The other day, I was playing around with shifting one of my more bothersome habits.
It’s one of those habits that’s been around, in one form or another, for years.
I was trying a new approach, because previous attempts haven’t had the desired effect.
The habit (which, for me, isn’t a helpful one) is still hanging around.
A different approach.
Usually, when we think about a habit, we think:
I need to stop doing X. If I could just erase the habit, then everything in life would be perfect. Nothing else would change. The habit would just lift straight out of the landscape of my life, and everything would be sunny and gay.
This is rarely, if ever, how things actually shake out.
Habits are there for a reason.
In my experience, habits are there for a reason.
They stick around because they’re providing us with something we need, something we don’t yet know how to give ourselves in another way.
Because trying to shift this pattern directly hasn’t really worked in the past, this time, I shifted my focus. I asked myself:
What times do I remember when I was free of this habit?
My answers surprised me a little, mostly because they were all so similar.
They emerged easily, like the tips of evergreen trees through clearing fog:
When I was falling in love.
When I went to concerts as a teenager.
When I sat, cross-legged, in a wide circle, practicing compassionate listening with strangers.
When I was teaching something I loved.
When I was learning something I loved.
When I was meeting kind, new people.
When I was sitting with friends, dangling my feet off the dock into the gently lapping water. Late at night, with nowhere pressing to be.
When I was crafting with the ridiculously smart friends I usually see just once each year.
When I was excited-scared (as opposed to scared-scared).
Themes emerged. Themes of meeting new people, being in community, being completely present. Teaching, learning, discovering.
Seeing the habit as a symptom, not a problem.
I’m now experimenting with approaching my habit by not thinking about the habit itself much at all.
Instead, I’m seeking out more presence, excitement, teaching, learning, and community in my life. My hypothesis is that the habit has been my way of seeking all those qualities, in not-so-effective way.
We’ll see how it goes, of course. But I have a strong hunch that this unwanted habit is more of a symptom than a problem in itself.
I suspect that it’s there to remind me of when I’m wandering too far from what makes my soul sing, and to gently nudge me back into the stream of my own music.
And I’m heeding the nudge.