
Next, you must have a specific, conscious intention to replace an old habit with a new one. This is one of the core principles of Conscious Living. The research literature on all kinds of task performance is crystal clear: specific goals almost always lead to higher performance (goal attainment) than general goals (for example, “do my best to improve”). Occasionally engaging in a new behavior might be regarded as an “improvement” by some, but few would agree that such “improvement” meets the criteria necessary for a “new habit.”
If you are struggling with any habit that you want to change, remember that you can’t just change the habit; you have to change your attitude, too; they go hand in hand. By “attitude,” I am not referring to “willpower,” but to your desire. Just how intensely do you really want to change? Just how strong is your desire?
• “We may think there is willpower involved, but more likely … change is due to want power. Wanting the new [habit] more than the old one. Wanting the new me in preference to the person I am now.” ~ George Sheehan (1918-1993; cardiologist best known for his books and writings about the sport of running)
Action speaks louder than words. Simply put, if you say you believe in something and you do something different, your actions reveal the truth. People make a lot of excuses in life; we all do. We say we want to change something in our lives, but often we won’t do what it takes to make the change. In other words, we say we want to make a change, but we don’t really want to make the change—at least not as much as we want things to stay the same. So, what are your words saying? And what are your actions saying? And what can you do to align your actions with your words—or your words with your actions?
• “When life appears to be working against you, when the supposedly wrong people show up, or when you slip up and return to old, self-defeating habits, recognize the signs that you’re out of harmony with intention.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (1940-2015; American psychotherapist, self-help advocate, author, & lecturer)
And don’t forget repetition. If you are trying to learn a new habit, repetition is critical. Not only do you want to remember the habit when you pro-actively think about it, but you want the habit to come naturally from your subconscious mind. It takes lots of practice. It takes repetition.
• “Healthy habits are learned in the same way as unhealthy ones—through practice.” ~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
How long will it take to learn and habituate a new set of behaviors? It all depends on:
• how ingrained the old habit is that you are trying to replace.
• how important you feel the new habit will be.
• how easy you make it to remember to follow the new habit.
• how well-rested you are.
• whether you are making this change alone or with others.
• how immediate the consequences are of not changing the habit.
• “It usually takes about 30 days to change a habit. Not because you need 30 days. You could do it in 68 seconds if you could (once you did it) hold your vibration there, but you have to consciously make that decision.” ~ Abraham (Collective consciousness of Spirit as channeled by Esther Hicks; Napa, CA, March 2, 1997)
If you are wrestling with a new habit that just does not want to let you take control, here are three steps you can take:
1. Be patient—especially with yourself—but don’t give up.
2. See which of the factors above you can change to your advantage. Experiment. Keep at it until you find a way that works.
3. Persevere, no matter how difficult or frustrating. It may take some time.
There is much more information on dealing with habits in Chapter 4 of my forthcoming book, Dancing with the Energy — Book 1: The Foundations of Conscious Living. In the meantime, remember this:
• “Choose the life that is most useful, and habit will make it the most agreeable.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626; English author, courtier, & philosopher)
Have a great month!