Letting Go of Bad Habits by Getting to Know Them Better
Stepping away from a specific habit or pattern of thinking can be a daunting task.
The habit or mind pattern has obviously gotten you to this point in your life, but if it no longer serves you, it’s necessary to let it go. If not, you will likely drive yourself mad or attempt to destroy yourself to stop living out the same behaviors over and over again that bring you so much pain in the first place.
This is when an addiction to habits and mental patterns gets worse; you get even more sucked into the patterns that you hate about yourself by trying to escape it through any means possible (most likely the habit itself that you are trying to rid yourself of in the first place).
This sounds paradoxical, and it is…
The very moment you think about or act out the habit that you want to stop, you create two different (polar) experiences inside yourself.
First, there is the comfort of doing something that brings you a feeling of relief (although temporary). Second, there is a thought about how you have failed yet again to end what brings you sorrow. This split within ourselves creates an uncomfortable feeling that we immediately seek to rid ourselves of.
You can think of it as two dissonant notes played on the piano at the same time. They do not belong together and will therefore sound very unpleasant to the ear. When we hear sounds like this, they draw our attention. Not as an objective observation, but in a negative way as we seek to stop the problem. These notes in your head (your thoughts) become conflicting and unpleasant and the only thing you can think to do in that moment to get rid of the problem of feeling uncomfortable, is by returning to the original behaviors that gave you that original, temporary comfort: taking another bite of ice cream, or another drag of that cigarette, or another run around the block, or picking up another shift at work.
All of this is an attempt to defend yourself from the problem, but all it turns out to be is a really big distraction. Such a subtle distraction that you didn’t even realize what the distraction was. A distraction from the very thing that began this whole process, and that has now started another cycle of regret (which will soon be fixed by even more temporary comfort and then even more regret).
The way to freedom is to move through the discomfort, not protect yourself from it.
You have to feel what it feels like to be uncomfortable, the very thing that you have been running away form this entire time. You have to be so present and so fully in your body that you feel all of the tensions and pressure throughout your chest, head etc. when you feel the discomfort. Once you really sink into what it feels like to feel this discomfort, you have made one step toward finding your freedom.
If it helps, you can take a curious approach to the feeling by asking questions and drawing attention into the body for answers.[ms_list icon=”fa-question-circle” icon_color=”01b2aa” icon_boxed=”no” background_color=”” boxed_shape=”square” item_border=”no” item_size=”14″ class=”” id=””] [ms_list_item]What does it really feel like to feel uncomfortable? I’ve never really let myself feel it before now.[/ms_list_item] [ms_list_item]Where in my body do the sensations of discomfort, guilt, sadness, anger that I want to escape from exist? Is it my head? My Chest? My legs or shoulders? [/ms_list_item] [ms_list_item]What does this tension actually feel like? Is a super tight constriction or just a general tightening of the muscles?[/ms_list_item] [ms_list_item]Is my heart beating faster or slower? [/ms_list_item] [ms_list_item] What kind of thoughts are happening right now? [/ms_list_item] [ms_list_item]What in my body and mind makes me feel like I am out of control?[/ms_list_item][/ms_list]
You don’t actually have to ask or answer these questions in your head, you can just simply be curious of what the feeling of discomfort in your body is made of.
The process of feeling the emotion for what it is in the body may actually lessen the impact of the feeling itself.
When you bring your attention into the body, you have less attention to go towards your thoughts. So instead of the normal routine of being stuck in the noggin with negative thinking, self-judgement etc., you feel the emotion for what it is without the story and unnecessary commentary.
You may find that even though tension is present in the body, it is actually a neutral feeling of tension. It may even feel like the same tension that exists in your body when you are excited. The story we tell ourselves while we are experiencing any given feeling in the body is what actually makes it a good or bad experience.[ms_pullquote align=”left” class=”” id=””]There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. – William Shakespeare[/ms_pullquote]
Don’t believe me, test this for yourself.
The next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation within yourself or with others, pay attention to the feelings, sensations and thoughts inside of yourself. Then, the next time you have an exciting or stimulating experience, also pay attention to the feelings in your body. How do they compare when you are paying attention to the feelings and sensations in the body only, instead of having some attention on the body but most in the head where you are trying to figure out how to make yourself feel better again?
It might take a few tries before you feel like you can examine the bodily sensations without giving in to your thoughts or to feel like you’ve made progress. With practice you will no longer feel a pull into discomfort and irritation, just a neutral sensation that is neither comfortable or uncomfortable. This is a natural side effect of actually feeling your feelings fully for the first time.
You may have been playing the avoidance game with yourself for years, even decades…
If it hasn’t worked for you so far, don’t you think it might be time to try something new?
Once you give yourself a chance to look inside your body experience and feel more comfortable with feeling sensations, you may realize that you are more able to distance yourself from the pain of discomfort. Not in an avoidance way, but instead by realizing that it is okay to feel discomfort, it is in fact a part of the human experience that everyone goes through. This approach enables us to experience thoughts and emotions from a more objective stance as a witness rather than a personal sufferer.
When you feel more comfortable feeling your emotions rather than feeling lost in them, naturally the habit that you want to quit will become useless to you, because you aren’t trying to escape from anything in the first place.
You have found your freedom.