Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about habits.
When most people hear the word, they conjure up an image of a checklist. They imagine some list of actions they ought to take on any given day in order to be living their #bestlife.
And yet a habit, broadly speaking, is simply a pattern of perception or behavior.
It’s a self-perpetuating process.
This is fine in most cases. When we subsume the locus of activity beneath conscious attention, we free up resources to do other things. I brush my teeth with the same hand in the same sequence pretty much every day, and it’s just fine.
However, in the mad, clawing, busy-ness of life it’s not uncommon for our habits to simply run us. It’s as if they’re no longer things we do, rather things that are done through us.
And at a certain point we lose sight of the other options we once had available.
We confine ourselves to one way of doing things.
Moshe Feldenkrais put forth the idea that having only one way to do a thing is compulsion. When we have no options, we have only compulsive behavior. It’s a sort of tyranny, often self-imposed. Two options then is the necessary minimum for choice: this or that, yes or no, black or white. In his words this is a “primitive choice.”
Where human dignity begins is having access to three ways of doing something: this, that, or the other. Yes, no, or maybe. Black, white, or gray.
The ability to choose how to do a thing grants us agency. We then have the ability to be deliberate with ourselves and our lives. However, we so often squander this ability, getting caught up in the flow of habits or squashing ourselves with anxiety about what’s yet to come.
We rarely invest in hygiene of our decisions.
There’s a way to find what I’ve come to call “the clean point” in between this, that, and the other. Here you’re free from the residue of habit, free from the expectation of what comes next. You’re simply there, aware, and able to make use of any particular option you have available.
It’s this clean point that we must find for ourselves if we wish to experience a sense of dignity and peace of mind. We must make a deliberate effort to inhibit the habit of blurring ourselves from one activity to the next and find space to ask the question: what would I like to do next? It’s so easy to become a bit grimy with habits, coating ourselves in them. Again it’s rare that we invest in decision hygiene.
Think of it…
You shower and brush your teeth in order to remove the residue of the day. You freshen yourself, knowing full well that another day will bring another layer to wash once again. And yet there’s a pleasant quality in that clean moment.
Could that sense of cleanliness be available in terms of your thoughts? Your actions?
Is it possible to wash your system and loosen some of the accumulation of habits?
However, just as you can’t very well brush your teeth in the middle of a meal, it’s not likely that you’re going to find that clean point of decision without a deliberate inhibition. You must stop making use of your teeth in order to brush them. Likewise you must stop making use of the habits in order to wash them.
Simply stopping provides an opportunity to access something new.
Making the mental effort of pausing affords you an opportunity to watch the motor plan form within you. You can begin to get a sense of how that activity is going to go based on the very first moment of it.
Before you open your email…
Before you check social media…
Before turning on the news…
Wait, and inquire of yourself how you might like to experience yourself in the next moment.
Wait, and create at least the chance to rid yourself of a habit that isn’t feeding a future you’d like.