Our topic this week was habits – specifically, the kind you don’t necessarily know you have. I mean, you probably know if you bite your nails, or have a tendency to interrupt people, or have a knack for using colorful language in the wrong settings (it’s just too perfectly descriptive sometimes, you know??). But, you may not realize that there are patterns established in the way that you think about the situations and people – including yourself – that you encounter everyday. Nothing a little “no-fail” mindfulness challenge can’t help with. Shall we?
If you recall from Wednesday’s post, the idea here is that over time, we create mental templates to help us navigate daily life. They help us avoid touching hot stoves and stepping in front of traffic, which is, of course, super helpful. However, they also try to help us identify other situations that we recognize, which can lead us to make assumptions and people, events and outcomes that may also be useful, or may cause us to check out before we really even check in. We miss what’s actually happening because we think we already know. As a result, we respond in ways that may not represent how we’d actually like to react. They’re habitual, just like the string of thoughts that led to them.
Step one is awareness. If you’ve been working your mindfulness muscle out lately with regular practice, this might happen pretty readily for you. You’re more likely to catch yourself as you drop a pre-existing framework over a situation. So, if you want to be ready for this challenge, you need to make sure you’ve got your mind right, by finding a little mindfulness as you get started.
Find your breath for a few minutes, take a mindful walk, engage in a mental visualization. Take your pick of the many mindfulness activities available to you, and lock in the time to connect with your center. Let your thoughts about yesterday and plans for later on go for just a few minutes. Everything – from your worries to your anticipation – will be there for you afterwards (if you want them).
From there, set about the rest of your day, but bring the awareness from those moments of quiet internal stillness with you. Do your work, meet your friends, have your fun. But, if you can, notice. Pay attention to the ways in which you respond internally to what happens as you do. Some of the time, you may only notice your habitual thought patterns in retrospect, and that’s one hundred percent okay. You still noticed, which is exactly the challenge.
But maybe, just once, you might notice the habit in real time. You might find that moment between stimulus and response in time to make a choice about what that response looks like. You might break the pattern and show up, fully present. You may realize that the only pattern you want to keep is this one: attention, intention, breath.
Although it’s simple, it isn’t easy. But, it is always available, and like you with this challenge, it really never fails.
Photo credit Joanna Kosinska