How often have you identified a “bad” habit, something you wanted to stop doing?
Almost everyone has started a new year with a list of resolutions, many of which are aimed at changing something that had been identified as undesirable. How often have these resolutions been let go in the first few weeks or months of the new year? An internet friend, Tracy Cummings, is working on a blog “17 Ways To Break A Habit Even After 20 Years Of Failing.” Talk about persistence! How many of us have listed the same resolution year after year? Her title inspired this post.
Being stuck in a habit can feel like driving on a highway on a stormy night. You can’t see where you’re going but you can’t stop either.
Lets look at the mental ideas that lead to and flow from the phrase “breaking habits.” Take a quick moment to scan your body, now think: “breaking habits” and see what you notice in your breathing, your eyes, your body. Just observe.
Now try the same experiment with the phrase “unwinding patterns.” Do you notice any difference in your breathing, your eyes, or your body when you think “unwinding patterns” compared to when you think “breaking habits?”
Patterns and habits are both learned by repeating actions until they become practically automatic and/or unconscious. It’s almost as if we create a groove in our thinking and movement and that groove gets deeper and deeper with repetition until it becomes a habit/pattern.
When I think of breaking I think of force, destroying, turning something that is whole into many pieces.
When I think of unwinding I image a tangled necklace that I must tease and wiggle as I unravel the knots. This requires delicacy, observation, and patience. In the end, I have loosened the tangles and the necklace is still whole.
As I began exploring applying the Alexander Technique to changing habits (already a different concept than breaking them) I shifted from thinking habits to patterns and from breaking to unwinding.
I found that thinking of my habits as something I had to break lead to thinking that the habits were bad. As soon as I classified them as bad, I felt wrong for having them and not being able to break them. The harder I pushed on myself to change them, the more entrenched they became and the worse I felt about myself for failing.
The first step in unwinding a pattern is to ask “how easy is my neck?” when I think about one of my habits. The ease that arises when I ask “how easy is my neck?” allows me to see my habit as just a pattern of behavior. I’m able to look at it from different perspectives. I can acknowledge that it may have begun as a good thing that solved a problem I had in the past. From this place of ease I’m able to look at my pattern without pushing against it. I’ve managed to identify the trigger and to interrupt my habitual reaction. I’m able to accept the pattern as neither good nor bad, and to acknowledge that when I feel myself moving into the pattern I have a choice to continue into the “groove” or to stop.
Once I’ve stopped, even just this one time, the impulse to continue in the habitual action is interrupted. Every time I do this the groove becomes a little less deep and eventually in this way unwind my pattern and dissolve the habit.
If you have thoughts or questions please comment below.
Lovely article, love the ideas of changing and not breaking habjts
Thank you, Jennifer – we’re on the cusp of some more big changes!
Unwinding sounds so much kinder to ourselves than breaking something we’ve perhaps come to rely upon.
Great article. X
Thank you Karoline – I agree that the unwinding seems kinder, I also react differently than I do to breaking. And you are right we’ve created habits from actions that once were supportive for us. It’s another reason that fine-tuning our awareness is helpful. We can notice when something that was once helpful has become confining, restrictive, or in other ways unhelpful.