Habits. What are they?
Studying and dealing with our habits provide rich material for personal practice.
Habits are function of the mind. The brain and mind are hardwired to automatically and continually form habits. They are sets of conditioned behaviors, triggered by certain conditions. They are functions to streamline repetitive actions.
Habits benefit us because they circumvent thought. Thus, they aid survival by allowing us to respond to conditions instantly with complex set of actions. They also streamline repetitive and redundant activities, freeing the mind to focus on higher forms of thought. Similarly, they allow us to be more efficient in all activities.
However, habits are also a detriment, precisely because they circumvent thought. We respond to certain stimuli without thought. Certain conditions present themselves, and we find ourselves responding, often in ways we don’t actually want to. These responses serve to keep us locked in negative patterns. Habits layered onto of habits become very complex, and difficult to unravel. Our energy becomes tied up in their maintenance. Thus, we don’t have enough residual energy to devote to breaking the cycles.
These habitual behaviors and thought patterns are our primary loss of Freedom. Our mind automatically forms habits. We lose Freedom from conditioning we didn’t choose. Beginning in infancy we are conditioned by society, family, school, relationships, and work into certain habitual patterns. Freedom is slowly circumscribed without our awareness.
We can reclaim this Freedom. As adults we can choose to form or break different habits. But this is not easy. Conditions arise & habits fire off before thought engages.
How do we choose Habits?
Stalking is a method we can used to begin to break old habits and choose new ones. Virtually all behaviors and actions are composed of habituated components. It is not simply a matter of forming new habits. We must deal with the old habits which are occupying space and energy
Stalking at its most basic is paying attention to oneself. Specifically, observing oneself from a disinterested perspective. To break habits, me must first pay Attention. When you do something, look and see what were the conditions immediately before that.
The classic example is smoking cigarettes. Before you light up a cigarette, there will be a whole chain of events. The urge, certain conditions that trigger the urge, thinking about buying a pack, thinking about going to your spot, unwrapping the wrapper, opening the matchbook, etc. For different people, interrupting one item in that cycle will break the sequence, and make it at least a lot easier to not light up. Maybe its buying the pack. If you can resist the urge for the five additional minutes it takes to get home, the urge to buy will pass. The more times you do this, the weaker the urge becomes.
At any rate, the same can be done with any habit. For example, Arguments–what is the sequence of events leading to an argument? There will be a point of no return, where the pull of the drama is too strong to resist. What single thing can you do before that point, which will kill the sequence? Maybe its as simple as walking away, or driving away for twenty minutes. Whatever it is, do not rely on willpower alone, e.g. just keeping your mouth shut.
Before you can think about it, you go off on someone. What immediately lead up to that? You can only control what you do. You can not control what other people do. What did you do?
Of the actions leading to a habit, What is the one action you could do differently that would change the entire course of your behavior?
Next, you must create the space to give you time to change that one action, before the Habit fires off. There are many methods to do this. The best methods for me are meditation and paying attention. As you pay attention more, you’ll see things coming more clearly
At first, you’ll see yourself falling into the trap, where before you’d wonder how you ended up here again. Eventually, you’ll be able to interrupt the sequence. Sometimes success, sometimes failure. Persistence will yield more success.
The other piece to the habit puzzle, is to replace the old habit. Nature abhors a vacuum. You must always be working on choosing new habits. This is a subject for another post, however. Continual study and practice are the keys, though.
I’ve used this method on several habits. Physical habits are easier to address than mental habits. As hard as it is, quitting cigarettes is easier to address than arguing with your partner, or making poor financial decisions.
This is a list of my teachers:
- My mother–a saint in my eyes, especially because of her faults
- My father–piece of shit that he was.
- Malcom– for showing me a possibility of how to be, when I had no hope.
- Dr. Reisch–for hazing my ass intellectually, and laying the foundation for my intellectual investigation.
- Marvin–a counselor at Elmhurst Boys, who gave me a visible example of how to behave.
- The boys of Elmhurst Boys-with and amongst whom we hustled, fought, stole, smoked, drank.
- The boys of Lefrak City–who taught me how to take a beat down.
- Celeste–with whom I learned the possibilities of intimacy & the lunacy of relationships.
- Those sons of bitches who cut me up, and left me for dead that night in Brooklyn.
- Sheikh Ali–who taught me spiritual insight.
- Karriem–my Brother. I’ll miss you. Didn’t get to say goodbye.
- Dr. Sampson–who did her job when others just wouldn’t.
- Eddie–who taught me to man up.
- The NCOs of the Ranger Regiment–who forced me to meet the Warrior.
- B.I.B.–because of the shit we went through. Those who know, know.
- My wife–who has been my mirror, whether I wanted her to be or not.
- My children–who can count the lessons?
- My business–for bringing me brutally face-to-face with my shortcomings.
- Daisy, my dog–because she just is. She is a Warrior.
- Tomiko, my dog–for making me eat my words, and winning me over, despite peeing all over the place.
- Sugar, my cat–who first showed me what loyalty might look like.
- My wife’s Grandfather–who was a Real Man. May I ever live up to his example.
That’s it for now. A starter list. I will probably amend the list as time goes on.