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Habits

William James said the only difference between a hardened criminal and a socially successful person is habits.

Once while on a local small beach with my children and dog, we had fun clearing the debris brought in by winter storms, and built a bonfire with it. Some of the debri was aerosol cans. So I got the children to stand behind a large rock and threw the cans on the fire one at a time. After the third dramatic explosion our dog ran frantically from behind the rock and headed home – at least a mile away. Three years later, my wife, I and the dog were on that beach sunbathing. We had been there for hours, but as the sun sank I stood up and leaned on that same large rock. Suddenly the dog looked at me strangely, turned and was gone.

It was a dramatic example of how habitual responses can be etched deeply into us. Fortunately, unlike my dog, we can re-evaluate the fear or urgency we feel to repeat original responses. But unfortunately we often fail to realise the nature of what is happening to us.

We would not be able to walk or talk without the amazing support of our habits. But some habits, like repeatedly choosing a destructive lover, destroying our health, constantly feeling inferior, destroying opportunity or mishandling authority figures, our tremendous meeting with the opposite sex, love and its ability to reveal our weaknesses, are more undermining than supportive. The more lucid we become, the more we become aware of these negative habits and their roots. This in itself transforms them in some degree.

But we can also speed up the process. For instance our humanness is built on a much older animal self that still has its natural ways of responding to pain and anxiety. Just like my dog, if something frightens you, you will react. I once had to return to a house I had experienced months of emotional pain in. As we were driving there I felt great stomach pains. I thought at first I had eaten something poisonous, but could not see that I had. But then I asked my unconscious what the problem was. Immediately the response came, “You are taking me back to that house where I was hurt.” I realised I was dealing with my animal self, so talked to it just as I would a horse or a dog. “Steady. We are not staying there long, and the things that hurt are no longer there.” Immediately the pain began to recede and the visit was achieved easily. See Animals in your Brain

Example: Two years ago I did a horrible thing to myself. I felt my belly a little bit inflated so I started to breath from my chest, hold my stomach in or hold my breath at some points to not show that I had a fat belly (I was so vain).

That took almost 3 or 4 months and it came to the point I wasn’t feeling that well, my head didn’t have much oxygen etc. Then I tried to let go of that stupid idea, system, whatever, and let my breathing system to work normally as it knows. But unfortunately my body had forgotten how to breath right…

Now I have a bad feeling in my stomach and in my chest, I have to take big breaths during the day and when I’m anxious things get much worse. My quality of life has changed so much. Why I was so stupid, why I did that?

Here are some useful techniques.

1. Try to understand the dynamics of your difficult response. If it is not easy to find clarity, look to your dreams for help. Ask for a guiding dream or take it into a lucid dream and seek the cause. For instance a woman radio researcher was offered the job of presenter, but was on the verge of refusing. She dreamt an air raid attack was taking place and she jumped into a ditch to hide. From the dream she realised she was scared of being out in the open – in public view and possible criticism. This enabled her to deal with the anxiety. But of course it takes practice to establish a new habit. So at first as the anxiety arises you need to stop and assure yourself that this was from the past and you can build a new habit by repeating the change.

So when you clarify the situation, take time to talk to yourself as if to a child or animal. Explain why the reaction takes place and a way of moving beyond it. See Conditioned Reflexes

2. Carefully look through your dream journal and take note of recurring themes. Possible themes are – love – satisfying or otherwise; looking for something; running to or from something; trying to find your way; hiding; being trapped; starting something; building or renovating; relationship; being with others; being alone; leaving things or people behind; death; birth; growth; fear; digging, and so on.

Take one theme at a time and work with each of the dreams expressing that theme. Because it recurs it suggests there is a habitual response involved. So imagine yourself in the dream you are working with and create a different end. Rework the dream so it is more satisfying. For instance if you are always passive in your dreams, imagine yourself being more dynamic and forceful. If you are always relating to unsatisfying men/women, change the dream to one in which you gain satisfaction. See Techniques for Exploring your Dreams

As you work in this way, carry on until you see a shift in the dreams you experience while asleep. Also, aim to become lucid in each of the dream themes and search for the roots of the habit and how to change it. But of course do not keep it just to dreams. By observing yourself you can uncover a lot of old habits that are not useful. Also practice changing a habit to get the feel of doing it and achieving change.

When I first started this self watching I noticed at work that every door I walked through I left open. So I decided to change and close the doors behind me. Of course it didn’t work first time, but each time I left a door open I would walk back and close it. Gradually it  became new habit.

3. At a time when I was in awful torment, I found that every time I responded painfully, I ended up still in pain. It was like driving along a road you had travelled many times, which ended in you going over a tremendous cliff edge. The point is, if you can see that you have been done this ‘road’ before, you know where it will lead. So I would stop, recognise I was making a mistake, and work like hell to take another direction or attitude.

It is now recognised that any emotion or feeling we stay in for long, builds up tremendous brain connections with those feelings. The more we feel such pain the more it replays into our daily life. The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner pain. To change the pattern of pain we need to start building up happy feelings, which eventually will reward you with happiness, gratitude, feeling confident, feeling successful, feeling loved and lovable.”

But on a day to day basis, most of us don’t stay with our positive experiences long enough for them to be encoded into neural structure (meaning there’s not enough wiring and firing going on). On the other hand, we naturally tend to fixate on negative experiences. Positive and negative emotions use different memory systems in the brain, according to Hanson, and positive emotions don’t transfer as easily to long-term memory. Remember that habits are fixed in us, and need work to change to a new habit. I managed it after many times of not taking that treacherous road.

4. It is also important to realise that any habit, whether good or bad, has been put in place by constant use. So to change it to slightly alter it you need to practice the change until it is also habitual and automatic.

When I was a child a nurse came to the school I attended and examined every child’s feet. I was one of the children who was told that I had flat feet, and myself along with others were shown how to use our feet in a different way. In fact we were shown how to be aware of the way in which we walked. I made a habit of this until it became second nature. What I learned over 50 years ago is still a part of the pleasure I experience today in walking.

You need to practice the new thing that you want to make into a habit so it becomes automatic. Give time to the practice every day until it is established.

Another important thing to remember is that most of what we do is habitual. It takes no thought or effort to do it. Habits feel right because they have been done for so long. Even emotional responses are often habitual. So when you change you are going to confront a habit and it will take an effort to make a new one. Practising the new thing is necessary. Practice until the new thing is itself a habit and easy.

5. This next technique is incredibly life changing. But it has to be made into a habit by using it frequently until it becomes active in the background of your waking and sleeping life. If you do not have time for the other approaches simply use this one.

Start by imagining there is a mirror within you. This mirror is your awareness or consciousness. The things you think or feel are images or experiences that pass across that mirror and for a while have existence in it, but they all shift and go. Only the mirror remains. When this is fairly clear, sit and watch what is in the mirror of your awareness. Notice if it is a thought, a feeling, a body sensation, or a memory. Give each one a name such as – This is an opinion, this is a thought (such as an image of something you have seen) – this is an emotion – this is from something I read – this is a conjecture about an experience, and so on. This becomes a wonderful tool, especially as you add to it be noticing judgments and say, ‘That is a judgement;’ that is self criticism; that is what I have absorbed from the culture I grew up in.

Doing this will transform the way you react habitually and change it into being aware and without the useless pains that people say are normal. It is also a great way to find liberation from anxiety, obsessive thinking, and the surge and storms of everyday life.

What is normal?

People have assured me that it is normal to be torn apart by grief if a person they love dies. People have told me again and again that it is normal to be emotionally torn when a partner leaves. I have myself experience years of misery because of leaving my family for another woman. After years I found way through the misery into freedom. I had felt that I was a bad father, and was somehow inferior. It was a terrible load to carry. The thing was that having done what I had, I couldn’t go back. So I was stuck in hell without a way out. In that situation I was no good to my children or my new partner.

I saw that such reactions were habits due to my cultural upbringing – ‘you left your wife and children and you are no good.’ As habits I could change them and be free of their crippling influence. I was free to choose what I felt. So I chose to allow love for my children, to support where I was capable, and not creep around like a whipped dog. It worked.

There is nothing normal or natural in being raised to feel so much pain. If it were normal we would not be schooled for years in beliefs about what is right or wrong. We are in fact trained to become addicted to pain by all sorts of beliefs. I lost both parents and my best friend – they died – and I felt deeply, but not painful or years of grief.

Some suggestions

Although we may have traumas buried in us, do not go in search of them. Each trauma or powerful life experience gives rise to habits, and habits are easy to find everywhere. No need to dig. So confront your habits and your traumas, if any will, rise before you. See Life’s Little Secrets - Avoid Being Victims

The feelings of jealousy, worry, painful emotions are actually habits and are not a ‘natural’ reaction that many people take it for. So whenever it arises literally stop what you are doing and confront it. Think or say to your self, “This is an old habit of reaction started in my childhood. I want to grow out of this, and will replace jealousy/anger/frustration/failure etc with what I can feel when I am my best self. I know it will take practice, but it is just a habit like any other habit and can be learned like riding a bike.” Each time you confront it will be easier to get to the other side. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYYXq1Ox4sk

Allow any emotions that arise as you grow. Emotions are not you, but they are a wonderful way of learning a lot of truths about your past and present – even future. If you can allow any spontaneous movement, shaking, shivering and watch it to see what it is saying. If you can do this it goes through stages. The most deeply buried hurts are physiological/psychosomatic. As they emerge they are first movement such as shaking or shivering. The next level is gestural. The movements will become gestures, cowering, hurt, avoidance etc. The third level if we allow it is the dream level – in waking not in sleep. The action then become a full acting out of something that was deeply unconscious, with sound, emotions, and actions. But remember this is still only a symbolic acting out – as dreams are. Then, if you do not get trapped in the symbols of dreams, you come to full understanding and insight as the whole thing rises into consciousness.

You are the sum total of your past. If you stop blaming your present experience on others it gives you a wonderful opportunity to create a new future. Today, this hour, this moment is the most miraculous thing. What you do today, this hour, this moment reaches far into the future in an unbelievable way. If you are honest you can trace back your present predicament to the past. So your present attitudes, actions, thoughts, love or lack of it is creating your future.

Remember that you are far more than you currently believe. You are Life, expressing now, this moment. Look around at what Life can do. It can express as an amazing number of forms and in amazing environments. That infinite potential is at the Core of you. See touching your core self

What next?

We direct our lives with habits, beliefs and convictions that arose from life in the past. Tomorrow’s world calls to us of unprecedented change. Not only do we need to gather the best from what the past has taught us, we also need to be capable of leaping beyond that with the sort of creative dynamism that arises from our creative core.

If it hasn’t, what will you do when it comes – and it is coming! Will you put up rigid defences hoping the rising tide will not breach your old castle walls?

There is a huge shift going on in the way people are living and responding to challenges. You can most likely see this enormous social transformation or are sensing it through feelings of unease or despair about world events. The tidal wave of change, of the impact of global warming and the economic roller coaster ride has already reached the shore of your life. Don’t try to maintain the status quo with some sort of addictive anesthetic retreat. The revolution is not leading toward destruction but to an enormous evolutionary step forward. Defensiveness or avoiding what is happening leaves you in the backwaters.

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