Habits of Thought
Imagine not being able to walk without consciously thinking, “Okay, shift my weight to my right leg, bend the left leg slightly and lift my left foot from the ground. Now move my left foot forward about 12 inches. Push toward the ground with my right toes and begin to lean forward. Place my left heel on the ground and come up onto the ball of my left foot as my right toes push off the ground. Swing my right foot about a foot in front of my left foot and push the toward the ground with my left toes and shift my weight to to my right heel as it makes contact with the ground.”
Whew! And that was just two steps! As a toddler, this is exactly the mental process we faced. But, we’d never get anything done if we had to continually think through every action we made. Lucky for us, from the time we were little kids, our brains began to recognize repetitive physical motions and log the pattern of muscle contractions into a permanent unconscious habit. Now we walk and don’t even think about it.
Habits can be a salvation. Habits allow us to put our attention on more important matters while our unconscious mind takes care of the routine. You habitually brush your teeth and wash your body in the same exact pattern every day. You most likely switch to auto pilot every time you get behind the wheel of your car to drive to work. If you truly observed yourself during a single day, you’d probably find that most of what you do is done without any conscious thought.
Habits do truly serve us. But, there’s a danger in becoming comfortable with routine and unconscious behaviors. This lack of awareness can itself, become addictive. We can become lazy thinkers allowing our thoughts to become repetitive, unthinking reactions.
Focus for a moment upon something that you might not have previously recognized as a habit. (That’s the way habits are… after they’re established, they become invisible.) What thought habits have you formed – otherwise known as beliefs – around worthiness, money, success, relationships, etc?
Let’s use unworthiness as an example. What are your beliefs about being safe and supported in life? Do you truly feel that you deserve and can have a full, meaningful, and rewarding life? Do you have worries that you aren’t good smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough? Does everyone else seem to have it all together while you’re pretending to? When you’re facing a big opportunity, do concerns of failure override hopes of success? Do you dread starting something new and untried for fear that you’ll look foolish? When you walk into a room of strangers, are you anxious that no one will want to talk to you?
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s likely that this has been true of you for a very long time. Perhaps as long as you can remember back. Long ago a thought of unworthiness surfaced, you bought into it and it became an accepted truth for you. And that truthappeared each time you faced an unfamiliar event – not through conscious will, but through unconscious habit.
Along with beliefs, emotions can become habitual as well. Let me share an example from my own personal life that kept me shackled for many years. I was raised in a loving, but financially insecure home. My father was a construction worker and would regularly be out of work each year due to weather. So, my parents and the three of us kids scrimped on everything. This view of money and opportunity set the foundation for my beliefs and what was possible for me financially later in life.
When I began to earn my own money, I spent it on trifles or I’d splurge and buy 10 pairs of cheap shoes. Quantity was more important than quality because quantity meant abundance to me.
When an unexpected expense arose, like car repairs or a medical bill, I’d panic as I saw my bank balance diminish. When my pay check came in I’d relax and when 1st of the month bills were due I’d become anxious. Each month I rode this fear-relaxation cycle as my bank balance rose and dropped. I’d unknowingly formed a habit around my relationship to money and it controlled my emotions.
Many years later a very astute friend saw me succumbing to this repetitive and predictable cycle around my finances and brought it to my attention by saying, “Your fear around money has little to do with your current circumstances. You react out of habit, not reality.” Habit. She was right. When my money trigger was activated (any decline in bank balance or increase in expenses) I automatically went into panic. Even if I had plenty of resources to deal with the circumstance.
The effects of this habit not only flooded me with negative emotions, but also reinforced my unconscious belief that I wasn’t worthy of financial abundance. And that belief, even if unconscious, perpetuated my reality of scarcity.
Awareness is the first step in change, but awareness alone doesn’t create change. Habits so old you can’t even remember when they began don’t typically dissolve overnight. Especially if you fail to recognize that you’re under its influence again. I still deal with this lingering habit. The fact that I’ve never once been destitute or unable to meet my obligations matters little to the powerful seduction of this habit of lack thinking. Awareness and choice are the antidote. When I feel the habit slithering back into my life, I’ve learned to recognize it quickly and halt its poisonous effects – sometimes quicker than others.
I recall that this feeling of panic is just an old habit begun as a child. A habit that has no current day power, if I don’t give it any. I can choose differently today and create new habits that support me and my dreams. I can refuse to be dragged down that path of destitution by an echo of childhood fears.
This can be your choice too. The way is simple and the results are profound.
- Look for where you predictably react to a specific trigger that drags you into fear or pain.
- Tune into your emotions physically so that you quickly recognize when the trigger is activated.
- Face the habit full on and ask whether it is even true anymore.
- Look at the devastating effect that submitting to this habit has in your life.
- Consciously choose the truth of your unlimited potential.
- Say no to the habit and determine what you desire to experience instead.
“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” —John Dryden“Habits are first cobwebs, then cables.” —Spanish proverb
“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” —Vincent Lombardi