Breaking the Habit
Habits begin with a trigger - an experience that triggers or cues an impulse. The impulse will drive a response or an action. When the trigger shows up again, the impulse typically also arises and if the same response is acted out, the habit begins to develop.
As a relatively new dog owner, I am using the habit loop as a method to train the behaviours I want from my golden retriever. I want her to sit on her bed when I ask her to, so I reinforce that behaviour with a reward. The reward is a key driver of the habit loop.
When folks start Yoga or climbing, they experience the reward of feeling like they have accomplished something, a little excitement and even perhaps some connection with others, a shared experience. These experiences will cause a little serotonin, norepinephrine and epinephrine to be released, giving us some feel good vibes. The feel good experience makes us more likely to repeat the pattern and develop a habit of participating in the activity. We can also gain these little hormonal hits from things like watching a romantic movie or eating some comfort food. Where one option may be beneficial to our health, the Netflix and munching may be less beneficial.
If the sofa, Netflix and some snacks have become habitual during our lock down and mask-wearing era, it can be even more difficult to reverse the trend. We can try to throw a little self-discipline and will power at the situation, however, our reserves may already be on empty just dealing with working on a screen all day, minimal contact with others and stress when wandering around the public places as the numbers of COVID cases continue to rise.
Willpower requires energy. Consider the following equation Rod Stryker introduces in his book, The Four Desires; Creating a life of purpose, happiness, prosperity, and freedom.
Desire + Energy > Karma (resistance)
If we have a desire to change a habit, or a desire for growth, our effort must exceed, or overcome, the resistance, the obstacles. If we use an example of wanting to take caffeine out of our diet, we must apply effort when we feel the impulse to have caffeine. If we want to spend less time watching Netflix, we must overcome the desire to sit down and put on the next favourite series to binge watch. Not only must you resist the urge to sit, you must continue to resist the urge for sometimes quite a while. That takes energy. AND if Netflix was giving you the hormonal good feels, it now leaves you with time and a lack of feel good, or perhaps a sense of missing something.
So what's the solution?
As a recovered eating disordered person, I can tell you that focusing on what you can no longer do to get the numbed feeling means I had to sit with the negative, empty, fearful, difficult emotions.
As you sit with the emotions, it is helpful to examine your experience, your emotions with a little distance.
-- I recently learned this exercise from Pema Chodron's writing; ask yourself what colour you would give the emotion you are experiencing, what texture? If the emotion were a shoe, what would it be? If the emotion were a person, who would it remind you of?
-- Another tactic offered by Byron Katie is called The Work. You ask four questions, then turn your negative thought around.
It's a difficult place to stay and just be. But we humans seem to forget that we are not meant to be comfortable all the time. Growth happens when we get uncomfortable because we will find a method for moving through what challenges us.
So finally, focus on what you can do, what you have already done that has supported your choice.
Peace is never found in the future because you can only live in the moment you are in. If you focus on the moment you are in and recognize all you have in that moment, things are much easier to navigate. Expecting things to be different only cause continued unease.