Those little big things called habits

Habits – those small (or should I say big?) things we hardly notice anymore, but do so often. They are all those moments in which we make choices we don’t even think about, because it feels like second nature.
Staying up late even though we are tired, drinking yet another cup of coffee to get us through the afternoon, checking emails first thing in the morning, shrugging our shoulders when being asked to make a decision…

Doing more things that you love and make you feel good instead of sticking to the old habits.
Changing habits can feel like an enormous challenge

Habits come and go. Once a behaviour or a choice becomes a habit, it is hard to change it, don’t you find? Even those ones we know aren’t really good for us. For example, staying up late again even though we’ve been tired all week. Yet, we keep thinking there is just so much to do and we feel like we can’t leave it for another day. As a consequence we wake up even more tired and probably get even less done the following day.

It sounds simple, but for many of us changing the “bad” habits can be an enormous challenge. We might tell ourselves that tomorrow or next time we do things differently, but taking action and doing it is another story.

Why does it appear to be hard to break those habits and do more of the good stuff?

Deep inside we know what is good for us, yet, it is so easy to keep doing what we have been doing. Habits don’t require much effort and we are comfortable doing them. Whereas changing those behaviours would take a bit of effort and being a human we prefer to walk the easier path. 

The example of staying up too late is something I know too well myself. My previous year has been very busy and my days soon filled up with more and more tasks, which I felt had to be dealt with all at once. I would work on my computer until late and keep thinking about my to-do list in bed. As a result, my sleep was terrible, and those few hours I did go to sleep were anything close to enough of a rest. I knew I had to change something, however, I also felt the need to keep working and get things done. It wasn’t until I consciously made the decision to literally stop everything by 9pm and allow myself some downtime before going to bed. And you know what? It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. 

Yes, I felt guilty, especially in the first few days. My mind kept drifting off to what I could still be doing and working on. Yet with each day passing it got easier and I started feeling better and more rested. It is a small change when I look at it now, but it felt like a huge challenge when starting out.

Habits in Yoga practice

Interestingly, it is not just in our everyday life we encounter our habits. I often catch myself and a lot of my students in the same scenario when in Yoga class. Let me ask you some questions: Do you always transition into downward dog the same way? Do you keep stretching until you feel something? Do you sit on the mat with a stiff back rather than using props to adapt? Do you keep falling out of balance poses rather than using a block or modification to support yourself? Do you always face the same direction on your mat?

Practicing Yoga with close attention to pick up on little habits.
When paying close attention we might pick up on habits in our Yoga practice, too

There are many little things we do in our practice, simply because that’s how we have always done things.

We might step forward or back always using our stronger side instead of trying to transition another way; we might keep the same pace rather than taking an extra breath even though it would feel good to stay a little longer; we might go for the full variation rather than modifying even though our body is more tired than other days. 

Whatever it might be, ask yourself: is this the best choice I can make about this step, this move, this breath, this moment, this choice right now at this point in time?

How great would it feel to stay curious, to change things up and try something different; to really tune into our own body and use our Yoga practice to create new, good habits that serve us in the most beautiful way; to step out of our comfort zone and explore different, better, more nurturing ways of moving our body. And if you are not a big fan of asana (yoga poses), you might find those little moments in your dhyana (meditation) or pranayama (breathing) practice that allow you to pick up on your habits and any opportunities to make changes. After all, awareness is the first step to making a change.

Once you allow yourself to break and make new habits in your Yoga practice, you will be surprised how this might translate into your everyday life.

Because “the way we do one thing, is the way we do everything”

(- Iyanla Vanzant)

Tip

If you would like to start breaking and creating habits for yourself, I invite you to start with two simple questions:

  1. What is one thing you would like to stop doing or do less of?
  2. What is one thing you would like to start doing or do more of?