Be curious about your habits

One of my clients recently told me that smoking “smells like rancid cheese, and takes like chemicals”. She knew that smoking was bad for her. My fascination focused on when she discovered that by being a little more curious about when she smoked, she realised that it actually tastes like the contents of a toilet bowl. It was as if the spell of smoking had been broken. And subsequently become disenchanted by her behaviour.

You see, she moved from having the knowledge to having wisdom about it. Literally knowing it in her head that it’s bad, to the deep knowing of it in her bones.

So to start to understand why, we need to look at how unwelcome habits begin in the first place.

woman eating food habit We see some food that looks good, So our brain says “CALORIES SURVIVAL !”

So we end up eating the food. We’ll taste it, and it tastes good, especially the sugar. Our bodies then send a signal to our brain that says something like “REMEMBER WHAT YOU’RE EATING AND WHERE YOU FOUND IT”

What we end up doing is learning to repeat the process for next time.

See food.

Trigger

Feel nice.

Behaviour

Repeat

Reward

Simple isn’t it ?

So if we go back to our younger years say when we were teenagers, and we see those kids who rebel. They smoke and we think, “Mmmm I want to be like that – I want to be cool”. So we end up smoking.

Smoke to be cool – Feel good – Repeat

Trigger, Behaviour, Reward

Each and every time we do it, we begin to learn to repeat that process and allow it to become a habit.

Now the pre-frontal cortex, that youngest part of our brain, understands that we shouldn’t smoke and it tries its hardest to help us change our behaviour, to help us stop smoking or help us stop eating that 2nd, 3rd that 4th biscuit.

We call this cognitive control, we’re using cognition to control our behaviour. Unfortunately, this is also the first part of our brain that goes offline when we get stressed out, which isn’t that helpful. So what happens when that part of the brain goes offline? We fall back into our old habits. Seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them in a deeper level, to know it in our bones so we don’t have to force ourselves to hold back or restrain ourselves from behaviour.

Over time as we see more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones. It’s about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds, this willingness to turn toward our experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible.

When we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based reactive habit patterns and we step into being. If you don’t smoke or stress eat, maybe the next time you feel this urge to check your email when you’re bored or you’re trying to distract yourself from work, or maybe to compulsively respond to that text message, see if you can tap into this natural capacity, just be curiously aware of whats happening in your body and mind in that moment.

It will just be another chance to perpetuate one of our endless and exhaustive habit loops. Or step out of it.

Instead of…. see text message, compulsively text back, feel a little bit better. Notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go, and repeat.


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