We Are Creatures of Habit

The other day a friend shared with me a quote from someone she really admires, the gist of which was not to take things personally and he used the example of having to deal with difficult people. The suggestion was to let their words and actions roll off your back and be amused by what you see. My initial reaction was yeah, that makes sense, but when I thought about it a bit more I realized it’s not so simple.

One of the things my yoga journey has taught me is that we are creatures of habit. You may think of habits as things you do - not putting the toilet seat down, sleeping on the same side of the bed every night, chewing your food with your mouth open, etc.

There are habits of the mind as well. The way you think about what’s going on around you, process your thoughts and interact with others are all mental habits. Some mental habits serve you well while others keep you stuck and miserable.

My last teacher used the example of a skipping record on a turntable, the stylus stuck in a groove and the recurring lyric repeating over and over. This is a metaphor for the workings of your mind. To stop the record from skipping you must nudge the stylus so it can get out of the groove it’s stuck in.

Your mind is like this, it gets stuck in grooves repeating the same thoughts and thought processes over and over. Many of these patterns do not serve you. If you’ve ever tried to change how you think about something, you know it takes a pretty big nudge to get the mind into a new groove. It’s not as simple as flicking a switch or turning the other cheek.

The patterns of your mind, just like many of your physical habits, are determined early in your life. The interactions within your family have the most influence, as do social environments, schools and the culture around you. Today, social media plays a big role in shaping how you think about things and can reinforce some of your mental patterns. Thanks, algorithms!

We are creatures of habit both in the physical and mental realms.

You may decide you want to change patterns of your mind that frustrate you and make you unhappy. You can seek solutions through the multi-billion dollar self-help industry. There are all sorts of books to read, courses to take, and healers to work with to fix what ails you. It all can be quite overwhelming.

And yet with the burgeoning self-help industry, the work of changing the patterns of your mind doesn’t come easy. Changing the patterns of the mind is difficult, but it can be done.

Have you ever tried to break a physical habit? Remember how challenging it was. For many years as a kid, I chewed my fingernails. Who knows why I started but it was a relatively painful and unsanitary habit. Breaking the habit seemed impossible. However, with time, I was able to stop.

As an adult, I had the evening wine and cigarette routine. Breaking that habit took years, but a decision to stop drinking entirely allowed me to forego the cigarettes as well - they went together. I’m sure you can think of your own habit-breaking stories and challenges.

What about breaking a mental pattern or habit?

A mental habit that I’ve broken is that of anger. I grew up an angry kid and this carried into my adulthood. Years of yoga including lots of time for self-reflection and a number of healing techniques and practices broke my anger response - my anger habit. I’ll be sharing more on this topic in the coming weeks when I launch my yoga for anger program.

Like physical habits, breaking mental habits is hard. Your mental habits won’t readily let go. The same perseverance is necessary when it comes to breaking patterns of the mind. If you know a life of greater freedom, fulfillment and joy is available by moving beyond some of your mental habits, why not make the effort.

If you’re interested in exploring how you can break a mental pattern that doesn’t serve you feel free to book a free 30-minute consultation to discuss how yoga can help you. I’d also love to hear from you about any mental pattern you’ve been able to bust and how you got there.

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