For most of us, life is supported by our routines and habits. They bring predictability and enables us to function more or less in a stable manner. Habits and routines can be an anchor that we depend upon in the midst of stormy seas, but there is a downside. The very elements of our life that offer stability can also prevent us from experiencing and stepping into new and exciting opportunities.
Habit is a curious thing. They say if you want to quit a habit or start a new one, it takes on average 21 days of focused effort. What is in fact happening is that you are working to re-wire an aspect of your life to create new neural paths that support the change. Habits and routines are similar to ruts in the road. The more we use that path, the deeper the rut becomes. Over time, your journey down that road requires little or no additional thought. Think about learning to drive. In the beginning you were hyperaware of everything from the controls to the feel of the wheel and peddles. After years of driving, you probably aren’t even consciously aware of these details anymore.
But our routines and habits can be a major impediment to experiencing the unexpected or unpredictable. Habit puts our lives on autopilot and we become blind to things around us. Take for example your drive to work each day or your morning routine. Can you recall what you saw or experienced in any amount of detail? Likely you went about your routine arriving at work without ever noticing anything worth noting. Yet if on your way, there was a sudden accident in front of you or something startling, you become more aware of your surroundings. Why does it take a major shock or surprise to wake us up? What if we could choose instead to raise our awareness to the present on demand?
It’s not that routine is necessarily good or bad, but being aware of how much of your life is on autopilot allows you to choose to do a reset. What if instead of getting in your car and heading straight to work, you stopped by a meadow or stream to take in the smells and sounds of the morning? Becoming aware of habits in your life begins to open you to enjoy what you haven’t noticed before. It raises your level of consciousness and begins to rewire your brain to appreciate and recognize things that had gone unnoticed before.
Start today to begin to shift from habit to awareness. It can be as simple as slightly altering your morning routine. Chances are, you are a creature of habit in the morning most especially as you’re still waking up. With almost military precision, you have a sequence you likely follow. When you get out of bed, you may start the coffee, then read the news, get into the shower, get ready, then out the door. Whatever your process, chances are it’s become a routine you no longer give much thought to.
Start by consciously drying yourself after you shower in a different sequence each day. Instead of taking the towel and drying off in the normal way, switch things up. If you start with your hair and head, choose instead to deliberately dry your arms and hands. Or start from the bottom up. I know it may sound illogical, but as you do this, become aware of what you’re doing. Feel your body and become sensitized to the process. With each change, become aware that you made the change. You can even laugh about it as you dry your feet first only to have to dry them again as the water drips down. For me, I change the way I dry off every morning. It’s a small reminder to be more aware of what I’m doing and attunes me to be awake to other things. It also brings me into recognition of my earthly body and encourages me to reverence it and express gratitude for another day.
I encourage you to give this a try. Realize where habit is not serving you. You are not a robot, so don’t behave like one. Switch up your life and take in the new and unexpected. Start looking for things with intention and over time, you’ll find yourself more fully in the present.
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