Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Power of Habit

“Habit is stronger than reason.” -George Santayana

Whenever I travel out of town in the morning (e.g. to attend a meeting or a class), I like to stop at a local bagel place to order my favorite sandwich for the road: egg and tomato slices on a spinach-garlic bagel. (Yum!). The restaurant has a practice of slicing their sandwiches in half, which makes it very difficult to eat with one hand while driving. It often ends up in my lap.

I usually ask the preparer to forgo the cutting of the sandwich, if possible. It's almost never possible. I estimate, despite my requests, they still manage to cut my sandwich 29 out of 30 times. It's not the end of the world and I don't complain. In fact, it's somewhat amusing and I usually have a good laugh with the server.

Why is it so hard? Habit. They sell hundreds of sandwiches a day, and I have never heard anyone else ask for it to not be cut. Statistically, there must be a few more like me; however, the vast majority of the sandwiches are cut, and the servers have a strong habit in place. The habit is so strong that the server's hands cut my sandwich before their awareness realizes what happened.

The servers always seem mystified that they can't seem to "remember" to not cut my sandwich.

Obviously, this blog isn't about bagels or sandwiches.

It's about the power of habit.

Aristotle taught that we are what we repeatedly do. We can use this power of habit to achieve great things in our lives.

I've found that it only takes a few weeks for the early stages of habit to develop. Is there a habit that you would like to cultivate (i.e. meditation, exercise, healthy eating, rising at a certain hour, etc)? Make yourself do it for a few weeks (probably against the will of your old habits) and you'll start to see a change.

Most people are intimidated or disheartened during the first few weeks of forming a new habit and give up. Successful people are those that persevere just a little longer.

I gave up eating sweets last year. I'm not really sure when it happened, but I think it was sometime over the Summer. I challenged myself to go for a week with no sweets. Then two. Then three. Why? I had a terrible addiction (habit) to sugar. Now, I don't crave it at all. I'll probably allow myself some sweet stuff this year, but--honestly--the non-sweets habit is getting hard to overcome. I have a hard time bringing myself to eat sweets now.

Similarly, I have been rising at 6:00 AM since Junior High School. Very rarely do I wake to the alarm clock. Most days, I awake just before it's programmed to alarm. Yet, we go through a time-change twice a year. How is this possible? Why isn't my internal alarm clock off by an hour for half of the year? Answer: it only takes a few days for me to get on the new schedule, and then habit takes over once again.

The power of habit is an extremely powerful tool that you can use to your benefit. Take advantage of it!

“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits” - Robert Puller

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Romance the Present Moment!

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." -Buddha

So much has been written about mindfulness and presence, it's hard to say or add anything new. For the few of you who are not familiar with the concept, mindfulness is a spiritual practice that emphasizes being fully engaged with the present moment at all times. The concept suggests that the root of most suffering is dwelling on the past or anxiety about the future--and happiness is rooted in the present moment.

One thing that seems to be lacking in much of the mindfulness literature and common practice is the role of joy and romance. Mindfulness is not a burden or a hardship; it is breath of fresh air!

Yet, mindfulness is a practice, much like a relationship between two people. Both take a lifetime to develop...and both require active engagement.

Have you seen degrees of romance in relationships? Some relationships are hollow shells of what they once were...the couple essentially has become roommates--going through the motions. And other relationships are beautiful until the end. We've all seen a cute elderly couple who appear to be just as in love as when they first met.

Our relationship with the present moment has the same potential: hollow shell, or deep love until the end. The difference is continued romance.

Romance the present moment. Fall in love with what is!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Finding Meaning in the Now

"Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." -Viktor E. Frankl

Some have suggested that man's highest drive is pleasure or power, and all that he does is attributed to one of these motivations. We are tempted to adopt this psychology when we see excesses of pleasure-seeking or power-grabbing in our society.

Viktor Frankl , a famous Psychotherapist and author of "Man's Search for Meaning," suggested man's highest drive is to find meaning in life. He also explained that meaning-frustrated people default to pleasure-seeking or power-seeking to find happiness.

Contrary to the pleasure or power ideas, Frankl suggested meaning and happiness cannot be found for the seeking, but rather are a by-product of three activities:

Deeply experiencing a person or a thing.
Doing a work/creating something of lasting value (occupation, avocation, etc).
Choosing one's attitude amidst inescapable suffering.

He referred to these as the three meaning values: experiential, creational, and attitudinal.

What is remarkable is that these three activities are based in the present, and therefore these are values of the Now. To deeply experience someone, we must be fully present with them. To create something of lasting value, we must be present with our work. To choose our attitude while in pain, we must be present with our pain.

If we are present with a person, a work, or our pain, we will not identify with our egoic mind. We will not dwell on the past or fantasize about a better future. And in so doing, we stumble upon happiness.

"For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it." -Viktor Frankl

Saturday, January 1, 2011


As is the custom in our society, I've been asked several times if I have made any resolutions for the New Year. Actually, I have not. No, I'm not perfect--far from it--and yes there are things I would like to improve on in my life. So why no resolutions?

I have found that intentions are so much more powerful than resolutions. Sure, it sounds like semantics; I assure you it is not. Let's take a look.

Resolutions come from a place of recognizing that there is something about me that I do not like, and I should change. Resolutions do not come from a place of acceptance of what is, but rather from a place of making a judgement of what should be. It is me making a judgement, creating conflict inside of myself.

On the other hand, intentions are born out of a desire to do something because I want to do it. Intentions are congruous with who I am on the inside and what I value and therefore do not create conflict. Value shifts almost always precede manifestation.

For example, I valued a healthy lifestyle long before it manifested in my life. It was something kept trying to change with shoulds. I should exercise. I should lose weight. Finally, I released the shoulds and just said, "You know, I intend to run. I want to run. Being a runner is on my 'bucket list.' Why not start now?" And I did.

I didn't set any should barriers for myself. I just went for a run. I liked how it made me feel and I did it again. And again. And I said, "I wonder how far I can run today? I wonder if I can go a little further?" And I did. "I intend to run today," became my self-talk. Not, "I should run today." I'd never get anywhere with that sort of self-talk.

And you know, when you intend to do something today, and you don't make it happen, there's no judgement. But, if you should do something, and don't, man the judgement is harsh. And it's like getting behind on studying. Eventually, you try to cram (which doesn't work) or just give up.

Do you see the difference?

What do you intend to do this year?

I intend to run a half-marathon. And if I don't, no problem.

I probably will.

Be kind to yourself!