Friday, February 6, 2015

Who are you without an automatic habit?

I have been feeling very restless recently. It's the kind of restlessness that feels promising, as if I am getting in touch with my own appetite for life again, wanting to taste it and touch it and consume it. I feel like I am reaching out to something more, to something more alive.

And in this mood, I just read something that makes complete sense to me. It's an exercise from Sarah Susanka's lovely book The Not So Big Life. She talks about an assignment her first teacher gave to her that profoundly changed how she experienced her daily life.

Susanka says: "Once she had named these patterns, I recognized my attachment to them, but until that moment I had been unaware of how much each one defined who I took myself to be. These were the three patterns she identified and her requests for change:

1. You always wear long skirts. No more skirts. 
2. You have worn your hair long for many years. Cut your hair.
3. You have a glass of wine when you return home  from work each day. No more alcohol after 5.00 p.m.

The three assignments proved to be brilliant catalysts for change, not only in those patterns of behavior but in my entire self-image."

When she was given this exercise, she didn't own a pair of pants, so she had to go out and buy a couple of pairs. She had never thought about it, but her self-image was deeply tied to her skirt collection. She found the hair assignment even more difficult. She did cut a few inches off her hair, but she felt that she didn't quite fulfill the assignment as completely as she could have. She did stop having the glass of wine, and this small shift actually dramatically changed the quality of her evenings, simply because she was more alert.

She kept this up for nine months, as prescribed by her teacher.  

Susanka says: "All these changes allowed me to experience firsthand that my ideas about how I "am" are quite arbitrary and that by making even small changes in behavior patterns, big shifts will occur all by themselves."

As we begin to identify our own daily habits, we may find that we think of some as practical choices and have no good rationale for others. "Either kind of habit will work in this exercise, since even those habits you think you've adopted for purely utilitarian purposes will in all likelihood prove to be more than that. What you'll discover, whichever habits you change, is that everything you do affects both how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you."

And how do we identify these habits? We can think of how we dress and we can think of what our routines are. For example: Are your clothes predominantly one color? Then, maybe stop wearing that color for six months. Do you always or never wear makeup or perfume? What if you changed that? What if you only wore skirts instead of jeans?

What about your routines? Do you habitually watch the news or read something at a particular time? Do you clean up from meals right away or later? Do you habitually have a cup of tea or coffee at a certain time?

Which of these do you feel most attached to as something that you "have" to do? Which of these ways of being do you feel most resistant to changing? You could choose something to change that either feels hard or simple, though the harder thing will, of course, be more rewarding.

What happens if you do something different for six months? What have you broken away from? What have you discovered? Were you using something as an excuse? Was your self-image closely wrapped around something insubstantial?

How does changing your moves affect the rest of your life? Does it make you feel a little bit more alive? Does it make you feel vulnerable? Does it make you feel something else altogether?

What do you think? Would you like to try something like this - something that shifts an underlying pattern and reveals something more about how you live your life?        

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