Have you ever noticed that the more you do something, the more you tend to do it? This is a habit. Habits are often used as a way to manage how we feel. We can use our habits to give us comfort, relief, to reward ourselves, to de-stress or to celebrate.
Our habits, both helpful and unhelpful, work through the principle of repetition. The more we do something, the more we tend to keep doing it. What starts out as conscious and deliberate, with time and repetition moves to reflexive and automatic behaviors.
This applies to visible behaviors and invisible habitual attitudes. The more we eat a certain way, the more we’ll tend to do it. But also, the more we judge ourselves, the more we’ll tend to do it. Every action we are taking is building momentum towards the choice we are more likely to make in the next moment.
We know this principle works to our benefit as well. When we practice Yoga, Yoga Nidra, start eating healthy or going to the gym — at the beginning it is hard, but at some point, the habit gains so much momentum, it runs itself. And when we change it, we miss it.
My students ask me why we don’t do what we know is good for us. I believe there are many reasons – part of which are tied to momentum and low energy. When we are already tired and exhausted, it can feel as if it takes more energy to do what really serves us (do yoga, take a walk or meditate). It actually feels easier to do whatever we have always done when we feel that way (zone out with TV, get on facebook, eat or drink). But once we develop the habit of going for a walk or meditating after work, we gain enough momentum that the new habit feels like the easier way to go. It becomes something we automatically do and the new habit replaces the old.
Yoga Nidra is an excellent support to any habit we want to change because it works at our core consciousness. Usually in the waking state we “wish and we wash it away.” We make a statement or a commitment and in the next moment we are un-doing what we just committed to. This is because the shift has not happened at the core of our being. If the core underlying pattern has not shifted, any superficial change we make will only be temporary. Yoga Nidra has the power to reach into the deepest level of our core consciousness where the seeds of our habits live. Here, we can re-write these seeds at subtle levels and then reinforce them in the waking state through acting in accordance with our intentions. For more information on Yoga Nidra, you can find guided I AM Yoga Nidra experiences on YouTube or on a convenient app such as this one: I AM Yoga Nidra for Apple and Android. Or if you want to know more, take an online course.
How do we support ourselves to act in accordance with our intentions and commitments? This is where the power of company comes in.
“Company is Stronger than Willpower.”
This is one of my favorite quotes of my father’s. This single truth holds the greatest potential for own personal transformation. It is the truth upon which thousands of successful programs, therapies, support groups, political revolutions, online and social media communities have been based on. What feels impossible to do alone, the power of community makes easier.
Here is an example of the principle: If you are rowing in one direction and the other three people in the boat are rowing in the other, you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere. But if all of you are going in the same direction, suddenly it becomes many times easier. This is why, if you truly want to make a change in your life, you need to put yourself in an environment where people are moving in the same direction as you are. This will speed your journey and magnify your gains many-fold.
This is the core principle of community and connection whether it happens online or in person. Like-minded individuals can use the power of group energy to learn, to grow and to make changes in their own lives and the lives of those they touch. The power of group learning can literally shift the trajectory of your life.
Shifting our Attitudes
Many of us have a negative association with changing our habits. We think of it as a discipline — something we must or should not do. The very idea that “I have to eat right,” “I should accept other people,” “I should do my morning meditation,” “I should go for a walk,” creates a certain division in the mind. We experience an inner fight between the part of us that wants to do the practice and the part that doesn’t. Often, as a result of this fight, we end up doing just the opposite of what we intended. The less we do our practice, the worse we feel – and the more we judge ourselves. The more we judge, the more pressure we put on ourselves to “get it right.” And on it goes. Is it any wonder we may end up avoiding our practices altogether? So the question is, “How can we reframe our understanding of discipline in such a way that it does not elicit fear, separation, division or tension?” The answer lies in working with your mind. I recommend experimenting with the following strategies:
- Reframe discipline as coming from love of a certain activity rather than pressure to show up a certain way.
- Do spiritual or other practices at such a low level that the mind will not resist. Instead of saying that you will meditate for ½ hour every day, say that you will meditate (maybe even in bed) for fifteen minutes when you wake up in the morning. Pick a level of activity or an activity that does not trigger pressure, division or conflict in the mind. Once you love it, you will naturally want to do it more. You can also start by taking an online course.
- Do NOT judge or engage in any conversation about whether you did or did not do your practices. See your practice as a road. It is a direction you are moving in. Some days you will be on the road, others you will be at a standstill or will take a detour. But as long as you know what direction you are headed in, you will always be able to get back on the road and keep going—minus the self-judgment.
- When you do follow your practices, notice how they make you feel – just observe. When you do not do your practices, notice how that makes you feel. Do this over and over. Over time, you will find that you will naturally begin to partake in activities that make you feel better. This is because the mind is a pleasure-seeking machine. If you can really see that certain activities cause you pleasure and other activities cause you pain, those that cause you pain will naturally fall away – and those that serve you will naturally grow stronger.
Originally published online at www.kaminidesai.com on June 7, 2021