Habits & How To Shape Them

Habits & How To Shape Them

What shoulder do you carry your handbag on? What side of the bed do you sleep on? Do you reach for the toothbrush or the toothpaste first when brushing your teeth? How do you get to work? Most of these actions are not something we consciously think about. They just happen, almost automatically and without our full decision-making process being engaged. These actions are our daily habits which, once embedded in our routines, are very difficult to change. So why do they exist? How do they form and are there important to lead a balanced life?


According to ‘The Power of Habit’, “habits emerge because our brains constantly look for ways to save effort." When a habit emerges, the brain slows down the activity of decision making. Unless you deliberately fight a habit, a pattern unfolds automatically. Some habits may be easier to form than others, but they never really disappear, and our brains can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits. Which means that a new habit becomes as automatic as any other. 


I will use my own example: I have recently given up coffee and by attempting it I had to break the routine I had for years: I cannot function without a cup of coffee. Anyone who knows me well enough is aware not to even attempt serious conversations or exchange niceties before that first cup of coffee. I used to write a coffee blog, I am addicted to the smell of it and the ritual of making it as much as to the actual taste or effects. By breaking down my habit into several components I realized that it is the ritual of making a cup of coffee first thing in the morning that is my strongest reason for drinking caffeine with or before breakfast. Following the idea of a habit loop: cue – routine – reward, I knew that to change a habit, you need to change the routine part of it as it is easier to adopt a new habit if the beginning and end elements are familiar. You can never truly extinguish bad habits; you just need to fool your brain into thinking that the habit still exists. 


I replaced making a cup of coffee with making a cup of tea. Sure, it tastes and smells different, the process of making it is different and I don’t get the same kick out of it. Guess what, though. Five weeks in, I no longer feel addicted to coffee. I realized that I can live without it and not miss it. I probably will occasionally drink coffee again and enjoy it even more but knowing that it’s not the substance but the routine I crave is an important lesson for me. 


I have been ‘on the road’ for the last 7 months. I don’t have a base; I travel a lot and over the last 3 months I haven’t spent more than 4 nights in one place. It’s fair to say I don’t have a routine and a steady timetable. As the coffee example showed me, the result of my lifestyle was an imbalance. I was feeling run down, ungrounded and my body started giving me warning signs by being weak and letting me catch a cold in the middle of the summer. I’m a yoga teacher so most of the time when things get tough, I find solace in my practice of meditation and yoga. I love practicing every day, preferably in the morning and in beautiful surroundings. I start and end with a breathing exercise, I sometimes journal afterward, sometimes just sit still in silence. Staying in a different place almost every night I haven’t really had the chance to focus on my daily Sadhana lately. It got replaced with a hurried breakfast, packing my bags and sitting in a car or on a bus for a few hours before moving on to client calls, meetings or other work. I knew I couldn’t go on like that for too long, I needed to balance my root chakra and become more grounded again. I realized how powerful rituals are and how important to daily life. 


So, what rituals could you adopt in your daily life? They don’t have to be complicated, ceremonial actions. It could be applying lotion after having a shower, meditating, taking a bath before bed, stretching first thing in the morning, lighting a scented candle or having a cup of camomile tea before going to sleep...Whatever it is, take your time with it, be mindful and acknowledge it as the time you dedicate to yourself, with no interruptions and no distractions. It can be tricky to carve out time out of our busy lives, but your mind and body will thank you for it when you do. Repeat your ritual every day until it becomes a natural part of your routine. Ask yourself what it is you are craving: is it grounding? Better communication and being able to use your voice to be heard or express yourself? Improving your self-esteem, self-worth and feeling more confident? Once you decide on the focus of your ritual (and don’t forget, every day is different so your focus might change from day to day or week to week), choose the time of day you are most likely to benefit from performing your ritual or are able to fit it in to your current routine. You might be replacing an existing habit such as having a glass of wine immediately after coming home from work, in which case the time frame is a bit more defined. 


You might already be familiar with the different chakras (the energy centers located along our spine) and know which of your chakras need balancing. You might just be starting to familiarize yourself with the concept and are just learning to understand your own energy shifts. In any event, take a look at Kailo’s essential oils kits as they are the easiest way to introduce a ritual into your day. Rub a bit of your chosen oil onto your wrists, take a deep inhale of the scent and close your eyes. Sit still for 5 minutes, focus on your breathing and smelling the essence. You will be amazed at what a difference this simple action can make to your wellbeing. Make mindfulness your habit, it’s much better for you than that morning coffee!