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Finding Inspiration to Change Bad Habits

Changing a habit that isn't serving you is usually pretty difficult and you may not have had many helpful models. Unfortunately what gets modeled for a change process often includes shaming,  pushing and coercing (otherwise called discipline), manipulation, and bribing.  You know this is not the kind of relationship you want to create with yourself, but these kinds of strategies show up anyway.


When you find yourself caught in one of these strategies for change, you can turn to at least three other life-giving strategies:  Contemplation of the benefits, contemplation of the costs, and true support.


Before going into each one of these, let's start with my definition of the word contemplation.  When I say contemplation, I am referring to creating a strong connection with an experience in body, heart, and mind; much more than just thinking about something.  Let's look at how this might manifest for contemplation of benefits.


As you turn towards the practice of contemplating the benefits of the new habit you want to create, begin by finding a quiet spot to sit comfortably and preferably upright.  Bring to your awareness a time when you engaged in the new habit.  In your mind's eye see the situation as precisely as you can.  Notice the lighting in the room, what posture you are in, the expression on another's face, and the surroundings.  Replay any verbal interaction, if there was one. Scan your heart and body for any emotions and sensations and rest your attention on each for 10 or 15 seconds at a time.  Then name the needs met in this situation.  As you name the met needs let any other feelings of the met need arise by itself and rest your attention there.  Next, name any conditions that supported you in engaging this new habit.  What was the physical environment like?  Who was there?  Examine the events before this situation.  What was it you did, participated in, received, etc. that gave you access to engaging this new habit?


End by affirming your commitment to meeting these needs in this new way.  This might mean expressing something verbally (silently, aloud, or in writing) or engaging in a visualization, or simply breathing through your heart.  Find whatever helps you integrate and ground in the truth of this experience.


As you turn towards the practice of contemplating the costs of the old habit that you want to replace, again begin by finding a quiet spot to sit comfortably and preferably upright.  First, resource yourself through metta, contemplation of benefit, or whatever else that helps you remain in a compassionate expansive perspective.  


Bring to your awareness a time when you engaged in the old habit.  In your mind's eye see the situation as precisely as you can.  Notice the lighting in the room, what posture you are in, the expression on another's face, and the surroundings.  Replay any verbal interaction, if there was one.  Scan your heart and body for any emotions and sensations and rest your attention on each for 5 or 10 seconds at a time.  Then name the needs at cost in this situation for you and anyone else involved.  As you name the needs at cost allow the feeling and process of grief.  If any self-criticism shows up, greet it with compassion and remind those inner critics that this is actually a process that will protect those needs in future.  Return your attention to the grief for needs at cost.  Next, name any conditions that supported you in engaging this old habit.  What was the physical environment like?  Who was there?  What was it that you did, participated in, received, neglected, etc. that gave this old habit space to come up?


End by affirming your commitment to noticing this habit the next time it arises and replacing it with the new one.  This might mean expressing something verbally (silently, aloud, or in writing) or engaging a visualization, or simply breathing through your heart.  Find whatever helps you integrate and ground in your commitment.


Now let's take a look at true support.  Perhaps the most important thing to remember (and the easiest thing to forget), is that habits are supported by conditions.  We can certainly talk about isolated bits of experience or behavior, but they don't really exist that way.  Your experiences and behavior are born from conditioning, even your ability to choose is a product of conditioning.  If you have ever attempted and attained mastery of a particular skill, you know all about this.  I find conditioning an empowering phenomena.  Once leveraged in the direction you want to go, it can give you incredible momentum.  


True support, then, makes use of conditioning.  Basically this means changing the conditions in your life to support the new habit and taking support away from the old habit.  Occasionally this means a complete upheaval of life.  More often though, it means making different decisions little by little.  These decisions are informed by your contemplation of benefits and costs.


If you have ever heard yourself or someone else say something like, "It was easy to change drop my habit.  I just decided never to do that again and I didn't."  My guess would be that you could "just decide", because you had reached a critical mass of clarity about the costs of a particular behavior and the benefits of doing something else.  This clarity may have come about through 40 years and little bits of reflection or it may have come about because there was a certain amount of intensity in one experience.  You don't have to wait for either of these to occur.  Contemplation and true support can put you squarely on the road to manifesting the life you want.


Practice

Take just three minutes now to try this out by engaging in the steps for contemplation of benefits regarding a positive experience you had recently.

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