How Habits are Formed

I’ve heard it said recently that habit accounts for 95% of our daily actions. Even if that’s totally made up it resonates with you, doesn’t it? Yet, think about it: how do these come about? Think about one habit of yours. Why do you do it? When did you start? It may be so ingrained as a part of your day you hardly think about it any more, and pinpointing these details may be difficult.

Here’s another question: how many habits of yours would you consider “bad” habits?

Probably a bunch, right?

I certainly have some bad habits. My first post discusses my habit of breaking promises. If this seems dubious to you – “That’s not a habit, a habit is something you do, not not do.” Well, that’s not quite right either. A habit, is, strictly, something done automatically when certain conditions are met.

Event: I wake up. Conditions: I am in my room, groggy, mouth feels gross. Automatic response: go brush teeth.

Event: notice someone on the metro. Conditions: I don’t like this person. Automatic response: ignore them completely, actually turning around so they see your back.

Event: at a film shoot. Conditions: I am waiting, it is noisy and busy, and there is junk food that I can eat. Automatic response: eat the junk food until it’s time to act.

This last one is my personal struggle this week. Four times I have been on a shoot, and four times I have put garbage into my system for lack of better things to do.

Did I say “lack”? Silly me. I meant “perceived lack”.

So strong is my habit of eating junk food that it actually hijacks other parts of my brain in order to fulfill my tongue’s desire to taste the sugar/fat/salty goodness contained within those chips/donuts/candies. Dude, yes there’s other things to do. You could read a book. You have had a book with you every single day of this shoot. You could start a meaningful conversation with another actor who has equally nothing to do. Goodness you could meditate, do some pushups, yoga, anything. But no. My habit is to eat trash and by golly I am going to do it even if I have had acid reflux every day of the week. Later I think, “God I have no self-control.”

Well of course you don’t. Not with that attitude.

Let me let you in on an ancient secret. You know the Chinese Finger trap? The tube of bamboo that you stick your fingers in, and are told to now get your fingers out? Then when you pull on your fingers the tube tightens and holds your fingers in preventing you from escaping? Guess what: it’s a metaphor! As I have learned from Psycho-Cybernetics, any habit you want to break requires no effort. Ah, that’s ambiguous. It requires that you exert no effort. The harder you struggle, the more difficult the habit will be to break. But, if you relax, your fingers will start to come closer together, and the trap will loosen, and your fingers will be free. They are free as soon as you acknowledge the truth that relaxation and self-confidence are the tools that will help you stop being late, or giving white lies, or being rude to strangers.

Which reminds me! I have a wonderful friend who surprised me greatly recently. He has had anger issues his whole life from a troubled upbringing. I have seen (and heard accounts of) him rail against people for no reason other than disagreeing with him, maybe. He told me recently he was pissed off at the fact that he has this automatic negative response pattern to anyone – anyone he encounters.

Event: see someone. Conditions: I am a bitter person and don’t like anyone. Automatic response: despise the someone.

He told me he decided to change that habit (not in so many words but it fits my narrative). Now, every time he notices a stranger, he looks for something he likes about that stranger. He will think, “Man that’s a nice jacket.” Even if it’s not a jacket he would ever wear, his new mindset has him admiring it because it’s precious to that person – to the point where he would beat the crap out of anyone dissing the jacket.

I was floored. I have been trying to get this guy to change his automatic response patterns for years and he’s gone and done it on his own. It was so impressive that I started doing the same thing. It feels great.

My sister worked at a coffee shop for a long time and has complained to me about the lack of respect customers show for the employees. It’s like they’re not even people, just machines that if I speak my desired drink toward, the drink will later appear. Event: I want coffee. Conditions: I’m in a coffee shop in front of the counter. Habit: “A half-caff soy ice pumpkin spice mocha with extra whip cream and chocolate flakes and cinnamon.” In France, you learn damn quick to say «Bonjour, comment allez-vous?» before asking for anything from anyone. It’s basic respect. Politeness may seem pointless and phatic, but it actually makes people feel like people. I have taken this to heart and implemented it in my own habits. “Bonjour, ça va bien?” I ask every bus driver. Sometimes it makes a frowning person smile and that’s enough for me to do it unconditionally.

Up until, let’s say this morning when I started writing this post, I have always looked at my failure and, deep down, considered it impossible to resist this junk food. I mean come on, every time I’m around junk food I eat it. So clearly that’s just like, what I do, I guess. I don’t eat dairy, eggs, meat, but I’ll consume this heavily processed corn meal salted and fried to hell, en masse. So, I employed two tricks from Psycho-Cybernetics. First, identify and eliminate conflicting ideas:

My body is a temple. I eat junk food. These are two ideas about myself that are incompatible. I must reject one. Now, My Body Is A Temple.

Second, relax and imagine myself in scenarios where I ate junk food, and imagine myself passing it by without a second thought.

It’s that simple. Know it, and it is true. I had an experience today where I was surrounded by some of the greatest and most deceptive junk food possible (maple cookies, crappy granola bars) and barely even looked at them. Event: surrounded by junk food. Conditions: I am not hungry and hate eating that shit. Impulse: think about all those times I ate it anyway. New Reaction: take out my Joseph Campbell book and read in a quiet place to have my mind blown. Now I feel great! instead of having indigestion and bad gas.

You can change your habits. Mind over matter. Give yourself that power; you have it. Forget the “Bet you can’t eat just one” bullshit the dumpster lords are trying to force-feed you. Yes you CAN just eat one, taste it in all its glory then move on. Damn, I could write a whole nother article on junk food….

Give yourself habits you enjoy. You are what you do, so you’re basically 95% habits; might as well make them count.

Thanks for reading.

-T

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The Power of You

In my first post on this blog, I talked briefly about the Four Agreements. The subject of that post was #1 of the four, “Be Impeccable With Your Word.” It implies honesty is always the best choice, to be diligently tactful, and promises should not be made lightly. I promised myself that I would post on this blog every Thursday. This is Sunday now, and it’s the second time I’ve been late for a post here. I don’t, however, feel guilty or anything, because of the last of the four agreements: “Always Do Your Best.”

The agreement itself seems a little obvious. Duh, do your best. Like, in everything. It’s also easy to see this as an easy cop-out for the other agreements. “I broke all sorts of promises this week, but hey, I did my best.” Well, sort of. Perhaps a little less when you took on those promises in the first place. Subtle implications like this are what make #4 so interesting. You didn’t know how much time each of those promises would take you. You took them on with the belief you could manage each of them. You did your best at time-management. You tried. You failed, but it’s okay, you did your best, and now you know for next time.

Every time you do your best, your best is a little better.

In this summation of the Four Agreements, the last line for “Always Do Your Best” shed a lot of light as to its purpose: “Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.” I believe that’s the most important point here. By being perseverant and positive whenever possible, you can avoid those eternal human pitfalls.

This week, I have been busy. I didn’t have time on Thursday to do a post, and in fact this is the first moment of quiet I’ve had since then. On top of that, yesterday was particularly crazy and I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. I am doing my best to provide you an interesting read each week at a specific day/time, and in this case it’s a short article three days late. And I won’t be hard on myself. Seriously I’m doing my best, Travis, lay off!

Do your best to rest today. If not, do your best in whatever is keeping you busy! That’s all anyone can ever ask, including yourself.

Thanks for reading. You’re the best!

-T

The Power of Words

So I’m a words guy. I love words. I love them like a stereotype loves what they are thought of to love too much. But sometimes, I feel they are abused. I had a revelation today about the word “try”. Yoda says, “Do or do not; there is no try.” The heart of the advice is solid: give it your all, a defeatist mindset will get you nowhere. But the phrasing is bad. What if I Did, and it failed? Isn’t that “a try”? I want to call attention to another definition of the verb, related to “a trial”: to test something. When someone is on trial, they are being tested against evidence. When something is tried and true, it means it has been tested and deemed reliable. I want to take back the word try, and have it mean test your skills in something. In this way, all you can do is try – but it’s not a half-hearted attempt, it’s a full-fledged challenge. Isn’t that more pleasant? Because as it is, “try” is kind of a sad word, like the people who use it and say, “Well, I tried…” and give up.

This is just an example. I could list more, like “literally,” or even like “like”. But the word I think has been the most shamefully disfigured is “faith.” In the Age of Science, “Faith” is a bad word. Certain people use it but among the “elite” you better watch it or get your tongue bitten off. When people (as we did collectively in the last few hundred years) secularise themselves, they throw the baby out with the bathwater and anything spiritual is taboo. Now obviously not everyone is like this, but either you are or you know lots of people who are. The word “Faith” goes with this. Suddenly it’s stupid and ignorant to have faith. But let’s examine for a moment what exactly faith is.

Christian capital-F Faith is more or less synonymous with “Belief”. “I’ve lost my faith,” an ex-Catholic might say. You Believe there is a Higher Power named God or Elohim or Yahweh or Jehovah and He had a Son who Died for our Sins then Resurrected and Ascended to Heaven. But it’s not just belief – hell, I can believe in something and not have faith in it, just look at Montreal Drivers. “I’ve lost my faith in Montreal Drivers,” a guy buying his first Opus card might say. So if you don’t have faith… what does that mean for you, on a larger scale?

Reading half of Joseph Campbell’s Thou Art That: Understanding Religious Metaphor has given me a lot of insight into religion and its purpose. Every great philosopher, mathematician, artist and saint has experienced a similar thing: a connection to a mysterious force lying under, or behind, or outside of our perception of reality. It evades description! It is mysterious by its very nature. It doesn’t want to be described. So, the best way to do it is with metaphor.

Religions like Christianity do their best (maybe) with metaphor to describe this Mysterium Tremendum. Why? Because it is life. Because if we explore it, accept it, and interact with it, we can lead a full, happy life. Because having faith in the universe can have profound effects on your life. “Ask and ye shall receive” does not limit itself to human relationships. “Knock and the door shall open.” Ever heard of Synchronicity? No, not that Synchronicity. Sometimes, it’s simple: we hear about a concept for the first time, and then again, in the same day! Sometimes it’s life-changing: we secretly want to go into theatre, and we just happen to befriend the one person who would convince you to do it, then get accepted to the first theatre program you apply to. You’ve experienced it. You might call it coincidence. I say, God isn’t that lazy. The Universe is a living thing just like us. And it listens.

Imagine being able to bank on that? Knowing that if you step off the cliff something will catch you? “That guy just got a lucky break.” No, he got prepared for an opportunity, which then presented itself, and he jumped in. You can harness the power of the universe, of the Mysterium Tremendum, if you allow yourself to have Faith.

But having Faith is ignorant. Well I guess if you still believe that at this point you should stop reading. “I lost my faith in Scientific Absolutism,” an ex-Atheist might say.

Let’s bring it back from the cosmic to the personal. If I can have faith in the Universe, it becomes a lot easier to have faith in smaller structures. I have faith that the Canadian people will not elect another (read: the same) criminal mastermind for a third time. I have faith that no one will run a red light while I’m crossing the green. I have faith that no one will steal this bike if I leave it unattended for an hour without a lock.

You probably think, “Well, at least THAT faith is ignorant. I’ve had my bike stolen, and it had a lock!” Well, isn’t that a self-defeating attitude? People refuse to trust other people, which creates tension, and then those people do bad things, which gives the initial mistrusters proof their mistrust was valid. It is a vicious cycle, but it can be broken! Universal love – understanding that everyone is just the same, and embracing everyone, including ourselves, for everything they are and have done and will do – is the only way to a bright future where we live happily ever after in space. I believe it’s possible, but it has to happen on an individual level. And if one person doesn’t do it, our unity is lost, and we will always return to the backstabbing, power-hungry ways that have defined our last 4,000 years.

Having faith in our fellow human is a liberating and empowering state. It will bring you higher self-esteem, good fortune, and pride. It takes practice, of course. Start simply: read a self-help book like Psycho-Cybernetics which will teach you how. And if enough people get there, well, we might just reach the Star Trek age.

Faith is a tool that can be used for good (on an individual basis) and bad (organised religion). Pick it up and wield it for a while. See if it fits your grip. You won’t be sorry.

If it doesn’t, hey. At least you tried, right? 😉

Thanks for reading. Stay connected.

-T

The Joys of Cooking

Last night, I hosted a dinner party. It has been quite a while since I’ve hosted one. It was a magical evening, and I actually feel like I levelled up my culinary skills. I made an appetiser – Samosas – followed by Thai yellow curry and Chana Masala, finished with a Thai dessert, mangos with coconut sweet rice. I was a chef, not just a cook, and I was totally in my element. Though, I am not sure I can say that, while it was going on, I had fun. This morning, I look back, and laugh, sick with joy and overeating, and say, “Man,  it was so fun!” But it didn’t feel fun while it was happening.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is renowned for defining and exploring “Flow.” We all know what the word means, but he is referring specifically to a state of mind. You have felt it before, guaranteed. Think of something you love doing. Something challenging, that you’ve been doing for a while, and have come a long way since you started. Perhaps it’s painting, running, video games, or some task at work. When you do it, time passes like nothing. You are totally absorbed, overcoming challenges (maybe self-imposed ones), and you know you’re doing well. You even lose sense of who you are while you’re in it. For you, it’s a Flow activity.

One of the most interesting points I read in Flow was that these activities are not always fun – in fact, they can be downright painful – but they are always enjoyable. Enjoyment and pleasure are not the same thing. They can come together, but often don’t. If I’m shooting heroin, yeah, I have lots of pleasure, that’s the whole point. But afterwards, when I look back, did I enjoy it? Not likely. On the other hand, if I am playing a particularly difficult video game, and swearing at it, banging my head against the screen, it’s not fun in the least, but man, I keep doing it because I enjoy it. I feel like a stronger person afterwards. This is what we want in our activities.

Which brings me back to the dinner party.

We (my friend and I were having a culinary competition) started cooking, in earnest, at 17h00, and guests were to arrive at 19h00. I had planned out my process: the whole meal was going to take, from start to finish, 3.5 hours. This left a good 1.5 hours while guests were there that I’d still be cooking. I was ON, constantly, for even longer, about 4-5 hours, getting shit together, chopping, frying, cleaning, mixing drinks, chatting, talking shit, looking at recipes, drinking sake, etc. I had no concept of time. I was in the zone. The meal was all that mattered (and the guests, of course!). It was stressful! I didn’t feel like I could rest, even after everyone left, because there was always something to do. But this morning, I woke up, and thought about the process, people’s reactions to the food, MY reaction to the food (it was bloody amazing)… and laughed a boyish laugh.

One moment in particular struck me. I had just gotten together the Thai curry and was doubting that I’d be able to do the Masala. Surely, I could just do the curry, and it would be okay. I mean, it probably would have. But as soon as the curry was ready, I looked around and thought, “What next?” The answer, of course, was “Do the Masala.” Not, “I have a moment, I can sit and relax, fuck the Masala.” I had planned for this moment, I wrote it all out, step by step, and here I was, at step 9/10, and it came together. I didn’t stop to congratulate myself – what’s a self? – all that existed in the world was the tomato/onion paste, spices, chickpeas, and squash, for the next 10 minutes. That’s the moment I levelled up. I kept on that level until the dessert was done, even when more doubts (ah, we don’t really need this dessert, you never make dessert, it will take too long) struggled to be heard.

Someone at the party said, “I can’t believe you guys volunteered to do this, for fun!” Well, neither can I. It wasn’t just for fun. It was for the experience, and it was for my friends. Everything worth doing in life is hard. Embrace it! and you will be rewarded.

Thanks for reading. Go challenge yourself!

-T

The Mistakes We Make

Last week, I talked about how people had to fail at things in order to eventually succeed at them. This week I’m going to go more in-depth on that, based on what I have read recently in Psycho-Cybernetics: how to avoid a situation where you’re just banging your head against a door in hopes that it will open, or at least, eventually, break.

Today, I was playing Super Smash Brothers again. I play online, in max-6-minute 1-on-1 matches with other people online, in what is essentially a martial art. For a long time, I have not felt like I was improving, despite how much I play. I started to wonder why I was playing this game. I stopped playing for a good long while. A good friend of mine, who we’ll call Taylor, never stops playing this game, so naturally I am exposed to it once in a while. Recently I began using it as recreation again, and this week I read the next chapter in Psycho-Cybernetics. Entitled, “Letting your success mechanism work”, it expands on the same ideas I described yesterweek.

Let’s say I’m that baby from last week and I’m trying to pick up the thing from the coffee table. The only idea present in my head is the possibility of picking up the thing. It dominates my psychic energy. When I accidentally punch my sleeping mom in the mouth instead of picking up the thing, suddenly she, who is now surprised, possibly swearing, is in my head as a big negative idea. Clearly, I am not to blame, since I simply suck at picking up stuff and needs to improve; that was the whole point of picking up the thing in the first place. So what I need to do is acknowledge that I punched Mommy, and correct my course.

If you think about it, the way free will works is: first, we have an idea. Who knows where that came from, but it is potential. Then we decide whether we want to bring that possibility into reality. There’s a principle in Physics called Potential Energy, which is what objects have as a result of being in Earth’s gravity field. Any object gains Energy proportional to how much mass it has, and gets pulled down “by gravity” and gain the potential to “fall”. Thoughts we have begin to exist within the orbit of our consciousness, and gain the potential to “drop” into reality. Where Physics and our brains differ is that everything is variable in our heads. We can, by mental effort, effectively change the “mass” of those ideas, or change how strongly we resist/accept them. And if we view ourselves as weak, negative ideas will swell, and we will be powerless to stop them from happening.

As Baby, I am confronted now with these two ideas, and my psychic energy is divided between them. They are not the same size: Mommy is making sounds, emoting, which hugely contrasts to the room’s previous tranquillity. The thing is just a thing it’s been there for a while and I wasn’t really going to do anything with it. I am unable to cope; I can’t get this negative idea out of my head, and abandon the activity. In cases like this, experience has taught me crying is a good way of getting picked up and touched, which feels nice, so I’m going to cry.

Now I could be a foolish baby and decide, “last time I tried to pick up that thing, I punched Mommy in the face, so I shouldn’t even try, for fear of repeating the error!” In this case, the negative thought stays around my psyche like a miasma, reducing my ability to focus, impacting my normal habits of chewing on plastic and peeing. How can I relax and let it flow if I can’t stop thinking about that miserable failure? Even if I do try again, because damn, now I NEED the thing: I’m hungry and it’s food, this thought distracts me and I miss again, this time hitting my hand on the table, causing more pain, and further thickening my doubt. Now it’s more like a molasma.

You know, reading this, that the correct thing to do is put the negative thing out of my mind and grab the damn thing, get it over with. But this is an incredibly simple problem. As with all problems, the more complex they get, the harder they are to solve, and the more tries – and therefore failures – we’ll need. The important thing is that we practice actively flexing the “muscles” we use when we push those negative ideas away and nurture positive ideas. It’s sometimes called “thought control.” By meditating, or exerting self-control, or practicing whatever, we can get more selective about what thoughts occupy our current, conscious self. Maltz suggests we spend time actively confronting our negative ideas once they’ve served their purpose, and we have succeeded (either for real or in our minds), and kicking their ass, reject them so they don’t come back.

This is what I’m doing now, when I play Smash Brothers. When I lose a match, I immediately go through my head, imagine what happened, in detail, and correct the mistake I made. I create a registry of successful plays rather than failures, which is a much better well to draw from, in my books.

Another thing I want to point out is this doesn’t only apply to “activities”. Temptations, habits, split-second decisions, actual physical ability – all these are controlled by our ideas. Imagining oneself being successful, and forgetting your failures, are key to improving one’s abilities.

I gotta say, it has been a lot of fun drawing these parallels between physics principles I learned a decade ago to psychological principles I taught myself. If you’ve read this far, thank you, I hope you’ve understood them and they help you somehow.

Have a great Friday, and don’t sweat the small stuff (spoiler: it’s all small stuff).

-T