One of my favorite thinkers, Thich Nhat Hanh, says that to break a bad habit, you should greet it like an old friend.
So if you want to stop biting your nails, the trick is to recognize that impulse to stick your fingertips in your mouth. You say to that impulse, “Hello, habit energy!” You smile at it. And then, you continue on your way — hopefully without biting your nails.
To break a bad habit, he says, shine the light of awareness on it.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. It can be a totally frustrating process, often filled with setbacks that feel like failures. (Reincarnationists believe that bad habits are the result of repeated negative actions in previous lives, which carve deep negative pathways in your mind. That’s some serious work to undo!)
Sometimes I wonder whether my bad habits can teach me something, or help me in some way.
During my yoga teacher training, I learned that the Warrior poses represent preparation for inner battle, and that I should trust whatever interior struggles I experience, because those struggles are perfect for me. One of our regular exercises was to blindly select a yogic concept from a hat. We students were to practice whatever concept was written on that slip of paper.
Over and over — out of dozens of different concepts — I picked aparigraha, or nonattachment. I must have picked nonattachment five different times over the course of one week. It was absolutely maddening. I became so frustrated, I asked the teacher in charge of the hat if this was a rigged game, some kind of trick. Did all the little slips of paper say nonattachment?
No, they didn’t.
Talk about the perfect battle for me.
Ever since, I’ve tried to become aware of my attachments — to objects, to ideas. Are these attachments unhealthy? Are they, in fact, bad habits?
In terms of writing and publishing, I ask myself: To what degree should I “nonattach” from the words I write? How much should I “unattach” from others’ opinions of my work?
These are tricky questions, with no “one-size-fits-all” answers. But the authors out there enjoying long, fruitful careers seem to have sorted them out. And they’ve definitely developed good mental and emotional habits related to how they treat their own words, and how they react to others’ reactions.
In any event, if you’re trying to break a bad habit — no matter what it is — that nonattachment concept might be useful to keep in mind. (You are not your bad habit!)
Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel totally welcome to share your ideas and experiences.