By Leo Babauta
As we wrap up theÂ Drop Deeper into Mindfulness ChallengeÂ … let’s talk about how to take what you’ve been practicing and use it for habit change for the rest of this year (and the rest of your life!).
In my experience, there’s nothing more useful for changing habits than mindfulness. It’s incredibly important for habit changes, because you can use mindfulness skills to address the most common habit change obstacles.
Let’s look at the most common habit change obstacles, and how the mindfulness skills you’ve been working on will help address these obstacles:
- Forgetting to do the habit. If you’ve been working on remembering to be mindful throughout the day, or even just remembering to meditate … you’ve been working on the skill of remembering. And it will help you not forget to do the habit. What worked to help you remember to be mindful or meditate this month? Keep practicing that in the coming months.
- Putting off doing the habit. This is one of the big ones. You know it’s time to do the habit (maybe a phone reminder goes off), but you have the urge to put it off. But you’ve been practicing with mindfulness of urges. The urge to put off meditating. The urge to get up from meditation early. This helps you to drop into the present moment when the urge to put off the habit comes up (which it will, at some point). Being present with the urge to put it off … you realize it’s just a sensation. Not a command, but an experience. You can be with the sensation of wanting to put something off, without actually acting on that urge. Then move into the habit with the smallest step.
- Running to old habits for comfort. This is the same thing, but instead of having the urge to put off a positive habit (like exercise, drawing or writing) … you have an urge to go to a comfort, like eating sweets, drinking alcohol, shopping, going to a distraction like social media. The same skill applies â€” be present with the urge to run to the comfort, and see that it’s just a set of sensations. You don’t have to act on the urge, but you can be fully present with it, staying with the sensations as you would stay with the sensations of the breath in meditation.
- Not enjoying the habit, or rushing through it. This is an obstacle for a lot of habits, because when we rush through a habit, treating it like a chore, feeling like it’s a sacrifice … if you feel like the habit is a pain, a sacrifice, or a chore, you probably won’t want to do it for very long. You can push through that for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. But sooner or later, you’ll want to stop doing it. Luckily, we’ve been practicing with mindfulness, maybe even a practice of gratitude. So the practice is to be fully present with the habit, to be with the sensations of it, to treat it as if nothing else exists and the moment of doing this habit is your entire universe. Savor the habit. Be grateful for doing it. Turn the habit itself into its own reward, a spa treatment to savor and look forward to. You’ll do it for much longer.
- Feeling like quitting the habit. At some point, you’re likely to go through a dip in motivation. Maybe the habit is hard, maybe you are feeling tired. You feel like quitting this habit change. Again, you drop into the present moment, into the sensations of wanting to quit. You notice the sensations of being tired or discouraged. You stay fully present with those sensations. You realize that you’re just going through an experience, that is neither good nor bad. Then you remind yourself of your intentions with this habit change â€” is the benefit of this habit change more important than your current discomfort? For example, maybe you are writing in order to help people … are these people more important than your discomfort? Then you take the smallest next step, finding gratitude as you let this step become your entire universe.
- Missing a day (or three) and then not wanting to think about it. Life gets in the way â€” and when it does, you might miss a day or several days of doing the habit. When we miss some days of doing the habit, we often feel guilty about it, or disappointed in ourselves. This is a bad feeling we have, now, about our performance with this habit. We don’t like this uncomfortable feeling, so we often avoid even thinking about the habit. The way to work with this is to drop into the present and feel the disappointment or guilt. Let yourself be fully present with these sensations. Notice that, like all sensations, they are just an experience, and they go away with time. And you learn that you don’t need to let these sensations control you. You can come from a bigger place of self-compassion. And you can, of course, take the smallest next step.
These are lessons you’ve been learning this month, and they are amazing.
Thank you for practicing with me this month, my friends. My intention is to keep practicing with these all year, and I encourage you to do the same. Keep coming back to these practices. They’ll help with everything you do in life.