The Humble Power of Habit
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The most important habit to start with is the one that will help us listen to our bodies more.
“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us.” Mary Oliver
We all know that there are things we should be doing more of in our lives. We should eat more vegetables, drink more water and less booze, exercise more. There’s always something different that we could be doing in our lives if we had more time, money, or energy. When we think about all the ways we’re supposed to change, it can be overwhelming, so we don't do any of it. Or we try to change absolutely everything and make a shining example of ourselves for two weeks until something happens and we end up binging Netflix with a bottle of wine and a pack of chocolate and give up altogether.
The secret to making really powerful, lasting change in our lives isn’t in these dramatic flourishes. It’s in our daily habits. In her book Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits (Mango Media), Tamsin Astor points out that 45 percent of everything we do every day is habit. Tweaking these daily practices a little bit at a time is the humble secret to a happier life.
Change is hard, of course, so it’s really important to get clear with ourselves about what we really want, what matters to us and what our priorities are. Changing our habits takes some work, at least at first, and we need the right reasons to take the time to lay down a new neural pattern in our brains in the direction we want to change.
We live in a time when it is incredibly easy to distract ourselves from our pain and discomfort. We have drugs, TV, food, and all the busywork one could hope to want. But the pain in our bodies and our hearts is really the place where we will discover the truth about what needs to change in our lives. If we never let ourselves feel our existential loneliness, we’ll never get past hunting for likes on social media to enter into the vulnerability of seeking true connection instead. If we are always swallowing antacids instead of letting our stomachs tell us we are eating food that is poisonous for us, we will never be motivated to change our diet. Our bodies are very wise, but we tend to ignore that wisdom.
For this reason, I believe the most important habit to start with is the one that will help us listen to our bodies more. Going to yoga once a week, starting a meditation practice, or journaling about how we feel every morning are simple ways to tune in to our body’s language. When we are in a practice of getting honest with ourselves about our own pain, we are motivated to make the changes that will help us genuinely connect with our work, our loved ones, and certainly with ourselves.
Any change we implement in our lives has to be something we are willing to do forever, not just for a two week cleanse. We have to commit to honoring our pain, our discomfort, and the true motivations for why we want to change our lives. Then, after a little while, all that hard work and consistency shifts to become second nature, something we don’t even have to think about, and voila, our lives are indeed different.
Our humble habits are powerful, more powerful that we usually give them credit for. And when we develop the right kinds of habits for whatever it is that is most important to us, we can become more powerful.