Well, I’d say, being aware of them is the least you can do, a first step to evaluating what serves you and what does not. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will likely recognise the phrase “does not serve you anymore” from a lot of my posts about letting go of some of your possessions. It may come as a surprise to you that this same approach I use for physical objects also applies to ideas, beliefs and – therefore – habits. Habits are really just the emotional form of the physical items that we surround ourselves with.
Just as much as physical items can become a burden and make life difficult, so can habits, beliefs and ideas. When their time has come and gone, they can easily turn into a weight that holds you back. Just like our lives and needs change (think age, life situation, personal development, etc.), our mind approaches problems and wellbeing from a different angle.
Habits have a tendency to stick around, though, and being non-corporeal entities they are very good at hiding in the background, the dark corners of our consciousness, and only ever pop out when we least expect them. Don’t get me wrong: many of our habits are good ones! Being in the habit of running for half an hour every morning, washing your dishes after each meal, putting your shoes on the rack when you walk into your home, or folding your clothes once they are dried and ironed clearly is useful.
The notion of ‘habit’ can go much wider, though: think religious beliefs, ideas about bringing up your child, ways in which you perceive danger or being uncomfortable with certain situations,… all of these are habits, too! And those can be much more of a challenge to identify, and to be aware of.
Coming back to the ‘good’ habits mentioned above: what if ‘running for half an hour every morning’ leads to lack of sleep because that hour you spend on running keeps you from sleeping enough, which – in turn – makes you cranky? Does that make it a ‘bad’ habit all of a sudden? Things are not always as clear as they seem at first. And that is only a very simple example that shows up clearly in the outside world - you’ll understand that the impact of ideas and beliefs is much more difficult to determine. In addition, this is something that really only applies to the moment itself. Now go one step further and think about the impact of life changes and the way you’ll have to adapt habits as you change as a person.
And what if we add an element of time to the equation? Imagine you change in a way that a habit that used to be good is now turning out to be something bad? You’d be surprised how quickly we can change, and our perceptions of what serves us can change along with it. The lesson to take away from this is simple: just as much as we change as people we have to follow on that level of habits, in order to stay functional on a daily basis. If we don’t change our habits to suit our requirements and demands on life, they will gradually shift out of alignment and even the best of habits could eventually turn against us. Especially the ones we take for granted and think of as a positive influence, because there never was any reason to suspect they might turn out to be bad.
Here’s another one: what if you are not even aware that you have a particular habit and, therefore, are in no position to evaluate it at all? You may now think of habits like a proclivity to grind your teeth, bite your lips or align things in straight lines, and you would not be far off: a lot of things we do are out of habit. You might say “I like things to be neat”, or “I can’t stand pencils that have not been sharpened properly” and that is perfectly okay. The thing about those is that you will likely not have been aware of many of them until someone pointed them out to you.
Similarly, we have ideas, beliefs and notions that are so engrained in our psyche that we never even think about them anymore. That thought of having to finish the whole meal, being kind to animals, or the need to have a cup of coffee at around 3pm… all of those are habits. Yes, some of them are societal norms imprinted upon us by our upbringing, some are ‘proper’ habits we have chosen to adopt, some are our little ticks that have crept in without us noticing.
Once more, habits have a habit (excuse the pun) of slowly establishing themselves in our psyche and bodies, and need constant supervision. They may have started out harmlessly, and turned bad over time, they were good/bad to start with or they were learned at some point in our lives.
Habits are a huge part of how clutter builds up in our lives because our mindset and our belongings are closely related. If we clutter up our mind with useless habits, that will be reflected outwardly, and vice versa. A habit can manifest in the shape of an inability to let go of anything, simply because we are in the habit of having something! Or because we are in the habit of not reconsidering a decision we have taken earlier. Or because we are in the habit of not realising something is not quite right.
It pays to keep an eye on your habits, though, and occasionally remember that they may not be useful or actually harm you if you insist on keeping them without occasional review of your stance.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.