Bad habits can take a hefty toll on your health and happiness. In The Here-and-Now Habit, mindfulness expert Hugh Byrne provides powerful practices based in mindfulness and neuroscience to help you rewire your brain and finally break the habits that are holding you back from a meaningful life.
Almost half of our actions are habitual in nature: performed in an automatic way and activated by contextual cues rather than conscious intention. Habits help us simplify and organize our lives–life would be infinitely more complex if we had to think about and make decisions about the many aspects of all our daily activities. By making our brains more efficient, habits have helped humans become who we are today. Habits have helped us travel to the moon and paint the Sistine Chapel.
But almost all of us have habits that we’d like to change because they don’t serve us or because they don’t reflect our deepest values, goals, or intentions. Unhealthy habits and addictions like tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse, and distracted driving carry huge social costs, both in terms of lives lost and in terms of economic resources that could be better spent. Getting caught up in even seemingly harmless automatic behaviors can actually have a very high cost: we can miss out on your children, our family, and our lives.
Changing well-established habits is difficult. When an intention to change a behavior confronts a strong habit, the habit often wins, because the message coming from the ‘cool’ cognitive brain systems are slower and less urgent that those coming from the ‘hot’ emotional brain system.
Understanding how habits form and operate, and why they can be so resistant to change, is key to changing them. Also essential is bringing awareness to your direct experience through mindfulness. Mindfulness gets to the heart of habitual behaviors and gives you a means of releasing yourself from their grip. Mindfulness can help you become aware of patterns of behavior that have become automatic and unconscious. It can help you become bring unconcious. It can help you bring unconscious thoughts and behaviors into consciousness and render the invisible visible.
Making Mindfulness Your Default Habit
Minfulness will help you discern whether your habitual pattern of behavior or thought will serve your best interest or whether it will lead to harm. This opens up the possibility of choosing your response to your urges rather than acting mindlessly, out of habit.
Without awareness, you’ll continue to be a prisoner of your old choices and your entrenched habits, repeating shopworn patterns. Mindfulness is available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. All you need is to know that you can ‘come home’–to your direct experience, here and now–and build your capacity to be present by training your mind.
To bring mindfulness to any situation, you can ask yourself three questions:
- What am I aware of–what am I experiencing right now?
- Can I say yes to this moment just as it is?
- What’s a wise and appropriate response?
You can then choose to respond to the situation–or simply choose not to act–in a way that leads to genuine happiness rather than reacting automatically and habitually. All of your harmful habits can be transformed when met in this way with kindness and awareness.
That’s not to say it’s easy. It requires practice. Someone once said, ‘There’s no such thing as one-walk dog.” That is, walking the dog isn’t something you do once and never have to think about again.
Your habits have developed through repetition over time, and your brain has formed neural pathways that encourage further repeatition. So, to retrain your mind, you need healthy repeatition: letting old paths fall into disuse and forming new ones based on healthy choices that seve your true interests.
The fruit of mindfulness is that you can live as you truly wish to live. You can go beyond feelings of neediness or the illusion that things need to be a certain way for your to be happy. You can live with a quality of ease that you never thought possible amid life’s changes.
Six Tips To Help You Make Mindfulness Your Default Habit In Daily Life:
1. Establish a daily meditation practice. Commit to meditate each day for a week, and then commit for another week. Find a consistent time and palce to meditate–this supports making the practice into a healthy habit.
2. Use a notebook to keep a record of your meditations–how long you sat for, as well as what was most notable in your experience.
3. Take time during the day to pause–bringing awareness to your breath, your bodily feelings, and your overall state of body and mind.
4. Envision moments you know will come up in daily life, and be prepared to use those times to be fully present.
5. For a week, choose one activity to do mindfully and consciously each day.
6. Find a community of people to meditate with regularly–at least weekly, if possible.
Complement The Here-and-Now Habit with How not to be a slave to your brain.