Creature of Habit

Whether I like it or not, I am a creature of habit, especially in the morning. A habit is a little oasis of comfort in my day. I know exactly how to do something and there are never surprises with habits. I repeat the same mini routine the same way and I get the same outcome. It feels deliciously, smugly comfortable. Oh, and don’t let anyone mess with my little habit. I find myself getting defensive, even aggressive, as I try to protect my comfort zone.

There are two classes of habits, good habits and bad habits. Both are formed in the same way, through repetition. By repeating a sequence over and over again, it becomes programmed into our sub-conscious. If you have taught a child how to tie their shoelaces, you will know how complex the task is. Trying to co-ordinate all those fingers and the two laces takes huge concentration but when was the last time you had to put any energy into that task? Now it is quick and easy, a habit, a program run by the sub-conscious which leaves you free to chat or think about where you are going to find the car keys.

What we think, what we feel and what we do form our reality. This is a comforting thought when it comes to the good stuff in life. If the way we do things gives us positive results then we want to be able to repeat those good results. A habit does just that. It enables us to repeat a “dance” of specific thoughts, emotions and physical movements which result in a desired outcome, with very little energetic input on our part. When last did you have to think about which bunny ear goes where when tying your shoelaces?  You still think the same thoughts but your brain does it all automatically in the background. Habits, by nature, take very little conscious thought, very little energetic input, and so, are more easily done. Being “in the habit” of doing exercise every day makes it easy to get out of bed and out the door for your run. It’s after a holiday that you feel more effort; you have to fight a little harder with yourself to get out and do.

Many of our habits are so ingrained, there is little to no conscious awareness when we do them. Have you ever gone cold with the thought that you have no recollection of closing the door as you left for work. Your thoughts were elsewhere and your subconscious closed up for you, locked the door, got into the car and started driving down the road.

Habits give us a repeatable, dependable outcome. They are a wonderful strategy for change in your life. If we are in the habit of thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions and doing the same things every day, then our life will be same every day. If we want a different outcome, we need to change our habits, make new ones. Sometimes it is easier to start a new habit of NOT doing something. If you don’t want to eat chocolate every day, make a habit of not buying chocolate. If you want to move more, than maybe you need to think of NOT MOVING less; less TV, less Facebook, less Instagram.

Habits are always hard to begin with but with repetition, practice, it gets easier with time. Motivate yourself by thinking of the outcome, how your life will change if you do this today. How will life be in a few years’ time if you DON’T do this now? The choice is yours to make. The habit is yours to begin.

Wishing you luck in your new endeavours, start today and Keep Moving.

Birds of my Mind

Mornings in Barrydale are melodic with the cheery greetings of a variety of birds. The chirps, warbles and tweets of the garden birds compete with the wistful call of distant guinea fowl, roosters crowing and the cry of peacocks. This morning there was an urgent gathering of weavers, sun-birds, bishop birds, doves and a robin in the shrubs below my window. The plants were alive with hopping, chattering birds. I learnt as a child to look closely at these gatherings to see who was causing such a cacophony. It may be a cat, or a mongoose, but could just as well be a snake.

It is a strange feeling, investigating such a gathering. Physically you go into fight and flight with your head telling you to move in one direction, towards the noise, while your legs want to carry you in the opposite direction for fear of finding a snake. Boomslangs and cobras, both very toxic, are common in Barrydale so you find your eyeballs hopping all over the place. Do you look in the bushes or on the ground? You find yourself walking like a chameleon: pick up a foot, wait to check three times where to put your next step, even when you are on the lawn, afraid you may step on a snake. Relief floods the body when you find a fat, furry cat stalking through the flower bed. The worst is when you spot the sleek, scaled ribbon of snake, grateful that you know where it is but flooded by the extra surge of adrenaline which your body kindly supplies for your rapid retreat. There are times when you find nothing, when the gathering of excited birds abruptly adjourns and they fly away to continue with their day. I like to call these twittering gatherings bird parties, though it may be better to call them bird parliaments, as they seem very worked up about what appears to be nothing.

There is a big shift towards conscious living on our planet and we often hear about mindfulness, meditation and the importance of controlling our thoughts. My mind is a part of me, just as my hand or foot is a part of me, but it isn’t all of me. My mind is there to keep me safe, to warn me of danger, even when I can’t see it, like a party of garden birds, chirping and twittering in the bushes. A word, a situation or an event can send my thoughts into frenzy, crowding my head with scenarios and scripts of what I will say, twitters and squawks of warning from the birds of my mind. My neurology cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imagined so my body goes into fight or flight and I start to do a mental chameleon walk because I know I am going to find a “snake”. I jump to the worst case scenario immediately. My blood chemistry changes as the adrenaline and cortisol feed my need to take on the threat or to run. This happens many times in a day, sometimes for hours but often just for minutes or even just seconds. The birds of my mind may well be right, there may be a snake in the bush but sometimes it is just a fat cat or most often, just a bird party which calms and melts away after a while.

Mindfulness is about knowing the difference between a real threat and a bird party. When I find myself in the metaphysical bushes, hunting a snake, I take a deep breath, centre myself. I thank the birds of my mind for their warnings and then I take control of my thoughts. I decide whether the threat is real or if it is the makings of my imagination and I take appropriate action, facing the threat or dismissing it as the bird party it is. Being mindful, noticing what you are thinking and knowing that you have the ultimate control over what you think, can make the difference between being in a state of constant stress and worry, and staying calm and centred.

Until next time, stay mindful, be conscious and Keep Moving…