In parts of my life, I tend to get stuck. Some might call them old habits. It’s really that I will non-consciously repeat behaviors that aren’t particularly useful to me. The Practice has given me the tools I need to become aware of these behaviors, and as a result I can change them.
Joseph and Susan have taught me that this level of awareness comes in stages. When I started training, I was completely oblivious and often in denial. My life wasn’t quite a Jerry Springer episode, but have you ever see those guys on that show who get a paternity test result and still deny ever being with the girl? That level of denial.
In time, first I become aware of something after the behavior is done. I have to admit that I’ve done these behaviors, not just to others but to myself. This is an aspect of responsibility, which you’ll see in the NextStage Principles #6, and in a recent post by Joseph.
The second stage is that I become aware of something while it’s happening – like when I’m aware that I’m writing an email that’s too defensive, but I send it anyway. At this point I may not quite be able to stop the behavior, but at least I can understand what the behavior feels like, and what circumstances brought it out.
Then with time and Practice, I am becoming aware of of these behaviors before they start, and recognize situations that may cause these reactions in me. This level of awareness gives me the power to choose how to react, and the power to choose more productive behaviors.
One of methods of attaining this deeper level of awareness of myself is to try to understand where I first learned the behavior, and how it helped me to get to where I am. Yes, my defensive reaction at some point was useful to me – it was so useful that it became a lifelong habit. It may not have been the perfect tool, but sometimes you can use a wrench to pound a nail in. That’s why habits are hard to break for me – at some point they were positive and useful.
What I’ve learned is that I don’t need to use my trusty wrench to pound in every nail I come across, I’ve got a shiny hammer right here. It’s much easier, and much more effective. If I pause for a moment, I might realize I’ve got a powerful nail gun I could use instead. Heck sometimes I don’t need to pound the nail in at all, I can just leave it there and everything will be fine.
The Practice has given me more tools in my toolbox to use. What is difficult for me is to let go of using the old tools. I love that wrench. It feels comfortable in my hand, it’s sitting right on top of the tool box and I don’t have to go digging for it, it’s practically an extension of my arm. The nail gun is way over there in the corner and I need to set it up and turn on the air compressor and all that, and my wrench is RIGHT HERE!
There’s a melancholy here for me – it’s like having a favorite sweater then one day realizing it has a big hole in the elbow. I feel a certain sadness. This process, and these feelings, for me apply not just to old habits, but people and relationships as well – even physical things that I’ve kept around longer than I should.
Something that I’ve been taught to do has been incredibly valuable for when I realize something is no longer useful. I honor and thank that habit/person/thing that has helped me reach this point in my life (because they all helped me get to here), and then I invite it to rest.
I will always know where to find it, and how to use it if a situation comes up where I really need it again. I’m not throwing the wrench away, I’m acknowledging and honoring the role and purpose it has served for me, and accepting that I don’t need to use it for everything.
When I finally get there this process feels releasing to me, and when I’m honest with myself I know that the hammer is better for pounding nails, and the nail gun is better still! My life will be so much more productive, successful and easier when I choose the nail gun. With Practice, that nail gun becomes just as handy as the wrench, and if I find myself needing tighten a bolt, I can go back and grab it.