Jai Shri Hari!!!
Firstly, a sincere thanks to everyone on this platform and Swamiji. You all have become my spiritual brothers and sisters(something I yearned for a long time). In this post, I will explore the art and science behind forming habits and encouraging ourselves.
I think it was the year 2011 or 2012, I used to binge watch shows like Top Chef and Breaking Bad at night and feel bad about wasting my time while going to bed. On a whim, I signed up for a 10 day Vipassana course on the recommendation of a friend. I came back with a resolve to change my habits. I replaced my TV watching with 1 hour long meditation overnight. I stuck to the habit for a lot longer than the 40 or 60 days that experts recommended for forming a habit. Yet, I didn’t find myself becoming more mindful or compassionate. I was (and still am) puzzled; all the science I was reading and watching was unanimous in the verdict that meditation made us calm/mindful/happy and a million other things. There was even a study of participants meditating for 10-20 minutes for 20 odd days and showing measurable improvement. Why wasn’t it working for me? Why was I upset just as easily as before(or maybe even worse)?. It is a question that tormented me for long. There are many answers to the question 1) I didn’t focus on harmony in my actions at the same time 2) I wasn’t concentrating well enough in my meditation and was even dozing off in between. While all things are true, my light bulb went off when I was reading “Tiny habits” by BJ Fogg many years later(This book along with fistful of love and million thoughts are what I would carry if I was in a deserted island). According to him, “Emotions create habits, not repetition” and “we all endure a lifetime of self criticism”. We all carry our mental habits to meditation sessions as well and instead of congratulating myself for making the effort and sitting on the meditation cushion for 1 long hour, I was criticizing myself for not concentrating well enough or dozing off. Every time I caught my mind straying off, I got a little upset with my mind. I might have thought that maybe others don’t do it as much, but while talking to a devotee in the Ashram, she mentioned that she always selected “so/so” in the answer to the review question on black lotus(earlier version of BL). Until I realized my mistake, even in the new version of BL I was selecting “worse” in response to the question “how do you feel?” on most days. I was feeling worse because I had unrealistic expectations from my meditation sessions. I didn’t expect God to manifest, but I did expect that I should sit with one pointed concentration. That is like asking a child who plays gully cricket to play professional sport and excel at it. Now, most days when I catch myself straying or even dozing off(it’s a little harder with dozing), I tell myself “I am doing the best I can”. Earlier when I lost my patience with kids, I would go into self criticism and go down the rabbit hole in to worse behavior. Now, once in a while I catch myself saying “You did the best you can”. It is not an overnight transformation, but I believe this is the first step before correcting anything else. This is my new mantra. I encourage you to find yours. I found the mantra directly from BJ fogg (to whom I should be eternally grateful), he dedicates an entire chapter to Celebration and an Appendix full of celebration methods to see what would work for us.
BJ expounds that we have to celebrate our victories and we have to determine the celebration method that works for us. There are a number of ways to determine our natural style of celebration. For example, what do u do when you drill a basketball in to the basket (Do you pump your fist?). The key is to not only determine our style of celebration, but also integrate in to the everyday habits that we are trying to inculcate. For me, determining my natural style of celebration was (and continues to be) a big battle. When I tried fist pumps, it felt cheesy to me. I even tried to put on some music and dance, but that didn’t work either. I finally stumbled upon the celebration worked for me. When I tell myself that I have to do something and I finally do it, all I have to do to celebrate is to describe it to myself. For example, I can say “you did the japa today” or “you wanted to do the japa after lunch and you maintained your streak”. There needs to be no “good job” or “yeah” or fist pumps for me.
In summary, I encourage you to do these 3 things
- Lower the expectations that you have from yourself and make the habits Tiny. For example, if you are trying to develop a habit of meditating, you can lower expectation to just sitting down on the meditation cushion and anything you do beyond that is bonus.
- Find a method to celebrate/appreciate the good habits you are trying to develop or you already have.
- In order for habit to stick, practice celebration.
I also encourage you to read the Tiny habits book if possible as what I have written is only a small speck of what is in the book. In the comments section, please write down your method of celebration (if you happen to determine it or practice it). As far as meditating is concerned, Swamiji the genius has already incorporated it into BL with the smiley face at the end of meditation session. Just make sure u don’t click on “worse” or “same” most of the time in response to the question “How do you feel”?
Thanks for your time.