habit

Simple to Practice, Difficult to Remember

Simple to Practice, Difficult to Remember

People tell me they find it satisfying to pay closer attention to the sensory details of ordinary experience, but that they get frustrated with themselves when they forget to practice.

What makes it so difficult to establish a habit even when we’re convinced of its benefits?

Aging Well

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

"At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Lifereported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup."

The Midlife Unraveling

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

Excerpt from "Brené Brown on Vulnerability," On Being, November 21, 2012:

Krista Tippett: I also see an upside of aging. When I see people aging badly in a sad way, it seems to me that the common denominator is they have not faced their demons and they just get smaller. It's like they just get eaten alive from the inside. And that's about being vulnerable and, you know, claiming what's gone wrong and the imperfection. But there's a way in which getting older, especially kind of getting into your 40s, you know, it kind of pushes you to finally do this if you haven't done it. You know, that's in your story. I just wonder if you think that, you know, this is something we can lean into almost as a gift.

Brené Brown: I think what you're describing is what I have found as a very critical developmental milestone for us. Some people call it the midlife crisis. I call it the midlife unraveling. I think there is a place and time in our lives where we realize that growing up — when we felt pain, when we felt small, when we felt unseen — we constructed walls and moats and we protected ourselves and we shut down parts of ourselves. Then I think this happens in midlife where we realize, oh, God, to be the person we want to be, to be the partner, to be the parent, we have to take down everything we put up that was supposed to be keeping us safe.

Reward is the Most Important Part

"In some respects, the reward is the most important part, because that's why habits exist. . .Studies have shown that if you can diagnose your habits, you can change them in whichever way you want. So what are the cues, routines, and rewards in your life? what habit do you want to change?"

~ Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

See also:

Other Possibilities

Parque del Retiro, Madrid, August 2, 2012

Excerpt from "Eckhart Tolle, Meditation and the Meaning and Benefits of Inner Peace," by Hugh Byrne, The Washington Post, October 4, 2012:

Have you ever been caught up in a wave of anger, craving or worry where you felt the emotion carry you away like a wild horse you could not control?  Most of us have experienced the strength of these energies and wondered how to work with rather than be ruled by them.

Have you felt such a wave of unruly emotion but been able to bring awareness to it and observe it instead? An important shift takes place: the awareness creates space and allows us to see other possibilities than just acting out whatever we are feeling. This is more akin to riding a horse we have begun to train...

...For over 2,000 years, Buddhism and other wisdom traditions have taught that there is a way out of the stress and suffering that can fill our lives, and a possibility of living a life free of suffering. Mindfulness, the practice of opening fully to our experience in this moment—the joys and sorrows; the good, the bad, and the ugly—is the gateway to this deep freedom of the heart.

In recent years, the wisdom of these ancient teachings has been confirmed by scientific studies, which demonstrate that we can train our minds, change our brains, increase our well-being, and radically lessen such afflictive states of mind as anxiety and depression.

One recent study showed that the structure of the brains of participants in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program changed with an average of just 27 minutes of meditation a day. Results from brain scans revealed an increase in gray-matter density in areas of the brain associated with memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection, and a decrease in density of gray matter in areas associated with stress and anxiety. 

Other studies have shown that meditation may lower blood pressure, slow the progression of HIVreduce pain help break addictions, and even ward off the effects of aging.

More...

Breaking the Habit Loop

From "Change a Habit in Three Steps with This Flowchart," by Melanie Pinola, Lifehacker, April 18, 2012:

Breaking a bad habit or developing a good one might be hard work, but it's not impossible. In fact, once you know the main structure of habits, you can develop a plan to change them. This flowchart from The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg guides you through the three steps of breaking the habit loop.

This is a universal approach to any habit you want to replace, since habits all share basic characteristics: a cue or trigger and a reward that perpetuates the routine. (see also: breaking habits with an "if-then plan".)

To change the habit, the flowchart helps you think through what you're feeling and thinking during each stage of the habit, then substitute the old reward and old routine with new ones. It's a great visual tool to help you practice until you have your new habit loop (or the right "keystone" habits, as Duhigg has explained) established.

Click the flowchart below to expand or right-click to save.



See also:

  • Help! What to do when you are your own worst enemy. (Radiolab, Mar. 2011 )
  • Save Me From Myself (Freakonomics, Feb. 2, 2012)

Habit

by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt

The shoes put on each time
left first, then right.

The morning potion's teaspoon
of sweetness stirred always
for seven circlings—no fewer, no more—
into the cracked blue cup.

Touching the pocket for wallet,
for keys,
before closing the door.

How did we come
to believe these small rituals' promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

How intimate and unthinking,
the way the toothbrush is shaken dry after use,
the part we wash first in the bath.

Which habits we learned from others
and which are ours alone we may never know.
Unbearable to acknowledge
how much they are themselves our fated life.

Open the traveling suitcase—

There the beloved red sweater,
bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber.
Each confirming: I chose these, I.

But habit is different: it chooses.
And we, its good horse,
opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit.

It Chooses

Habit
by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty, The shoes put on each time
left first, then right.

The morning potion's teaspoon
of sweetness stirred always
for seven circlings—no fewer, no more—
into the cracked blue cup.

Touching the pocket for wallet,
for keys,
before closing the door.

How did we come
to believe these small ritual's promise,
that we are today the selves we yesterday knew,
tomorrow will be?

How intimate and unthinking,
the way the toothbrush is shaken dry after use,
the part we wash first in the bath.

Which habits we learned from others
and which are ours alone we may never know.
Unbearable to acknowledge
how much they are themselves our fated life.

Open the traveling suitcase—

There the beloved red sweater,
bright tangle of necklace, earrings of amber.
Each confirming: I chose these, I.

But habit is different: it chooses.
And we, its good horse,
opening our mouths at even the sight of the bit.