Humans are creatures that love habits, good or bad, they create a sense of security within us all. If we admit it or not, we tend to do things today that we have usually have done yesterday. From the moment we are born, we interact with the world around us. These interactions leave impressions or imprints on our mind, known as Samskaras in yogic terms. The word is made up of two Sanskrit words; sam(complete or joined together) andkara(action, cause, or doing). Over time everyone acquires ‘bad habits’, whether we recognise them, ignore them or are oblivious to the fact that they are there. They can be dangerous to our health and well-being, they may even keep us stagnant and stop us moving forward. At the very least they can be extremely irritating to our loved ones, friends or colleagues! This week we are talking about how habits are formed and how to get rid of the ones that are not serving you.
How Do We Form Habits?
The answer: By our thoughts, yes a thought, every action starts with one. Every time you repeat that action, it gets easier and easier, so much so that you can eventually do it without much mental effort. Therefore, habits start with a single thought, habits make up our character, which in turn dictates our life. To understand this, let’s talk a little about how neural pathways are created in our brains. Neural pathways are linked brain cells that transmit messages; think of them like drawing a line on a page with a pencil. The more you trace over the line with your pencil, the more solid it becomes. You create a neural pathway each time you think about, or do something. For example, if you always reach for a wine or a bag of chips when you are stressed, the more you do it, the stronger the pathways becomes, then BAM it’s a habit. The good news is that the opposite of this is also true, whenever you stop doing an action, it becomes increasingly more difficult to perform. You can also create new habits by forging new pathways in your brain. This process is known as the neuroplasticity of the brain (you CAN teach an old dog new tricks). Because the brain has the potential to change, the possibilities are limitless, even people who have had strokes can re-train their brains to function again by building new pathways. Now that we know how habits are formed, let’s look at the steps needed to break them.
1. Identify the Habit and Set an Intention
To break a habit we must first indentify the habit you wish to break. We do this by studying ourselves, this is technique is known as svadhyaha (self-study). We need to find outwhat is not serving us and also to learn our reactions and our triggers and or to identify the source of the negative habit. We can use meditation as a way of studying the self. There has to be a real desire to implement change, so after we have identified the habit and its triggers, we then need to set an intention to change, this is known as a sankalpa. It is common to fail at starting a new habit because it is not aligned with their true intention.
2. Stop Limiting Beliefs
What often stands in our way of stopping bad habits (or creating new positive ones) is our beliefs or our fears. We need to change the way we see ourselves. We need to catch the initial negative thought as it happens and proceed to think of something positive. So change the “I can’t. I’m no good. I shouldn’t” to “I can. I am great and I will”. We also can let our fear hold us back, fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of what others might think of us. Letting go of this fear can help us kick out bad habits. By letting go of how we judge ourselves gives us the freedom to move forward.
3. Repeat Repeat Repeat.
Changing a habit is not easy so practice practice practice. This is the work, the discipline what Yogis call the Tapas. The more you avoid an old behaviour or repeat a new one, the more powerful or stronger it becomes. To create a new neural pathway, take the focus off the old habit and onto a new positive one. We can also use our imagination to build new neural pathways. Just imagining the new behaviour and repeating it over and over in the mind retrains your brain. Believe that you can make the change, let go of fear and judgement. This could mean reaching for a carrot stick instead of a cigarette, going for a walk instead of reaching for a glass of wine at the end of the day or actually getting to your yoga class 3 times a week. Whatever habit you are trying to create or break, we can’t repeat this enough, do it (or don’t do it) again, again and again.
It may help you to also make a plan, knowing what your end goal is can help to keep you on track. Try to take small steps, we all know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you expect results immediately and they don’t happen you may feel like a failure and be discouraged from trying again. If you are going to try and break a habit, then please be kind to yourself, celebrate the small victories and don’t judge yourself if you fall down along the way. You can always pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep at it.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)