Each moment of every day we perform actions which, when put together, make up who we are. The vast majority are rooted somewhere outside our momentary awareness, guided by all the experiences, knowledge, and feelings we have acquired up to this point. Often referred to as habits, these can range in their benefit - both to us and others - and in their ability to spread positive or negative energy. For example, the habit of working to make money may have great benefit financially to us and our family, but if out of balance, may create negative energy in our family relationships because of what we are neglecting. Whatever our habits may be, I find that the term “habit” generally has a negative connotation.
A cursory google search turned up 20,700,000 results for the term “bad habit” vs. 11,300,00 for the term “good habit.” When I think of a habit, I think of something that often arises unintentionally and is difficult to change. Instead, I prefer to think of my actions individually, as if each time I engage in a behavior I have a choice, sometimes making one that I like and other times not. In this way, each action isn’t burdened by the overwhelming amount of experiences that led to it or the expectation of a certain outcome - which can make an attempt to change it seem futile. I do my best, assess, and come back the next time ready to do better. This way of thinking about it, every moment of life is just practice.
When I think of my actions as practice, I feel liberated from the confines of predetermined, habitual behavior. In effect, I shift process and thought from the past or future to the now. Instead of thinking “I am this kind of person,” I can say “I behaved in this way.” From here, an exploration of the motivations that led to the behavior can ensue - far more objectively than if it held the weight of defining who I am - which provides the necessary information to do better the next time. Practice is something that I need not be perfect at, so each time I choose practice, I am able to engage with creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to fail.
There is a juncture between practice and mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as a practice and when we truly practice, we are being mindful. Being fully present in a moment, as is the practice of mindfulness, we let go of thinking about how the action we are undertaking defines who we have been or who we will be. This frees and enables us to perform to our fullest capacity. Ironically, not focusing on the past or the future while performing each daily task ultimately leads to the best possible result. (I write that last sentence fully knowing that it may be seen as hyperbole and also roundly believing in its truth!)
Instead of being defined by our habits, let us be transformed by our practices. Everyday, each moment is another opportunity to practice something. And if it doesn’t go so well? Another is just moments away. In the meantime, maybe a little practice at letting go of the habit of negative self-judgment could be good. Just keep practicing!