Breaking the chains of habit

Habits keep us chained to behaviours that continually cause us pain. It's like we are suckers for punishment, knowing that what we are doing is not good for us but somehow we just don't know how to help ourselves. 

I'm fascinated by how easy it is to be drawn back into our old ways, old patterns of behaviour, it's something I've experienced recently and it took me by surprise. It's not until you are totally sucked in that you begin to realise how easy it is to be trapped again, repeating old, familiar habits. It can be simple things such as our daily habits, like unhealthy eating or more complex habits, such as our repeating behaviours in relationships with others. 

Nothing ever just springs out of it's own accord, all our actions follow a thought

When we start to pay attention, we pick up on the thoughts that precede the habit behaviours and that's why it's so important to be on constant guard of our mind. It is this lack of self-regulation that allows our thoughts to take control, we let them run wild and before we know it we are acting these thoughts out. 

Our Thoughts Are Habits

Our thoughts are just habits, they are always repeating, nothing new just the same old stories going round and round. They are not fresh thoughts, they are past and future based and they instigate our actions. Our mind is out of control, no peace, no quiet, just those same old same old thoughts.

The problem is that these habits often go back to our childhood, they have taken a lot of time to become deeply ingrained and because of this, it takes real effort to break out of them. However, we rarely have what is needed to break these habit because we form then unconsciously but breaking them requires a conscious commitment. 

The challenge is that even when we decide we would like to break free from a habit and make a commitment to change, we find it's not that easy to do. We may work hard at it and for a while, it feels like you've got hold of this habit finally. Then we reaslise that as soon as we take our eyes off the ball, we are soon back where we started, doing the same old thing over again. This is why it's so hard for people to stop smoking or lose weight because they rely on willpower, however, as the brain is hardwired willpower alone does not work. 

Willpower Alone Does Not Work

The only way to break these destructive and harmful habits is to re-wire our brain so it can take a different pathway. The scientific term for this is neuroplasticity, where we consciously make an effort to change our neuropathway. Habits are created by a consistent action or thought, we keep doing until it becomes automatic. We call that a habit and the more we repeat, the more it becomes who we think we are and then we become chained with no escape. 

Our brain is built to create pathways that enable us to perform certain tasks automatically, we need to do this to function in life. It's absolutely necessary to know how to drive your car without having to learn it over and over, it's important to know how to jump out of the way of an oncoming car, these are all tasks that we perform on autopilot. However, what we tend to do is live on autopilot, not really being conscious of what we are doing, when we are doing it and our habits take over our lives.

Science now shows us that our brain is not static and it is possible to change. Good news for us when we want to free ourselves from these chains of habit. We can replace the old, negative thoughts and behaviours with new positive thoughts and behaviours, until they become our new habits. But it isn't easy and sometimes we need help to do this. 

Mindfulness As A Tool To Break Habits

It's not easy to change habits because it requires a conscious effort. And that's exactly where Mindfulness comes in. 

Through Mindfulness we train our brain to create new pathways, we do this through developing awareness of thoughts and getting to know our mind better. With a clearer understanding of our own mind, we are also able to take some control. It is only when we are aware of how and what triggers us to behave in certain ways, that we can start to break those patterns of behaviour that are not to our benefit.

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken

So if you want to learn how to use Mindfulness to break the chains of habit, then why not join our 4 week online course staring soon? Nothing to loose and everything to gain - link below to find out more.


Three Attitudes to Breaking Old Habits

I'm not Perfect and that's OK

I've had a challenging few months, mostly caused by my own habitual behaviours. And believe me I know I am not perfect, I have much work to do on myself. The habits I am referring to are not the ones we commonly recognise, such as unhealthy eating or lack of exercise. I'm talking about the thinking mind habits, the unguarded thoughts, emotions and behaviours that lead us into painful situations. In Mindfulness, we learn that our thoughts are just habits, rarely fresh and new, primarily based on our past experiences. 

When we look at our behaviours we can clearly see the routines and habits that we have become accustomed to and even if we know they are harmful, they comfort us because they are familiar. This is precisely why we keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting change even though we know this doesn't work. To break a habit, we have to change the thought patterns that trigger these habits. In neuroscience, this is called "re-wiring" the brain. In Mindfulness this is exactly what we are trying to achieve, a new pathway for our new and better habits to follow.

Portia Nelson's poem "There's a hold in my sidewalk" covers this perfectly.

"I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost.....I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hold in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately. 
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
I walk down another street." 

"I see it is there, I still fall in. It's a habit!"

How many times have you felt something is not right but still gone ahead, I certainly can speak from experience on this one. For some of us, this is particularly the case when it comes to our relationships. We habitually allow others into our lives even though we know they are not deserving or right for us. We give our time to others when we are more than aware of the pain this ongoing relationship causes us. We do this because often this is all we know, our habits from childhood continue until we change the way we think, until we take another road. 

For real change to happen we have to start to develop our awareness of our habitual thoughts and behaviours, so we can stop before we act or react. We have to learn to walk down a different road. 

"If I have no pain, I'll never long for freedom" - Pema Chodron 

We need to do it differently over and over until we replace old habits with new, healthier ones. At first this is difficult because we have to be aware, then make a commitment to change. It takes effort and a longing to be free from pain, from self inflicted pain. And we can do this by first changing our attitude. 

Three Attitudes to Breaking Free from Old Habits:

Pain has its virtues: Remember that when things are not going as we wish, we can value the lesson and grow from the pain.

Stop looking externally for happiness: Stop chasing that a new job, the new relationship, look at what you can give yourself. And remember NOW is the only reality.

A stable mind is a free mind: Be careful who and what you let into your life, develop inner strength so you are happy whatever is happening externally.

If you are struggling with harmful habits, pain and personal challenges, get in touch to find out how Mindfulness can help.