Just because it feels normal or comfortable doesn’t make it good for us. When you really look at a habit, you have to ask yourself “why do I do this? Why does this feel ‘right’?” Chances are, it feels ‘right’ because it’s what you always do when you’re not thinking about it.
So it might feel comfortable or ‘right’, but does it actually feel good? Does your habit, your way of thinking, your way of responding, or your way of moving make you feel light, easy and free? If not, then maybe it’s time you examine why you do what you do.
Lets take a simple example—something most us do all the time: SLUMP. Face it, most of us are slumpers. I’m certainly guilty. I do it because it feels comfortable. But slumping is detrimental and I know this. It puts pressure on the nerve bearing part of my spine. It causes lots of pain in my neck and low back if I do it often or for long periods of time. If I’m being honest with myself, slumping is only comfortable because it’s habitual and because it’s what I do when I’m not aware of how I’m using myself. Can it really feel good if it’s causing me pain? No. It’s my default for when I’m not taking the time to sit or move in the healthiest way possible.
So my slumping habit, when it comes right down to it, doesn’t really feel comfortable after all! I live in my habits because I can go on autopilot with them. I don’t have to think about them.
Some habits in the way we think, respond, or use ourselves might not even seem like patterns or bad habits because of how normal they feel. Take getting up out of a chair as another simple example. Nearly everyone, without fail, will tighten their neck or collapse their chests in this activity, creating excess tension in their back and knees each and every time they go to stand. Every time! Go ahead and try it now. Put your hand, very delicately at the nape of your neck and notice if you feel your head pull back and crunch your hand as you go to stand. Feel it? How many times a day would you say you sit or stand? 50? 100? It’s a detrimental habit that is causing your body harm and didn’t even know you had it!
Our habitual responses aren’t just about the way we move. They are about the way we move through our lives. How am I responding to the traffic jam this afternoon on the 405? Can I become aware of this habitual response, the tightness in my neck, the negative thinking, the anger that’s welling up inside me? Can I stop and take a moment to notice that this is how I always react to traffic? It feels normal. It feels justified. It feels right. But if I’m being honest with myself I have to ask, “am I benefiting from this pattern?”
How do I change? How do I stop this response? First, I ask myself to free my neck and let go of the tightening in my body. I observe that my jaw is clenched and I let it go. I notice my breath is tight and put my attention on it. I come back to myself, and the present moment.
See, if I can catch myself pulling into my habitual pattern, if I can put just a moment of space in between the traffic jam on the 405 and my usual reaction to it, I can make room for a choice. I can choose whether I am going to react in anger or in a new way that I haven’t experienced yet. I’m no longer a slave to my reactions. If I can make room for choice, then I can make room for real change.