Expansion and contraction – Rebuilding habits is easier than we think

Sometimes we manage to build excellent habits and routines only to see them come crashing down around us. It might be because of a difficult event or even a crisis, or it may just be a lapse in awareness or even laziness.

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I’ve been going through this in my own life for the last week or so. Those of you who’ve read my latest posts (yep, all two of you) will know that I returned from Spain about ten days ago, where I walked the way of St. James. It was a wonderful experience, but coming home has left me very much out of sync. I’ve gotten so used to waking up between six and seven in the morning and just walking, eating and sleeping that now that the walk is over I find myself not knowing what to do with myself.

Before going to Spain I had gotten into a great routine of twice-daily meditation, journaling, yoga and exercise and general mindfulness, but the walk changed all that. That’s not to say that I didn’t do all those things during the walk, in fact I think I’ve never managed to develop my awareness so much before. I was very focused on being mindful while I was walking and I kept up the journaling habit as well, but the routines I had built were no longer relevant there.

So now I have this challenge that I’ve been working on since I got back, the challenge of re-adjusting to non-pilgrimage (haha).

First of all, I think accepting that I’m having difficulty getting back into habits that I thought I had gotten down completely is most important.

Sometimes we won’t admit to ourselves when something we thought was a sure thing ain’t so sure, and that obtuseness prevents us from seeing how things actually are and most importantly, prevents us from changing them to the better.

Secondly, I believe realizing that all the time we spent on building said habits was not wasted time.

Imagine a musician picking up his instrument after a year of not playing at all. He’ll be rusty, and he may even think his skillz have just evaporated completely. But give him an hour or two of getting back in to the groove, so to speak, and he’ll almost certainly have remembered loads of tunes and licks.

Compare that to the person picking up an instrument for the first time in her life. An hour or two of practice will not bring nearly the same results. That’s the difference between having ingrained neural pathways and, well, not having them.

In my experience, this phenomenon isn’t limited to muscle memory only, but in fact applies to all habits that we build, consciously or not, good or bad. We may have difficulties getting back into habits right away, after being lazy for a week, a month or a year, but like the musician we can get back into the groove relatively quickly if we put a bit of effort in.

I emphasize the ‘if’ because in the past, I’ve often put lots of effort into building a habit, only to drop it again, and then even if I want to build the habit again I wouldn’t put in the effort. Why? Because I felt like I was back on square one.

We have to realize that if we’ve worked on building a habit, we’ll never be back on square one. Every time we rebuild a habit, the easier it will be. Expansion and contraction, up and down. Building a habit and then losing it again are two sides to the same coin, and they are inevitable. That’s what I’ve been trying to accept. I’m not perfect, but then nothing is. Perfect is an abstract term, concieved by human beings. In nature, nothing is perfect, and so everything is perfect. Everything is just as it should be, just as it needs to be.

So let’s allow ourselves to expand and contract, without hang-ups.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to rediscover the joy of awareness.

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