As many of you know, I work at a software company, Church Community Builder. We were recently in a meeting deciding how to communicate something to our staff and I suggested we use our own software and proceeded to explain how that could work. I felt so confident, I had created message threads like this many times, maybe even hundreds of times. Turns out I was wrong.
Over the years, I have been in the habit of working in our churches’ software and logging in with very high administrative privileges. On our internal software, we all have permissions as a regular user. My habit of being an administrator made me ignorant of how our tools actually worked. I felt so confident…I was loud, positive, and wrong. Luckily the team extended me some grace and gently reminded me why my idea would not work as I had described.
When Habits are Harmful
We often think of habits as synonymous with disciplines – the daily activities I have put into my routine to make me better and stronger. Someone might say they have a habit of doing pushups every day before they read their Bible. Wonderful habits. Many years ago, a friend of mine defined habit as, “an unconscious routine performed without thinking.” Yes, I know..’unconscious’ and ‘without thinking’ are pretty similar. I think he stated it that way to make his point. Once something has become a habit for you, you stopped thinking about it and you are no longer making real decisions to do it, or not do it. At that point, I believe the habit is no longer serving you well. I prefer to live consciously and choose each action and decision as best I can.
Much like the software example above, another unconscious habit I have developed is driving home from work. Many times I have arrived home and have no recollection of driving at all; I was effectively asleep the whole way. To avoid that, I have decided to change my route home from time to time. I choose a new route and pay attention to the buildings and signs and turns and bumps in the road. That allows me to stay awake and alive. Interestingly, I find myself feeling more alive when I get home and I can better serve my family. What can you do to live awake?
- Change your Routine. As we repeat a pattern of behavior, we are strengthening the synapses related to that thought. Great for practice, but remember the other synapses in your head are decaying at a similar rate because you are not using them. Change something. The route to work, the hand you use to brush your teeth, the order you put your socks and shoes on. (Do you know how you put your socks and shoes on, or has ignorance grown there?) Change something and watch your brain come alive.
- Change your Language. Words are the programming language of the brain and body. The words we use matter. Learn some new ones. Subscribe to the Word of the Day emails…and actually use that word in a sentence that day. If accountability helps, set up a competition with a friend in the office – who can use it (correctly) first?
- Let them Decide. Next time you have a meal out, let the other person decide where to go. Not only is that nice to them, but also can encourage flexibility for you. Rather than your regular place, experiment a little. If you are feeling really bold, let others decide what you will eat as well. Ask the server to bring what they think they do best.
All these changes might be great, it might be horrible…doesn’t matter. The goal is to open up your world to new experiences and live more consciously each day.
Dan Millman tells a story of living awake:
The old man I call Socrates, my old mentor, was watching me in the gymnasium one night and I had done a full-twisting double somersault or something like that off the horizontal bar and I had stuck my landing, which is a good thing. I landed perfectly and I kinda went, “Yes!” And then I said, “That’s a good time to stop the workout.” So I ripped off my sweatshirt and I threw it in my workout bag.
And we were walking down the hallway afterward. And he turned to me and said, “You know, Dan, that last move you did was really sloppy.” And I said, “What are you talking about? That was the best move I did in two weeks.” He said, “Oh, I’m not talking about the dismount. I’m talking about the way you took off the sweatshirt and put it in your bag.”
He was reminding me again that I was treating one moment as special and another moment as ordinary. So he echoed that oft-repeated phrase, “There are no ordinary moments.”
Your Next Move
This one is simple, and not easy. Change something so you may live more conscious each day. Ask yourself what are those habits so deeply ingrained you have become ignorant of how the rest of the world works. Test new options and decide how you will behave next time.