“Never say any man is hopeless, because he only represents a character, a bundle of habits, which can be checked by new and better ones. Character is repeated habits, and repeated habits alone can reform character.”
—Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda likened a single thought to a seed. The more you ruminate on a thought, the more it grows. If a single thought is a seed, then a habit is a tree.
While some habits are cute, like putting your pinkies out while you drink tea, there are others that aren’t as endearing or healthy–overeating, smoking, binge drinking.
We all know that the longer these habits stay with us, the more difficult they are to break. So as we start the new year, many of us (including me) are setting resolutions and going about trying to break these habits. But many will fail, because they approach the process in entirely the wrong way.
Here are five steps for breaking habits…
Think of how easy it is to pull a small weed from the ground versus a fully grown tree. This is why habits we’ve had for a longer time are more difficult to break…simply because they’ve had years to grow in the soil of our minds.
1) Set an intention.
Every day, decide to do things differently. First-thing in the morning, sit quietly and imagine what you’d like to happen. Putting your mind into a task will help sow new seeds and cut down a forest of old habits.
2) Refocus the mind by forming a new habit.
Like to eat a big ole cookie every afternoon? What if you replaced it with a walk, a piece of fruit, a phone call with someone you enjoy talking to? While the mind will always want to go back to those worn pathways, doing something new can create lasting change.
3) Stay with it.
Sometimes it seems like a Herculean feat to overcome a life-long habit. When a particularly bad craving hits, stay with it. Yes, this may sound counterintiutive, but if you can feel your body and what part of it is craving the habit, you can be in the moment. You can reason with your mind.
By giving in to a habit, you’re avoiding whatever thought or emotion is arising in a panic. Stay with your craving and you’ll notice it subside. Each time it’ll get easier.
The mind is a tool, but so often we are a slave to it. Make the mind work for you. (Buddhist nun Pema Chodron‘s book The Places That Scare You has some great advice on this topic.)
4) Just make it happen.
This was advice from one of my teachers Shunya Pratichi Mathur. I had a very difficult time waking up early and asked her advice, “don’t think about it, just do it.” Initially, I was totally annoyed because her advice sounded like a running shoe ad, but honestly it worked. In the morning, when I want to snooze, I don’t give my mind time to argue. I just get up.
Treat your mind like a two-year-old and give it no choice. You’ll be amazed at what happens.
5) Don’t beat yourself up.
The thing about habits is that they’re hard to break. If you slip up, just accept it and be vigilant next time. Often we give up so easily because we’ve given in a couple of times. Breaking a habit is a process and accepting that you’ll slip up will make it easier to not give in to temptation next time.
What are your resolutions this year? How are you doing at breaking your habits?