Many habits are just that, habits. Practices or mindsets we engage in reflexively, without thinking twice.
Habits can be productive, counterproductive or both. For example, a mindset habit of “finish what you start” may be incredibly effective at work, but less effective at home. Especially if you’re trying to resolve a sticky issue. In this case, it may be wiser to do away with a “race to the finish line” approach, and instead exercise a little patience and willingness to engage in ongoing conversations.
Whether you want to shed an old habit or cultivate a new one, it’s important to first look into your life to see how your current habits are serving you.
Mindfulness as a Defogger
Mindfulness can be a useful ally to help you objectively look at, and ultimately change, habits. You see, one of the first things people gain through a regular practice of mindfulness is awareness, or an ability to clearly see what they’re doing while they’re doing it.
Sound easy? For the next two minutes, do nothing other than read this article. Did you notice your mind wandering? An urge to open another web browser? Read an incoming text message? I won’t take it personal, and neither should you. This is simply the nature of our minds! It doesn’t help that we live and work in environments that have trained us to be twelve places at once. Continuous partial attention, anyone?
At any rate, when we begin to focus and steady our minds through a mindfulness practice, we may notice ourselves engaging in habits that no longer serve us. For example, you may discover that automatically saying yes to people when they ask for a helping hand actually compromises your health. Or you may see that the practice of turning on the television and eating an indulgent snack after work is not driven by hunger or interest, but habit. You may even notice yourself buying in to an old mindset habit that’s no longer true or relevant, such as, “I can’t work with this type of person.”
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Awareness
The moment you see yourself engaging in a counterproductive habit is the moment you can choose to do something different. Or as the saying goes, “When you perceive the malady, the cure is close at hand.” Discovering how crummy and intolerable it feels to automatically say yes to people’s requests enables you to respond with greater thoughtfulness and self-regard.
Mindfulness can be hard work from the standpoint of seeing a reality that is sometimes incongruent with how you wished you had been living your life all along. Yet, this willingness to recognize strong conditioned impulses with curiosity and kindness sets the stage for the formation of new habits.
As Hafiz has said, “If habits are human nature, why not cultivate those that mint gold?” Where we focus our attention ultimately determines what we cultivate. We have an enormous opportunity to train our minds – and hearts – to live in accordance with habits that support greater health and wellbeing. The power lies in first seeing you are in the driver’s seat. Only then can you journey down a path that will mint gold.