July 28, 2017

Unlearning Harmful Mind Habits

We all have habits that are ingrained in our minds. These habits can be accompanied by emotional responses as well. We make habits out of anger, sadness and anxiety.

Habits are like folding a piece of paper--the more we fold it at the same crease, the deeper the crease will get. Naturally the paper folds at the crease we made. It's easy to not even notice our habits as we operate on autopilot.

These habits can bring feelings with them--anger, sadness, anxiety. If you pay close attention to yourself, you can notice that you always worry about the same things. You have the same thoughts that make you angry. And very similar thought patterns go through your mind when you get sad.

Our minds are predictable--they work like machines. If we spend time with them, notice our thoughts and get to know them, we can learn how we work.

I used to be anxious most of the time. There was a time when I couldn't do much because the thoughts in my head controlled everything I did--because I believed them. These thoughts were always the same. Over and over they played in my head, and again and again I listened to them. Until one day, when I learned about mindfulness and realized that I have another choice. I am not a victim and I don't have to suffer. I can stand behind my thoughts as a witness and not act out of fear.

I'm not saying it was easy and that it happened from one moment to the other. It was years of work to unlearn my harmful habits and built new ones in their stead. And there are certain things you can never completely unlearn. But I practice not going with my thoughts and reacting to them the way I want to be, not how my thoughts tell me I should be. 

Today, I live a full and peaceful life. Once, there was nothing I could do, I could barely get out of bed, and now there is nothing I can't do. Because I'm the one who decides what I can and cannot do. And I say I can do anything. Even the things that make me afraid. Especially the things that make me afraid. I chase my fears like an adventurer.

The best part is that we can step in. Create new creases in the paper. We don't have to be slaves to our minds, we can practice being their masters. We can trace back where our feelings come from and practice stepping in earlier and earlier into our thought processes.

Thoughts are not facts. Thoughts are not reality. We don't have to go with them. We can choose to stay right here--outside of them. We can choose our reactions instead of being controlled by thoughts. We can practice being who we choose to be.

It's always possible to unlearn what we have learned and build new habits instead. It won't be quick neither will it be easy, but it's the best work. It's finally learning how to be free.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here

“Sometimes life isn’t about anything new that we have to learn, but about what we have to UNlearn instead.” - Timber Hawkeye (credit also goes to him for the paper folding metaphor)

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