You might start to notice a pattern in this weekend’s “no-fail” mindfulness challenge. In fact, you may even find a few of them. This week, we talked about the habits, routines, and “anchors” we bring with us into new chapters, and the (totally normal) tendency we have to seek and create comfort zones in the midst of new and unfamiliar situations. Sometimes, that’s just what we need to stay sane. Other times, it’s exactly what keeps us from seeing what’s possible for us. So how do you figure out the difference? Well, the signs are right there, if you’re paying attention.
New experiences can be exciting, but often times, there’s a thread running through that excitement that feels a whole lot like anxiety. Or maybe for you, it’s more like fear, or doubt, or just plain ol’ discomfort. Consciously or not, we all make choices about how powerful that thread gets to be. We decide whether we let it keep us from fully embracing the new experience by choosing to either ignore it, or quieting it with a dose of familiarity. For example, you may feel like you can take on whatever the day has in store, no matter where in the world you are, as long as you have your morning run, or cup of coffee. You might move to a new city every year without a hiccup, as long as you can find a local restaurant that serves your favorite food, or a good yoga studio (me!!) or a perfect place to, I don’t know, take a hike. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but they are habits we lean on to stay comfortable – and they’re not the only ones.
The same reflex that sends you looking for a great hiking trail also sends you looking for the familiar in other ways. When you meet new people, you think, “I know your type.” You join a new community and right away you decide, “I know where I belong.” You’re presented with a challenge, and you already know, “This is how easy/hard this will be for me.” But what if you tried approaching the unfamiliar without clicking all those templates in place? What if you tried to just let yourself see what was there, remaining open to the possibility that it may – or may not – be what you expected?
So, as you know, a mindfulness practice can be comprised of any number of small, easy exercises (meditation, walking, yoga, even mindful eating) that are designed to help you strengthen your ability to focus and respond deliberately to challenging situations in everyday life. This weekend’s mindfulness challenge is really no different.
This weekend, you’re going to drop an anchor. I mean that a little differently than the analogy might imply. You’re dropping it as in letting go of it, at least for a minute or two. You’re going to choose a habit that you are conscious of – probably a behavior or a routine – and take a pass on it, just once. It may be something you’re trying to rid yourself of anyway, or it may be something that’s actually pretty good for you. It’s your challenge, so you get to choose. The idea here is to skip it, or change it, but don’t lean on it. Then, take a breath, or two, or twenty. What does it feel like to interrupt that pattern? Good, bad, none of the above? Boring, awkward, scary?
Regardless of what you personally experience by letting go of this one thing this one time, there should be a common theme in there for all of us: power. You saw that pattern. You made this choice. You got to decide how you responded to the reflex to do things the same old way you always do. You can choose to do it again next time, or not. You can always choose.
Some patterns are pretty, and occasionally even useful. Others have less to offer, and watching them repeat is like watching a video get stuck on buffering mode. You don’t have to watch the little wheel spin, unless you want to. You’re not just the audience, after all. You’re directing yourself in these scenes. Nothing like a few plot twists to keep things interesting, even for yourself.
Photo credit: Rosalind Chang