Habits are formations of the mind, which means they originate in the mind and are changeable. A habit isn’t a destiny. A new environment can easily trigger a change in habits. For example, when you move from one city to another, you adapt to the new place by moulding certain habits. You retain some habits to be in the familiarity of comfort. Your subconscious mind accepts these changes, so you easily adapt to them.
Habits Are Beneficial
Habits are beneficial as they give the advantage of keeping your mind free. For example, when you are gardening, you automatically reach out to pluck the weeds, with the knowledge that your garden will look better and beautiful (reward for the mind). You do not crave pulling out the weeds, you just do it because it is a routine in your gardening work. The mind is free to get creative with gardening.
Or, take for example, your driving routine to work. Out of habit, you automatically put the car key in the ignition, adjust your seat, lens, mirrors, change gears and off you go, taking the familiar route. Now, imagine re-learning each of these little steps every time you reach out for your car key. Doesn’t it tax your brain already?
Or imagine taking a new route to your workplace every day. How does that feel? Exhausting, isn’t it? Far from an adventure.
Habits are advantageous for our normal, routine functioning. But here’s the rub; what happens when certain habits spin out of control?
Habits and Addictions
Certain habits go on to become addictions when left unchecked, when given too much attention to the point of attachment. While habits allow normal, healthy functioning of life, addictions go on to do exactly the opposite, cripple it.
You don’t even realise you are addicted; addicted to morning teas/ coffees, addicted to shopping, addicted to fun-betting etc. Any craving is an addiction. The degree of craving varies; from intense to moderate or less. For example, craving to reach out for sweets or your mobile phone for an emotional quick fix. If you are hooking on to social media like an oxygen lifeline, then this is more than a habit; it’s an addiction.
Addiction can start out as a habit. Once the obsession starts, addiction begins. The pleasure centres of the brain get a dopamine rush, giving you a feeling of satisfaction and happiness.
Addictions are fulfilling certain emotional need or needs. In latching on to social media sites, for instance, the quick-fix emotional need could be, “I am wanted,” “I am getting attention,” “I don’t care,” or “I am cool,” depending on the activity undertaken. All these external factors reinforce addictive tendencies. When the rush of the reward is over, a gloom sets in, until the quick-fix is reached out to again.
While you may not feel the need to overcome some habits, there is certainly a need to overcome addictions, in whatever degrees they exist, to get into the flow of life.
The Six-Fold Path
Here are six ways which can be helpful.
1. Awareness and acceptance that it is an addiction; less or more or in-between. Higher the craving, higher the degree of addiction. Admit to yourself, be honest to yourself.
2. Bring in an inner resolve; nothing can beat your inner determination to change.
3. Once determined, the action begins; you start excluding situation and circumstances that fuel the desire. Exclude all cues so that the brain doesn’t get triggered. If the trigger isn’t there, the brain will find other ways to fulfil the craving, searching for the reward. It is concerned with the reward, not with the routine of the activity itself. So, find out what the craving is for, is it socialisation? Then choose options as group sports, dance classes, or any healthy gathering that satisfies the said need, like learning a new language in a group class.
4. Do it often. Example, go to the classes often. In repetition, the brain gradually carves new neural pathways and establishes them.
5. With intention, maintain your enthusiasm. Set small targets, so that their completion gives an instant lift. A long-term reward isn’t helpful in such cases, at least in the initial days. Short-term gains work better.
6. Remove all the reminders that are close to your five senses of: taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing. Once your senses are stimulated, control might be difficult.
In all of these, your resolve matters the most.
If possible, maintain a journal, wherein you record your progress (and not fill it with excuses). Abandon all associations (people, company you keep, circumstances) that prevents you from your resolve, instead follow examples of people who have been successful in their endeavour which you are after.
In the third and final piece of this article, I will discuss on how meditation can be helpful in making these changes.
Disclaimer: Urmila Rao is a chakra balancing meditation coach, Theta Healer and a sound therapist. All the ideas expressed herein are her own and not professional advice or medical prescription. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.