3 Questions That Reveal Whether Your Habits Serve or Sabotage You
Ever notice when you’re acting out of habit? This morning as I was making a cup of my favorite tea, I realized this was one of my daily habits. I don’t even question it anymore because, well, it’s just my routine!
Of course, morning tea is a harmless habit, and something I do enjoy. But there are the other habits that I know aren’t so benign, like the ones where I automatically avoid difficult conversations or drag my heels finishing projects that have been lingering with no good excuse on my part. Or when I doubt my ability to do something I’ve never done before.
Those are not the habits I want to be cultivating. Quite the opposite.
When I start wondering about the meaning of an idea that’s come to mind, I’ll often refer to the dictionary, because it’s always possible I don’t really know what I’m talking about.
When I looked up the word ‘habit’, I was surprised by what I read.
We all know that habits are repeated and largely subconscious behaviors. But the definition in the American Journal of Psychology includes this relevant component:
the cause of our habits is a “more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
That makes so much sense to me. This fixed perspective explains why we don’t live more often in the present moment. That’s why we aren’t more open to synchronicity, coincidence and new opportunities that are right under our noses.
Our habitual, largely subconscious, repetition of our mental experiences (aka thinking based on what’s happened in the the past) keeps us from being free to take risks, explore new territory, have new thoughts, and just be able to take a good look at what’s all around us.
We become risk-averse, wanting to play it safe or want our lives to stay relatively the same as they’ve always been — only better. (But how that could possibly happen is a mystery).
When I hosted an podcast series called Creativity Conversations, I had the delightful privilege of talking with people who’re able to break out of their habitual thinking and frequently (more frequently than most of us) ask themselves: what else is possible?
And then they trained themselves to be open to whatever answer occurs to them. They make not act on it, but at the very least they see they have a choice to repeat a response or see new ways of doing things.
Why even bother to go against our habits? Some habits that are based on efficiency or convenience certainly can be helpful (and often necessary) when we’re under time constraints. For example, I will want to take the quickest route to the grocery store if I’ve got company coming and I’m behind schedule in getting ready.
But what about when we’re faced with the experience of sameness, that over and over again feeling; think of the movie, Groundhog Day. Many of us live lives of repetition, frustration and a feeling that something is lacking — and that there’s not much we can do about it.
It was only in the beginning of the Industrial age that humans were put to work in factories that were based on routine, predictability and fixed productivity. And that emphasis changed how we live.
But people are NOT machines despite the fact that as a society we have been conditioned to learn, work and behave through fixed, largely subconscious thinking.
One of the reasons we love watching kids play is because they’re endlessly engaged in making things up, discarding them and reinventing something new. They are alive, they are in the moment, spontaneous, and free.
Most of us put those qualities on the back burner with some degree of regret.
Why? Because we so often tell ourselves we can’t do something, or it isn’t possible, or the conditions aren’t right or it would take too much effort. We all have our favorites ways of justifying saying no to what we really need.
But if we stop even for a moment, we can notice that our habitual way of thinking is based on assumptions that we’re making up. We don’t really know what would happen “if”. We might make some educated guesses, but the truth is we don’t really know. We just think we do.
Fixed thinking is the groundwork for habitual behaviors. But a few simple questions will easily reveal whether your thinking is causing the habits that are either serving or sabotaging your potential and your ability to enjoy life:
- Do I feel really alive?
2. Do I look forward to my day?
3. Am I happy with the way I live my life?
If the answer is no to any of those questions, you know what you need to do: start to ask yourself what would change your responses from no to yes.
This simple 3-question exercise can free you to unleash the creative, ingenious, inspired person you really are beneath the veneer of “appropriate” behavior.
Your responses to these questions can be the doorway to a quality of life you may have longed for but felt was out of reach.
But now, armed with what you really want for yourself, you can begin to start living that life that truly reflects who you really are.
Nina Lockwood is a Conscious Living coach, author and artist. She’s the creator of Redesign Your Life: an Invitation to Discover Your True Nature and Live Free. Visit her at ninalockwood.com, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram (@ninalockwood.nilo).