Thursday, June 2, 2011

Killing your bad habits

Many of us have time wasting, self sabotaging bad habits that totally botch our practice. I know I do. It takes a rather strong will just to cut them out and do what you are supposed to be doing.  Our bad habits, and self sabotage aren't as much the specific things we do, though more often than not it will be the same thing over and over again. You've literally carved a circuit into your gray matter, and now that is the path of least resistance when dealing with specific situations or even a daily routine.

Auto pilot, habit, is the opposite of authentically being present in your life. You are lizard brain wired to repeat behavior that did not get you killed in the past. From a survival standpoint this is what works. Except it doesn't. Not really. And most of us know that.

For a while now I've been wanting to cut TV out of our lives. I have been met with resistance. I have made every argument I could think of: economic, spiritual, psychological, but each was met with a well reasoned response from the Missus as to why TV is not the problem. It was easy to jump to "She doesn't understand what I am trying to do here! She does not see my Enlightened vision!"

It was harder, to see that she was right. TV isn't the problem. I was. Habitually conditioned to having the television on all the time when growing up, it was a source of comforting background noise. It was even on when I slept as a teenager. And as such it did was it was repurposed by the entertainment and advertising industry to do: Steal my attention. Comfort on tap.

So I decided to actually try to fix the problem instead of treating the symptom. Whenever you try to break a long held conditioned response, things tend to go smoother if you can replace a bad habit with a good one. The success of the E Cigarette has seen this principle out. Once the smoker breaks the chemical dependence, there is still the neural hard wiring, and the psychological predilection to smoke. "Smoking" the E Cig lets the person gradually replace that habitual pattern. I have known some people who have broken the habit by merely inhaling as if they were smoking while raising their hand to their mouth over a course of months. Eventually, they don't even need to do that anymore. The allocated brain space/psychological habit has been repurposed to a large extent.

If you find yourself botching in the same way over and over again, really look at why you are doing that thing. Introspection is a wonder my friends. Getting to the root that makes you do these things helps you stare down that lizard. If you kill one habit, it can easily be replaced by another, unconsciously, if you don't get to the root of it. In my case excessive TV was replaced by voracious reading, especially on spiritual topics, but the main root problem was procrastination, and a tendency to be distracted.

Daily meditation of just sitting there and being in the moment weeds out distraction like nothing else. Because you honestly want to do anything else but just sit there. ANYTHING else. and the most absurd things will pop into your head. Once I got the urge to bake a cake. Then I was deciding what kind of cake, and then if we had any cake materials in the house. Would I made the frosting? buy?

I've never made a cake in my life. I don't recall even making one from a box unassisted. Being here now is one of the best ways to retrain your mind and rewire your brain. At the very least reset it. It's also the gateway to my beloved Contemplation.

Once you are suitably more aware you will start to notice all those self sabotagey little bits that crap all over everything you want to really be doing. Be it Magic, Meditation, Painting, Writing, whatever. Once you find them, decide something that you can conveniently do instead. Instead of watching television I would mindfully look about the house for something to clean, or something practical do to maintenance wise. If there was nothing to do (ha! Homeownership: There is always something to do.) I would make a list of things I would like to do or accomplish and try to map out steps to get those things moving.

Draja Mickharic wrote in "Magic Simplified" that attention was a thing, a commodity. You give it, you take it, and you can piss it away like any other. Attention is the watchtower of your Sovereignty. If you are inattentive and unaware then the guards are asleep at their posts. Being unconscious and ruled by habit, is stealing something from you. Your time, effort, and life are being stolen.

Replace those things that sabotage you with things that aid you, and then replace habit all together with attention. Have I done this totally? An emphatic no. Do I get back up every time I get knocked down? You bet your ass.


Scott Stenwick said...

Conditioned responses can be a pain but what's nice about them is that they follow such simple rules. Operant conditioning isn't that complex and if you take the time to learn how it works you have all the tools you need to recondition yourself. Having spent some time meditating is helpful too, since one of the things it does is teach you to recognize conditioning loops as they arise instead of after the fact.

When you catch the draw of a loop coming into mental focus you can weaken it substantially by just acting completely differently than what the loop is trying to trigger and then immediately rewarding yourself for the new behavior. When I started doing it I was surprised at how well it worked even though I was already familiar with how quickly research animals could be conditioned. It turns out at that level of cognition humans are no different.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out aloud when you mentioned wanting to make a cake - as this happened to me and I did make a carrot cake.

The book by George Leonard "Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment" really helped me get my head around the how the mind maintains Homeostasis of the body and of patterns of behaviour.

Zanthera Degore said...

I read this and at the same time I am asked by my hubby to go out for a walk which is something I have been wanting to get into the "habit" of. Told him too tired then finished reading this post.

TV habit easy to get rid of, getting off butt another story. I think I will go for that walk now. Coincidence is such a fleeting terminology. I barely believe in them anymore.

Andrew M.K. said...

I really enjoy the angle you come from when approaching habits, and especially how it's pretty in tune with my own experience. I just posted on my blog about building momentum to strengthen your willpower and then making those changes. Of course I wanted to blog about it a month ago...buttttt Netflix and other procrastination type activities got in the way for a minute.

Deborah Castellano said...

For some reason, it's hilarious to me that your monkey brain wanted to bake a cake instead of meditation. I had always assumed meditating had just come more naturally to you than it does to me ;p

Fun fact: While in A.C. with B., I couldn't do my nightly meditation because her sleeping Christian brain was really distracting. I have trouble meditating when I'm in a room with someone with a radically different paradigm, it's one of my few stupid psychic/empath pet tricks. . .which does nothing useful at all for me.

Unknown said...

Hah, I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a room with the intention to meditate, and gotten completely distracted by something I'd normally avoid. Usually it's laundry.