Changing your life in even a small way will almost always be subject to the forces of resistance, monkey mind, self destruction or whatever you prefer to call it. All of these conditions are the same force in action. Your “self”; the collection of beliefs, memories, prejudices, traits and learned (taught) behaviours (habits) you’ve collected to date getting in the way of you trying out new ideas.
Your “self” isn’t you. Hell, you aren’t even your name when you think about it. That’s just a couple of words your parents decided to attach to your bones. However, given that things are the way they are it follows that if you want to do something different to the usual, change something about your life in a permanent way when you’ve repeatedly failed to achieve this in the past; you must introduce it as a new habit. No amount of goals and targets and management systems will make this happen, but making it an ingrained habit will.
Habits are formed over a much longer period of time than you would ever imagine and the ones you have most difficulty changing are the deepest seated. Well, it’s possible that you’ve tried too hard and maybe tried to change too many things at once in the past in the mistaken belief that you must introduce changes fast and furiously to make up lost ground. In my experience this is wrong thinking, in fact too much thinking can also be more damaging than not enough when it comes to changing your ways to those of true freedom.
I’ve mentioned a few times that I meditate regularly and that I’m a member of a Buddhist meditation group. Regular meditation has been useful in helping me to decide what is important and in what direction I should go next and that’s all good of course. But…one of the bigger benefits that meditation has brought to me is to give me permission to trust my feelings and to know that there is no need to over-think things. Feelings will always out perform thoughts. In fact, Buddhists commonly say that thought isn’t our highest state of existence.
Having a feeling that I want to do something is enough to encourage me to try it. Feeling excited about trying something should be reason enough to stick your toe in the water. If I feel that something isn’t right for me, no amount of trying will help me to form a new habit around it. This is a good way, for me anyway, to decide which way to go. It’s another form of Knappetting in a way and it seems that this comes to be a regular feature in a life lived in freedom…it meanders to no pre-set destination. This again stays true to Buddhism in that we try to always be present, to live life with full attention to each moment. The antithesis of that is to constantly be mulling over the events of the past or projecting ourselves forward to the future; either way we miss the present moment. The past is gone and the future isn’t here yet; all we have is right now. Learning to embrace Now is a skill everyone should work on.
But, how to form new habits?
One at a time for a start and daily and for at least a month. If you have lots of changes you want to make, well it’s possible that you can introduce 12 new habits in a year, but I suggest applying the Knappetting formula again here, because one new habit might have a knock on effect on the ones to follow, even making them obsolete, so don’t be rigid and keep an open mind about what comes next.
Remember too that measured time is a figment of our imagination. Your age doesn’t matter, whether you start introducing a habit on 1st January or 23rd December is immaterial (calendars are great companions of resistance and procrastination) and your experience and qualifications matter not a jot.
If you are interested in changing habits the you can do no better than Leo Babauta’s zenhabits.