Conscious Living: Thoughts for the New YearGord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak RSS December 24, 2011
As we enter the holiday season, January 1st – the date of resolutions – looms nearer. Each year, throngs of people resolve to change something in their lives or about themselves. Usually, this is something they have put off all year.
If you have been resisting change for a while, there’s a good chance that your heart and soul are just not into it. If you were truly motivated to change something, you would probably have done it sooner. Many factors are involved in change. One that is often overlooked is how repetitive the human brain is programmed to be.
Creatures of Habit
Have you ever considered what a creature of habit you are? We are all habitual in everything we do, even how we think. Virtually everything we do on an ongoing basis is done the same way each time. Our brains love it, because we don’t have to think about what we’re doing. We memorize and simply re-enact the scenario. Take getting up in the morning. From the moment we get out of bed, we follow the same set pattern, even down to which foot the first sock goes on, and which leg is first into our pants. If we don’t do our routine, we feel out of sorts and struggle to get out the door.
Another word for habit is ‘ritual.’ Most things we do repetitively come with rituals. These rituals range from getting up, showering and dressing, to the route we take to work and how we prepare for bed at day’s end.
If you would like to challenge yourself, try changing just one ritual you carry out on a daily basis. This will feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, and before long you will either go back to your old ritual or find the new ritual has become habitual. For practice, try this exercise. If you wear a watch, which is always going to be on the same arm, move the watch to your other arm and see how that feels. You will now become very aware that the watch is there, which would not occur if it was where it usually is. The longer you leave the watch in the new position, the less aware of it you will become. Our brain adapts quickly, when given the chance.
The point here is that unless we are willing to risk feeling awkward, it will always be difficult to change anything in our lives. In order to change, we need to be aware of what our rituals are and be willing to consciously challenge them until we have created a new way of doing or thinking something. If we do not force awareness, we just repeat what we have always done. Most everything is programmed into our brain as a repetitive ritual. This is good, since it means we do not have to concentrate hard to accomplish simple tasks, and can free up our brain for other things. This is multi-tasking at its best. On the other hand, our ritual behaviours become so unconscious we may not even be aware of them anymore. Getting up in the morning is highly ritualistic. Here are some more examples:
Driving – Driving a car is almost automatic. This is why we allow ourselves to risk many other behaviours while behind the wheel, such as texting.
Eating – Most of us are habitual about what and when we eat. People refer to their favourite food as ‘comfort food.’ There is a strong emotional element to things we call comfort foods; they are rarely nutritious, but inner feelings will propel us to consume them.
Emotions – Many of us get caught in repetitive cycles of thinking and feeling. We feel lost if we do not have this cycle happening internally and will find ways to return to it quickly. Examples would be creating stress, being angry with someone, or trying to make sense of something that you will never make sense of. We all have our internal dramas that repeat themselves. However, becoming aware of them will help us to move towards breaking them and replacing them with something much more calming.
Creating New Rituals
There is nothing wrong with habits or rituals. They are part of how the human brain operates. The problem arises only when we are not aware of them, when they harm us or impede our ability to change and move forward. If you would like to create new rituals or habits in your life, you need to stay very aware. It is harder to stay aware than to create anything new. We create new things all the time. We start exercising, change our diet, but soon find ourselves right back where we were, enacting our old ritual. New things only become new rituals after we have repeated them enough times that the brain is willing to adopt the newness as the ongoing way of being. If we have repeated it enough and the brain understands that this is what is supposed to happen, then our brain fully co-operates and sets the new ritual as the default.
These ideas are applicable to all things in our lives. If you want to change anything – and we all do – start small and work your way up. This New Year, don’t resolve to change your entire life in one fell swoop. This is a trap, where we are set up to fail and be sent right back to where we were. Pick one important thing and concentrate on just that. You have lots of time to build on success and move on to changing the next thing. Too much too soon causes us to revert back to what we are most comfortable with, healthy or not.
Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak are co-founders of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. The College offers professional training programs in Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, and Coaching. For more information or for a course calendar, call 416-484-0454 or 1-800-TAC-SELF, or visit www.transformationalarts.com. To receive their monthly e-newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org