Mindful Change: The Habit-Forming Practice of Forming Habits

Growing up, the concept of a habit to me always assumed a negative connotation (smoking, swearing, cracking one’s knuckles). Now at age 40, I’m finally realizing the reason: in my experience, the word “habit” was, more often than not, preceded by “bad”— conceivably a generational circumstance…..or perhaps I was raised around pessimistic people. Regardless of my history, the revelation that there can be “good” habits took some effort to wrap my mind around. But I waxed hopeful, anticipating that I had already been practicing a few by default. This turned out to be half true.

More Than Meets the Mind’s Eye

To start, I factored in the act of changing a habit. In the case of the bad habit, I think of changing in terms of elimination of the habit. Following this line of logic, I interpreted change with respect to good habits as the adoption of a habit that is missing from one’s life— some act or routine that promotes and perpetuates positive health, well-being and balance. The third possibility was the trade-off, or the shifting from a specific bad habit to its good habit counterpart, like eating less apple pie and more actual apples. It all sounded simple and achievable in theory, but then came putting it into practice, which revealed unpredicted obstacles (time, peer pressure, cash flow, inclement weather), and the realization of being weighed down by all of these newly revealed personal challenges. My response resembled that of the prototypical American consumer, staring overwhelmed at all of the breakfast cereal options, ultimately choosing none. I would proceed to move that heap of habit-related challenges to the back burner, and crawl back into bed.

Habit as Routine

Then came adulthood, and with it, the acknowledgment of mortality, and the natural shift in mindset that is born of maturity and, to a degree, fear. It was time to drop some bad habits and acquire some good ones, at the very least to add to my longevity and quality of life. And it couldn’t just end with giving up soda and taking up flossing. There were plenty of good habits that needed to morph into routines (staying fit, keeping in touch with family). These new practices had to be entered into in such a carefully mindful manner as to ultimately become part of the natural fabric of my day— a habit on auto-pilot, with no reward system, and for which no extra conscious effort was necessary after the allotted adjustment period. The results had pleasure and satisfaction built-in, and a brand-new “me” emerged. Author David Rock described this more clearly when he wrote “you’re not erasing the line of the old habit, you’re laying new track over it, and over time the new tracks are etched more deeply”.

Looking Ahead

I still have a long way to go to incorporate all of the necessary habit change into my life, but with my new outlook, the job ahead is far less intimidating. I’ve listened to countless opinions on completing the transformation into the natural state of good habit, and about how the adjustment period is X amount of days for this habit, and Y for this one. Superimposed over one another, they amount to a lot of noise, giving flashbacks of that cereal aisle. Through finding the answers on my own, real progress is achieved, and life assumes a greater value. Play around with it in your own life; I have no doubt that you’ll see what I mean. Then, share your results with our community.