Have you heard this one?
A Buddhist monk walks up to a hot dog vendor, hands him a twenty dollar bill, and says, “Make me one with everything.” The vendor prepares the hot dog and gives it to the monk. The monk, after waiting for a moment, asks for his change. The vendor looks at him and says, “Change only comes from within.”
How people make changes in their lives is a topic that has fascinated me for years. I was always interested in being happier, more popular, and more successful. I felt like there was something better for me out there that I hadn’t yet discovered, and I wanted to know what needed to change for me to find it.
Happiness experts tell us to want what we have, and I don’t disagree. However, if what we have isn’t working for us, then it’s time to consider a change. And as we now know, change only comes from within.
Lasting change requires attention and self-reflection. It is a rich process that can lead us to discover fulfillment way beyond anything we could have dreamed up. It asks us to wake up to our lives, moment by moment, to be aware of what is actually happening.
If you can read a list of 10 tips for a better life and implement them, then you have my full support. However, if you struggle with habits that take you away from happiness, good health, and peace, then experiment with the following process and open to a more natural, intelligent way of being.
The Process for Lasting Change
- First, and most importantly, take a look at what you want to change, at what is no longer serving you. Whatever it is, it is a habit, something you have probably been doing for a long time. What I have found is that banishing parts of ourselves that we don’t like simply doesn’t work. Unless we befriend them and understand them intimately, they will continue to spring up and undermine our good efforts. It’s like putting in earplugs to silence a baby’s cry. The real solution comes only when the source of the problem is tended to with care.
- Investigate to see what this habit has been doing for you, as it is there for a reason. Does it give you some comfort or solace? A sense of power? Does it keep you on familiar territory so you don’t have to experience something new? Does it give you a thrill? Take an honest look, and honor the creative, albeit misguided, ways we come up with to get our needs met.
- Discover the limiting thoughts that keep the habit going; for example: I will fail, I won’t be loved, I’ll fall apart, I’ll explode, I’ll be overwhelmed. See the truth, which is: I don’t know what is going to happen if I let go of this habit. Consider the possibility of stepping into the unknown and letting nature take its course.
- Why study habits in such detail? Lasting change requires that we acknowledge what we are losing by letting them go. This step is essential. Change to something different always implies a loss. With some habits, we might be more than ready to move on, and the loss is inconsequential. But for others, we may need to mourn what we are letting go, recognizing the benefit of the habit and feeling the sadness and sorrow as we walk away from it. It’s like ending a relationship with an old friend who you know you have outgrown. If you find that you cannot sustain a change you have been working on, you may have some feelings related to the loss that haven’t yet surfaced.
- Appreciate that changing a habit means making the space for something new and unfamiliar. For some people, this might be scary, for others quite exciting. It sounds so obvious: if you’re going to stop the habit, you won’t be engaging in the behavior anymore. If you are a smoker, you won’t be smoking. If you are a procrastinator, you will be getting more done. Be open to all possibilities.
- Sometimes it’s not only “one day at a time,” but “one moment at a time.” Cravings and urges to continue the old behavior can be very strong. Like the most seductive lover, they beckon us shamelessly. Prepare yourself to say “no” and turn away, as many times as it takes. Renew your connection with your deepest desire. Have a list available of wonderfully distracting activities. Bring oceans of compassion to your struggling self.
- Ultimately, Nike got it. It boils down to, “Just Do It.” Put down the cookie, start to take care of yourself, clean up your room and get going. Live the life you want to live – it’s there waiting for you with open arms. And when you do, feel the freedom, and rejoice from the inside out.
- Change generally happens over time. Our job is to set up the ideal conditions for the grip of an unwanted habit to release. And remember, every moment offers the opportunity for renewal.
A smoker might see how smoking is used to relax or socialize. An aggressive type might realize he is really scared and trying to keep control. A woman who burns herself out by giving to others might determine that she is assuaging her guilt or thriving on approval. A procrastinator may be avoiding success or creativity. Every habit we want to change has a hidden payoff that needs to be uncovered.
How about you? How have you released old habits? What have been the results?