It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held onto the old view. When you flip the switch in that attic, it doesn’t matter whether it’s been dark for ten minutes, ten years or ten decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see the things you couldn’t see before. It’s never too late to take a moment to look.
– Sharon Salzberg
Your habits are your addictions. I know, addiction is a strong word. When we hear it we immediately think of drugs and alcohol. We’re not addicts because we’re sober, right?
Wrong. We’re all addicted to something. It may be biting our nails, lashing out in anger or smoking cigarettes when we feel tense.
When it comes to addictions, it’s not about what you’re addicted to, it’s about why you would use something outside of yourself in an attempt to fix how you feel, only to the detriment of yourself.
Addiction therapist and recovering addict, Mandy Saligari, focuses her work on recovery and mental health. She believes the one preventative measure for all addictions leads from one word: self-esteem.
Self-esteem at its core is: how I feel about myself and therefore how I treat myself.
It’s Not What You’re Addicted To, It’s Why You’re Addicted To It
Addiction is the pattern of delegating (outsourcing) your emotional process onto something else that backfires. Saligari believes, however, if you know the feelings that you’re having, then you have a chance of taking responsibility and representing yourself in the world with dignity and respect.
“When people tend to look at addiction, their eyes tend to be on the substance or thing – but really it’s a pattern of behaviour that can manifest itself in a number of different ways,”
You need to be taught how to handle your excitement or your depression. When you don’t acknowledge your emotions you don’t react correctly.
This is what leads into Judson Brewer’s scientific discovery of using mindfulness to break our addictions and bad habits.
The Director of Research for Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts, Psychiatrist Judson Brewer studies the relationship between mindfulness and addiction — from smoking to overeating to all those other things we do even though we know they’re bad for us
One case study used mindfulness training to help smokers quit smoking. Instead of smokers feeling forced to quit, they asked them to focus on beeing curious about the actual act of smoking – what it felt like when they were doing it, what it tasted like, what they felt like when they felt the urge to smoke, etc.
“Go ahead and smoke, just be really curious about what it’s like when you do.” That’s all they asked them to do.
Smokers cognitively know that smoking is bad for them, what they discover when they’re curiously aware is that smoking tastes like shit. They then moved from knowledge to wisdom. They went from knowing smoking was bad for them to feeling it in her bones.
When we’re stressed, our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that understands on an intellectual level that we shouldn’t smoke, tries its hardest to help us stop whatever bad habit we’re yearning for. This is called cognitive control. Unfortunately, this is the first part of our brain that goes offline when we get stressed.
We’re much more likely to yell at our spouse when we’re stressed even though we know it won’t be helpful. That’s because our prefrontal cortex has shut down.
When our prefrontal cortex goes offline, this is when we fall back into our old habits.
Which is why mindfulness is so important. Paying attention and seeing what we get from our habits helps us understand them at a different level, so we don’t have to hold back or restrain ourselves from these bad behaviors, we’re just less interested in doing it. This is what mindfulness is all about.
Over time, as we start to see more and more clearly the results of our actions, we let go of old habits and form new ones.
It’s just about really interested and getting close and personal about what’s happening in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. This willingness to turn toward our experience, rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away as quickly as possible.
What happens when we get curious? We start to notice our cravings are made up of body sensations. Oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness, and that these body sensations come and go. These are bite-size pieces of experience that we can manage from moment to moment, rather than getting absorbed in our cravings.
When we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns and we step into being.
So the next time you feel this urge to check your email when you’re bored, or trying to distract yourself from work, or to compulsively respond to that text message when you’re driving, see if you can tap into this natural capacity, just be curiously aware of what’s happening in your body and mind in that moment. It will just be another another chance to perpetuate one of our endless and exhaustive habit loops — or step out of it.
Instead of see text message and compulsively text back, notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat.
Some Quotes To Help With Mindfulness
The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.
— Pema Chodron
Exposure to truth changes your life, period. Whether that truth is a revelation about personal honesty and integrity, or a divine revelation that reorganizes your place in the universe. This is why most people run from truth rather than toward it.
— Caroline Myss
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
– Sylvia Boorstein
Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.
— Sharon Salzberg