Habits and No Habits

A number of bloggers who I greatly respect recommend strategies to build better habits or bring more structure into your day to make sure you give time and attention to your highest priorities. This might mean getting up at 6am to write, or meditate or walk. It might also include commitments about exercise, diet and other healthy activities. This all makes good sense.

So why am I travelling in the opposite direction? The project I am engaged upon is about letting go of  structures and schedules, and avoiding setting up “rules” about what I should be doing at a particular time.

This discrepancy has been bugging me in a quiet, grumbly sort of way. Every now and then I get cross or defensive when I come across a suggestion that I need more structure, more commitments, and more accountability.

On reflection, it occurred to me that building better habits is great, but bad habits were never my main problem. Strategies to build better routines and practicies and use time more wisely are are most useful to address problems to do with bad habits and poor time management.  But that wasn’t my main problem. I tend to be fairly moderate in my habits, and fairly organised, so solutions on building better habits are not addressing my main area of weakness.

I began to wonder if I was kidding myself that I didn’t need advice on dealing with habits, when I remembered something I had come across in the Buddhist literature. The Buddhists talk about Greed, Hatred and Delusion as a source of suffering. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember hearing a theory that although we all suffer from all three, we each have a tendency in a particular direction. These manifest as a tendency to Addictions, Anger, and Confusion.

Greed represents the constant desire to have more. The problem of never being satisfied. It relates to habits of excess. This isn’t an exercise in name calling. Its not about saying people are “greedy”. Its about acknowledging this human tendency to feel unsatisfied and try to address that by consuming more and more which can lead to bad habits, such as eating too much junkfood or playing too much Warcraft.

I think strategies that are focussed on creating structure and replacing bad habits with good habits are particularly useful for addressing this particular foible, building good habits that counter balance the desire to consume more and more.

So where do I fit in? Problems of addiction and excess have not been my main battle. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my battles, but I think they are in a different area. If I were to pick from the three causes of suffering, I’d say my struggles have been in the area of Delusion and Confusion. My problem has not been about going too far in anyone direction; its been about not knowing which direction to take or why.

The strategy I am adopting for my own project is to stop listening to the voice in my head telling what I “should” do because its expected by other people, or my imagining of what other people expect. I have stopped over-structuring my experience, and subjecting myself to self-made rules about what I should do in my day. I am actively resisting the tendency to want to over schedule and over organise myself.  I am making space for the quiet voice of intuition to be heard.

So this is my experiment, my exercise, my practice. To let go of artificially imposed structures and rules and find out who I really am in the quiet of my own heart. Its about building trust in myself, that I can make good decisions on a daily basis, without the need for strict rules or external accountabilities. Having been living this way for over a year, the voice of intuition is beginning to speak more loudly, and I feel happier and more confident than I have ever felt before.

So there is not conflict between Habits and No Habits. We are all in the process of learning, and we need to choose the antidote that best meets our dis-ease. Some of us will choose more structure, some less, but in the end, its all the same project. The project of living more happily and wisely.

  1. This is a fascinating commentary on your internal thought processes. Thanks for sharing.

    I have had similar thoughts, but in relation to goals, and now attempt to work goal free, and I have found it has increased my creativity by leaps and bounds. It feels amazing to let go of that external structure.

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

    • LindaMay said:

      Glad you found it helpful. I am always excited to come across people exploring a “goal free” approach as I think its very powerful, but not very commonly discussed.

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