I awakened yesterday morning feeling refreshed and eager to begin the day. Sitting at the edge of the bed, I watched the minutes display on the alarm clock, waiting for :24 to become :25. This is something I do on the mornings when I wake up before the alarm goes off at 3:25 am. At the moment :25 appears, I press the “silence” button so the beeping alarm doesn’t sound.
At that point, I begin the morning routine, then make the bed, start the coffee, and sit down to write something for this blog. Anyway, yesterday morning, with a steaming cup of joe on the desk and a couple of paragraphs already written, I noticed the beeping of the alarm clock increasing from quiet to loud in the bedroom.
My first thought was that there must be a clock malfunction. Did I press “snooze” instead of “silence”? That didn’t make sense, because I had been up longer than the 15-minute snooze mode. When I again pressed “silence”, the clock read-out was 3:25 am. I reflexively checked the watch on my wrist. It showed 3:25 am, too.
That’s when the realization struck that I had gotten up an hour earlier than normal. I had been so focused on performing the habitual rituals of the morning, that I hadn’t even paused to look at one of the many clocks and watches in the house. Although I had earlier looked directly at the alarm clock, the only numbers that interested me, were the minutes. If I would have been more mindful, the 2:24 am would have been obvious.
Isn’t it strange that our habits are revealed when something happens out of sync with those habits? We might not think about our coffee drinking being a habit until we run low on coffee supply or if the coffee maker won’t heat.
Habits are like railroad tracks built into our minds. Once they’re in place, we just automatically, often mindlessly, follow them.
Many habits are useful and beneficial, otherwise, we would have to focus too much on the mechanical acts of riding a bicycle or driving a vehicle. Because the operation of riding and driving are automatic, we are freed up to focus on road and traffic conditions.
As children, we learned the habit of being on time for school, then as adults, the habit of being on time for work was built into the mind. Other habits might be the forming of inflexible opinions.
When we think of habits, negative, harmful ones usually come to mind. The one that was most difficult for me to derail was cigarette smoking. At times, smoking seemed like being locked inside of a runaway locomotive speeding down the tracks. My freedom was restricted by the demands of the train.
Our ability to appreciate and obtain freedom has much to do with habits. It’s easy to understand how the tobacco habit restricts the smoker’s freedom. It’s the over-reliance upon habit that dulls our sense of the lack of freedom in living. Habitual behavior means we do not have to pay attention to moment to moment awareness. Habits encourage dullness and routine.
Even when one is consciously breaking a harmful habit, care must be taken to not replace one habit with another if the goal is to become free. Have you noticed that resisting a habit or trying to fight it seems only to reinforce the habit? Sometimes the very act of fighting a habit, becomes, itself, a habit. When I was trying to quit cigarettes, the act of resisting a cigarette then caving to the desire became a habit.
It was only the process of becoming aware of the mental structure of habit and accepting it as human nature that the habit of resistance was weakened. The desire for freedom finally exceeds the desire to satisfy the habit. This is the time for our personal Declaration of Independence. It is this paradigm shift that causes the derailment of habitual thought. The discovery about habits that makes working with them and around them more possible.
These thoughts about habits come about as I ponder some harmful habits I still harbor. This only goes to show that attaining personal freedom is an ongoing, evolutionary process.