Habit: The Ultimate Pest

Frame of Mind

Our minds are clouded – filled with junk and repetitive thoughts. In other words, our minds are full of habits.

When you pierce the warm threshold of your sheets in the morning, the floodgates of your mind vomit numerous thoughts onto you that you have every single day. Stand. Splash water on face. Toothpaste on toothbrush. Coffee. Walk dogs. Food. You celebrate your morning ritual because this carefully orchestrated dance serve a purpose. The routine efficiently delivers you to the rest of your day.

Humans yoke themselves to habits because they are immensely helpful in navigating everyday occurrences. Can you imagine a world in which tying your shoelaces never got easier? Or typing had the same level of difficulty each time you sat at the computer? Our disposition to develop and use habits is so strong because habits are beneficial under many different circumstances.

The Pest

The problems begin when we start adhering to thought habits that serve no purpose.  Habit formation is so pervasive in our lives that we begin forming them unwittingly in spheres where habits lose their efficacy – matters of the heart, matters of self-worth, matters of security.

About 40% of each day is habitual – meaning it is rote and done without our active and thoughtful participation*. This pertains to all of our thoughts, not just tying shoelaces.

Yoga Class

I began my journey into yoga for all the wrong reasons – I wanted to be fit with long and lean muscles. I looked at my yoga classes as a form of physical exercise and believed it was the equivalent of going to the gym. Back then it was a class, not a practice.

Slowly but surely the yoga started creeping inside me. I started listening to the teachers’ cues with such intensity that it required my full and absolute concentration. Incorporating small adjustments like shifting my weight into my heels, connecting my belly-to-spine, or. . . breathing . . . required so much of my bandwidth that I literally could not have any other thoughts.


A Light In the Attic

One day, I became a yogi. That day I made the connection between the physical yoga practice and quieting my mind. I finally realized the whole purpose behind twisting my body into these various shapes has NOTHING to do with the shapes! I was shocked by the revelation that the goal of this activity was not to perfect each shape, like ballet or other performance arts. In fact, I was shaken to my core when I recognized that there is no goal, no end-game, in yoga.

That day I understood why it is called a practice.  I wasn’t coming to school to learn a lesson. Rather, I was coming to a space to practice a method of clearing my mind of all the garbage floating inside – the thought routines.

It suffices to say with this newfound tool, my whole world changed. I gained the ability to interrupt and inspect my habitual thoughts.  I was able to identify the three or four broken records playing in my head each day, each hour, sometimes each minute. The titles of these broken records were sad and scary:

Your Worth Is Dependent On Your Achievements,

You Don’t Have Enough Money,

Dad Only Loves You If…

My thought routines would be triggered by any number of things.  My dad would call and I would start playing, Your Worth is Dependent on Your Achievements. I would read the Wall Street Journal and hear,  You Don’t Have Enough Money. 

In short, I was afflicted with the human condition.

Real Yoga

Now, it is a practice and not a class. I go to yoga classes to enjoy my practice with others. I see others in different stages of their journey surrounding me – and it makes me feel like one part of a very large whole. The person on the mat in front of me reminds me of myself 10 years ago, simply looking for a workout. The person next to me is lightyears ahead – just laying on the mat peacefully breathing.

I struggle with myself everyday. I throw away the broken records and attempt to replace them with new shiny titles like, Abundance, Everywhere!, Your Family Loves You, or the best of all, Your Are Worthy Just As You Are.  The struggle is real because my mind is wired to form strong habits – so that I don’t have to refigure my shoelaces each day. The habitual thoughts I developed over the first decades of my life linger. But yoga . . . real yoga . . . has given me the power to sculpt my mind’s landscape moving forward.

* The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

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