Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Breaking Habitual Patterns

Each Sunday night or Monday morning, I find that I make promises to myself about the week ahead. This week, I'll only eat salads for lunch or I'll exercise every morning or I won't have a single drink until Thursday night. Most of the time, I make it through Monday with my promises intact. Tuesdays are iffy - if I'm on a roll and feel strong about my convictions, I can usually make it through a Tuesday. Wednesdays are harder. If I haven't already blown it, my willpower usually starts weakening by Wednesday. I've been so good, I tell myself. It's been a rough week, I deserve it. I'm bored, I'm tired, I'm cranky... oh the ways we justify our behavior. And once I allow myself one indulgence, all my promises to myself go out the window. I find myself bargaining: the "If I drink a glass of wine today, I won't have one tomorrow" kind of thing. I'm an all or nothing kind of gal and it's easier for me to indulge in bad habits than embrace good ones. So I frequently feel like I'm stuck in a bickering match between the devil and the angel that take up residence in my mind.

In Getting Unstuck: Breaking your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality, Pema Chodron talks about how to break habitual patterns and live in the present moment. She compares the habitual pattern to something akin to the symptoms of a rash. A rash makes us want to itch, but itching only provides temporary relief and can actually make the rash worse in the long run. For instance, we experience an emotional hook or an urge which then leads to a chain reaction of thoughts which intensifies the feeling and then we try to move away from this feeling with the habitual pattern. We are constantly distracting ourselves, but this distraction can actually make our lives worse rather than better.

How can we break this cycle? The trick is to stay with the feeling or urge without reacting to it. She gives 4 steps to the process of breaking our habitual patterns:

  1. Recognize the initial emotional hook or urge

  2. Refrain from strengthening the urge (refrain from following the thoughts and the habitual pattern that results from the urge)

  3. Relax into the underlying feeling

  4. Resolve to repeat this pattern again and again

How do you get unstuck? We would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below

1 comment:

HumanRemodeling said...

Yes, this is great.
How do deal with it is individual but always involves struggling with it. It is like having a small child but actually a lot worse, because this "small child" that always wants me my mine is quite malicious and sneaky, it is not like a normal human child :) It requires just saying NO to that and just saying YES to the thought I WISH TO BE IN THE MOMENT.
It requires bucking down and just sitting for the meditation.
Bribes are necessary. For me, it is going to the beach or african dancing.