Are your habits helping or hindering you?
A recent episode of The Blindboy Podcast sparked something in me (for just about the hundredth week running). It got me thinking about EXCUSES, and the things we repeatedly tell ourselves out of habit, which can actually be holding us back in key areas of our lives. Even areas that might seem totally unrelated. He talks about it eloquently in context to procrastination as a creative person, and while I’ve experienced this side of the coin too, I was prompted to contemplate other aspects which are extremely relevant for me right now as I strive to establish myself in several different areas while knowing that I should really just try to ‘pick one’ and stick to it. But where’s the excitement in that? I digress…
Procrastinating is one issue, but I believe there’s a fine line between genuinely being distracted by something, and subconsciously ALLOWING it to get in the way of our productivity or progress. We label these things in the hopes of justifying them – ‘it’s research’, ‘an opportunity to up-skill’, or even the old chestnut ‘I don’t think now is the right time‘ – and then we wonder why it never happens. The 9pm feeling of dismay rolls around and we’re still here reading things like ‘how to write a good blog post‘ instead of actually just going and writing the damn thing.
There’s a good dose of Inception. Wow.
You see my point? I could agonise all day about what the best topic to write a blog on is right now, spend hours researching keywords and looking up similar blogs for inspiration – or I could just write about the thing that’s running through my head right at this minute, and let that be that. No excuses. Just writing.
Why Do We Do This?
There are numerous reasons why ‘distractions’ like this arise and give way to excuses, and yes, many of them are legitimate and natural occurrences. But I’m not here to talk about the postman arriving with an ASOS delivery and you spending the next hour trying on all you’ve ordered instead of writing your thesis.
The kind of excuses I’m referring to are the unconscious kind – the kind which are embedded into our beings. From a young age, from childhood, teenage years – from any period of time where the psyche is particularly vulnerable to being shaped by external forces (i.e, parents, family members, teachers, older ‘role models’) – unless we’re the hyper-aware children of yogis and conscious environmentalists – our minds and behaviours are all too often subconsciously shaped and conditioned by the beliefs of those around us.
Excuse vs Limiting Belief
Limiting beliefs are subconscious mental patterns which usually are formed early on in childhood, and go on to shape most of how we view ourselves and the world around us (neuroscience actually supports the creation of these patterns – called ‘neural pathways’ – which reinforce certain habits or beliefs). In yoga, we call these pathways ‘samskaras’.
As we grow older, these unconscious habits and behaviours become adopted into our everyday actions, even our ‘personalities’, and gradually the limiting beliefs we were taught as kids actually shape our reality and become our truth.
We might find ourselves genuinely believing we aren’t worth going for a job promotion in later life because no one ever suggested it and opened our minds to the possibility (or need for) career progression; we might believe we can’t (or shouldn’t) play sports because a parent hated the social circle that came along with it when we were younger; we might believe our musical abilities aren’t up to scratch because a sibling or tutor once scoffed at a mistake we made….a lot of it might not make sense at first, and it can seem trivial. But the more we probe into it, the more we can see how the ideas and beliefs we have and the way we think about certain situations has in fact been shaped by our environment and experiences from when we were too young to even realise it.
It’s important to point out here that there’s an element of forgiveness that needs to come along with this, or else we’d become resentful and nasty grudge-bearers for the rest of our lives. Acceptance, in the form of acknowledging that in most cases our circumstances came about at the fault of no one particular person – rather as a result of a collective conditioning to fit a certain familial mode or appearance – is a vital step in overcoming limiting beliefs. Acceptance comes by acknowledging past mistakes and/or unconscious behaviours, and expressing gratitude (even when it’s hard!) to see how they have all led you to your current standing point of realisation and awareness.
Enabling our Beliefs
Now that we’re aware of where our beliefs and current habits might actually be hindering more than serving us, it’s crucial to act to make changes in these patterns. If we don’t, we end up actually ENABLING the negative cycles all over again every time we choose to engage in the same behaviours or respond in the same way. Over and over again, the same beliefs are reinforced in all areas of our lives.
By not making changes to things we know aren’t serving us, the default setting from our early programming ironically causes us to stay stuck in the cycles of negativity and unproductiveness that on some level we know we need to break out of.
How To Break The Cycle
Breaking the Cycle is key if we’re to ever hope to create or achieve goals & lasting lifestyle changes. Contrary to the ‘follow exactly what I say‘ structure of most self-improvement models out there today, I believe that breaking the cycle and achieving lasting changes and happiness will look different to everybody. Acknowledging if it’s a simple lazy excuse or something rooted deeper in a limiting belief can change the way we approach issues which arise as we get older.
Ultimately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ route to positive mental and physical health, and I feel this is where many of us create excuses or buy into beliefs that keep us stuck in negative cycles, mediocre jobs and less-than-ideal living situations. On some level, we might actually believe that we are not capable of making these changes. Deeper than that, it might even come back to a belief of not being enough, or worthy enough of achieving that level of success and happiness we so desperately strive for.
The everyday excuses we make for procrastinating work and responsibilities might seem easier to stomach than the large-scale life upheaval we perceive is involved in moving away from negative thoughts and starting to ‘love ourselves’ again. But really when it comes down to the neuroscience behind it, it’s been proven that the brain reacts the same way in both cases. What’s needed is a re-programming of our patterns to break habits and stop making excuses.
Shifting from a mindset of fear or ‘lack’ to one of abundance, self-belief and love has been one of the key areas which has helped me release negative thought patterns and behaviours surrounding specific issues. But it doesn’t come without effort. It’s a constant, daily choice to act on the negative thoughts, instead of leaving them to fester.
Change It Up
The truth is that nothing will change if we don’t actively change it, and it’s the unfamiliarity that breeds discomfort and sends us huddling back to our cocoon of safety, sameness and limiting beliefs. That’s fine if you’re happy to stay there – but if you’re serious about change and personal growth then chances are, you’ll want to get past this stage as soon as you can. Changing it up involves things like getting out of your comfort zone, changing up your routine, your environment, and trying something NEW for once instead of reverting to old habits and responses which will ultimately only ever yield old, familiar and repetitive results.
Meditation is a golden tool to have in these endeavours, as the very act of slowing down and taking time to ask ourselves where our thoughts are originating from allows us to gain clarity into the inner workings and habitual patterns of our minds.
Using these methods in work, in relationships, in dietary and lifestyle changes, and most importantly in the mental patterns and responses we form to certain things is where we’ll begin to see noticeable results.
If nothing else, it might just help us start to question our excuses and view procrastination in a different light!!