How To Change Old Habits

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've noticed that one of the hardest things for people to do is to change what they're doing to something better to be doing, when there's nothing really externally forcing them to change. But to unhook from whatever groove we're in, in the moment, and shift the focus of awareness and physical energies into something that may not be as immediately easy or comfortable...I think that takes real strength.

It seems crazy that getting involved in a more constructive thing to do ever seemed so difficult, once I've jumped in. If I can just start - to exercise, write in my journal, brainstorm a project, draft an article, review my work, do spiritual practices, go for a walk...it's all a relative breeze from there. But just changing the direction of my mental and physical focus, when I don't particularly feel like it...that's worthy of a Medal of Honor! Until then, I'm like the hero in Top Gun, about to do battle, but frozen ("Engage, Maverick... Engage!"), and I'm tied up in my own psychic knots.

Of course it's never that dramatic (or romantic). It might be easier to deal with if it were. Things I've done like hitchhike from Istanbul to Karachi, drop out of graduate school, get a black belt, and sail solo in heavy weather required some level of guts (and perhaps youthful stupidity!). But as risky as those events seemed at the time, I think they were easier than what I deal with in getting myself to shift my attention and energies into something that I know will be better for me than what I'm doing.

Maybe this is maudlin self-absorption (like, "David, is this the biggest problem you've got?"). But many people let multiple aspects of their lives get to crisis mode before they have the motivation to do something different. Seems it's easier to let the drama of a problem be our driver than the intuitive sense that we should change the direction of our attention when it would still be early enough to be the ounce of prevention. In other words, dealing with things when you HAVE to is easier than the earlier intervention when you can deal with them more productively.

I'm not interested in being a martyr, however, so I try to stack the deck in my favor. I look for every trick in the book to make it easier to simply get engaged with healthy good stuff. There's nothing like having great tools in the right places. I got the best yoga costume and props I could find, and I keep them handy at home and in hotel rooms. I bought a great fountain pen that I love to find any excuse to use (like reflecting and writing in my journal). I've put nutritional supplements I ought to take regularly right by the water dispenser. I follow my inclination for the coolest organizing gear I can find that attracts me to use it. (I've done some of my best operational thinking simply because I like seeing the lit-up screen on my Palm in a dark restaurant!) We've just installed additional windows in my office because I realized I needed to remove a slightly stuffy feeling there for more impetus to sit at my desk to get some things done.

But no matter how crafty I get at setting up the tricks to tip myself into good-for-me productive activity, I still have to stretch my psychic muscles to break out of a pattern and start the new one. I'm working on developing the habit of immediately jumping into anything I recognize I'm resisting, and out of anything I'm feeling not so good about doing. Doing the different thing is not hard. GETTING myself to do it deserves a medal.

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