We all have them, habits that get in our way of reaching our full potential. At it’s heart, mindfulness is about changing habits – habits of the mind that feed into unskillful action.
In our mindfulness practice we work with unproductive, habitual thoughts – for this is the start of any addiction. For example we might wake up in the morning and without even getting out of bed start to feel dread: Maybe a long list of chores await us…. maybe we don’t want to be alone. This mental habit sets up a chain reaction in the body, that increases our stress level. Based on these feelings of dread and overwhelm, we might think we need two cups of coffee to make it through the morning instead of one. Already we have set up the body and mind to be in a state of anxiety instead of ease.
Include Compassion: If you are having trouble sticking to your new routine, be gentle with yourself. We are creatures of habit, not will power, so it might take a few attempts for your new habit to take hold.
Based on this example, it’s easy to see how thoughts and actions are linked. We can draw this scenario out further; the two cups of coffee lead to a blood sugar crash mid-morning, which leads to a third cup of coffee and a muffin, possibly leading to an irritable mood that contributes to poor communication with friends, family or colleagues. You can see the wheel of suffering in action here. Now replace coffee and donuts with something more damaging…. you get the picture.
Over time these habits can lead to a state of everyday fatigue and chronic stress. But let’s go back to the initial morning thought that triggered this cascade. Suppose your mindfulness routine included getting out of bed, practicing ten minutes of gentle yoga, and having cup of tea instead of highly caffeinated coffee, followed by ten or twenty minutes of seated meditation in which you examine the initial thoughts that your day will be dreadful?
We know it can be challenging to change a habit, so we offer the following steps to get you started, and our next few letting go posts will help you to dismantle habits of thought, word, and deed.
Today’s letting go exercise: Start to dissolve your habits –
These step are important in changing any habit, whether it’s a change in mindset, exercise or diet routine, or a troublesome addiction:
1. Prepare: Using our example above, you might prepare by getting your house ready. Set up a dedicated yoga/mediation spot. Purchase some healthy tea. If you think you will be tempted by the coffee, remove if from your house.
2. Be precise: As you develop your plan be as precise as possible. Write down a start date for your new routine, the time you will get up every morning, and the time you will complete your routine. Will you take one day off a week? Work out all the details.
3. Be Specific: Will you drink your tea before your meditation, or after? These might seem like small details, but in the first few days and weeks of building a new habit, you want to make your actions as well-defined as possible.
4. Share your plan: Share you plan with a trusted ally who will support you through the first thirty to sixty days of your new routine. Make sure your ally is someone you can trust to give you positive feedback, not guilt, if you lapses in your new routine.
5. Include Compassion: If you are having trouble sticking to your new routine, be gentle with yourself. We are creatures of habit, not will power, so it might take a few attempts for your new habit to take hold.
For expanded information and a template to help you start your plan, check out our new worksheets, Using mindfulness to Help Change Habits, and Affirmations to Accompany Your Mindfulness Practice.
We wish you twenty minutes of mindfulness everyday!
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