How You Can Break Bad Habits & Heal Yourself

Written by Amber Shumake

I often ask my yogis, “Do you ever find yourself doing something that (a) your parents did and you swore you never would, or (b) you thought you were long past — as in, I’m so over that?” As they sit breathing with eyes closed, I get a series of nods and smiles.

“This is where I am,” I explain. I'm the rhetorical you.

I take it a step deeper: “So then you do (a) or (b) — an action that lasts mere moments, or maybe a few days, or a year, and you berate yourself for a period of time that your ego deems fits the crime. You listen to the same shameful soundtrack playing on repeat for days, months, decades.” The room laughs.

In Still Points North, Leigh Newman writes, “I want to tell myself, 'Hey, don’t worry. This is just some kind of throwback habit. There’s nothing you need to run away from.'” During her childhood, she split time between living with her distant father in Alaska and her manic mother in Baltimore. The turmoil of her childhood went largely unspoken, though she writes candidly about the toll of mental illness: “But if there was one thing I learned ... it’s that you have to watch yourself. Because when something starts going off inside, you probably won’t realize it. Mom didn’t ... And it’s not like anyone will tell you it’s happening, either, especially when you’ve arranged things so there’s never anyone there to see.”

I relate to this hypervigilance. I monitor most everything in my life like a micromanifester. I, too, come from a family riddled with mental illness, and I've always feared having a break with reality. I know it’s somewhat irrational because I take impeccable care of myself. But sometimes I get tired and say, Fuck it. Let me eat macaroni and cheese and drink red wine and only practice handstands. Let me pay the minimum on my credit cards and buy lavish stretchy pants and treat myself to luxurious vacations. Let me choose caffeine over sleep and leave dishes in the sink for days. For the love of all that’s holy, let me just let go. That’s when it happens. I slip. I fall. I’m content to lurk in the shadow for a while until the sun inevitably shines again. But as I start to pick up the pieces of my life, I find that I struggle to move on toward the light. I can't sweep the shame from beneath my feet, dust myself off, and forgive.

As I've hunted for ways in which one can move past disempowering dialogues this week, I've found these two processes helpful:

1. Ana Forrest describes a potent formula for change:

  • Catch that you’re doing the behavior.
  • Take 10 deep breaths and reset.
  • Reward yourself lavishly for catching the behavior.
  • Take one step toward healing.

Just like yoga, healing is a process: a practice. The word never — as in, I’ll never do/say/be like — sets us up for failure. Step by step, day by day, moment by moment, deep breath by deep breath.

2. Wayne Dyer invites you to strike up a conversation with the mind, so I wrote my mind a letter, imploring her to start working with me and for me:

Dear Mind,

I have some old habits: mutilating with mean thoughts and toxic behaviors, working until the point of exhaustion, sabotaging relationships for fear that others might see these things. In spite of these habits, I'm still worthy of my own love and affection — even more so now, because I’m going to need it to make some changes in these areas. I hear you trying to tell me that I’m a renowned writer and teacher — a person who should know better, who will disappoint all those people sitting behind the computer saying, I told you she was a fake, who should leave this piece in the queue for only my eyes to see.

But let me tell you something, Mind: you are not the boss of me. I know I’m not alone. I’m making a conscious effort here to shine a light in my shadows so others can see: we are not alone. We have the power to choose a different thought, a different habit. And, that’s what I’m doing. Here I go, again. In love, Amber.

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