Friday, 28 September 2018

Mindfulness of Habits (2)

Humans are creatures of habit. This is not surprising when you consider we make countless choices every day and our routines of behaviour often help us achieve our aims. From the way we brush our teeth and how we dress to the places we go and how we get there, we operate in habitual ways.

Some of our habits tend to work well for us while others deliver negative, unintended consequences. All habits fall into one of three broad categories: the things we do, the things we say and the things we think.

Their effects also take different forms, from the external (what happens in the wider world and to other people, or physically to us) to the internal (what happens within our hearts and minds). Deliberately noticing habits allows us to become more conscious of our lived experience and to discover how we do and don’t act helpfully to ourselves.

1. Take a few minutes to consider some of your habits and write them down. Try to be objective – as if you were an interested stranger or a curious scientist making an informal study of these habits.

Make a note of three habits you consider to be positive or helpful to you. Name and describe them. Now ask yourself these questions and write down your reflections:
  • What actions compose each habit?
  • When and where do I tend to act out these habits?
  • What thoughts, ideas or mental stories do I tend to have at the time?
  • What feelings do I experience as a result of enacting this habit?
  • What other effects, personally or in the world around me, have I noticed?
  • Am I aware of any habitual thoughts running through my mind now as I explore this habit? 

2. Now note three habits you consider to be negative or unhelpful. List these and question them in exactly the same way as the positive ones above, using the same questions.

Explore them with the same curiosity and open-mindedness. Be gentle with them and with yourself. This exercise is about noticing, not criticising. Simply identify what composes each habit and the results they generate.

Can you note any thoughts or beliefs that tend to accompany each habit, such as fixed labels and judgments?

3. Knowing your habits is the first (and most important) step in taking the emotional sting out of them.

As you go about your day, and on into tomorrow and next week, see if you can observe your habits in detail. What thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations do you experience at the time? What results do you notice?

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