What are the things that you do every day, over and over again? Do the things you repeat contribute to you becoming the person you most wish to be? The fabric of your life is composed of these repetitions. Out of what materials are you weaving that fabric?
All of your unconscious habits can be transmuted into conscious practices. Are you playing it safe because you’ve been conditioned to do so, or do you take risks in a deliberate attempt to become more courageous? Do you always write with your dominant hand? If so, you’ll never become ambidextrous. Do you always try to win arguments? If so, you won’t learn how to collaborate. How much intention goes into your practices of self-care, or communication, or how you use your mind?
What kind of person do you most wish to be? You can fill your life with the conscious practices that will make you that person. After all, you are what you repeat.
May 17, 2012
Everyone knows the adage ‘You are what you eat.’ So if you eat an ice cream sundae, does that make you an ice cream sundae? Kind of, because the sundae will have an influence on your mood and on your physiology, at least for the moment. But if you eat that sundae in the context of a diet of healthy whole foods, then mostly you are those healthy whole foods, because you’re not just what you eat, you are what you repeatedly eat. So if you have an ice cream sundae everyday or more than once a day then you’re definitely an ice cream sundae.
What you eat becomes the substance of your body. In the same way, the ways that you behave every day, the ways you interact with people, the ways that you see the world and think about it habitually, those become the substance of your personality, of your life style, of the community that you create and of the impact that you have on the world around you because you are what you repeat.
So, ask yourself what are the things that you repeat? What are the things that you do day after day, every day? And do those help you become the kind of person you most want to be? Because they are forming the substance of who you are?
There are two general kinds of things that we do over and over again. There are on the one hand unconscious habits and on the other hand conscious practices. Unconscious habits are ways of being that we’ve just picked up, they’re usually not deliberate, or they are, but they’re obsolete. Mostly they’re kind of automatic pilot ways of behaving that we don’t think much about or even register that we are doing. We think they are the only way to be.
Conscious practices are usually deliberate. At some point you make a decision that there is a way of behaving that you recognize will benefit you and make your life better and so you take it on consciously. And the goal is to transmute the former into the latter. Your life becomes richer and more deliberate, the more that you can make unconscious habits into conscious practices.
I live in San Francisco and so I often have the experience of walking down busy city streets. Once upon a time I made this decision that I would have a practice, a conscious practice of being unusually friendly and that meant saying hello to people, making eye contact, smiling at people. And in part because I could already tell that I liked people, but in part because as I did it I found I liked people more and more.
Now it’s easy to do the opposite, especially in the city, there’s so many people and you can want to protect yourself from the influence of all of them. And so people walk looking down at the ground, they avoid eye contact, they don’t act friendly toward one another and that creates a certain kind of experience. It cultivates in oneself a kind of isolation or potentially a kind of protection or carefulness. Whereas being unusually friendly cultivates not just friendliness, but a sense of community and inclusion, a feeling like we’re all in this together, we’re all part of this thing together and we can enjoy each other even in the small moments that we have with each other.
Both practices, the unconscious one and the conscious one cultivate certain qualities in a person. And that’s how practices work, all practices cultivate certain qualities. Spiritual practices like meditation or Yoga or tai-chi have been developed over centuries because they managed to cultivate a number of desirable qualities simultaneously. If you engage them everyday, you can develop your ability to witness or to not be identified with thoughts and feelings, or to breathe in a more conscious way that gives you more energy, or to have greater balance or body awareness. These are qualities that are deliberately cultivated from these kinds of spiritual practices which is why they are popular and desirable.
But you can cultivate tailor made practices. Practices that are just for you, that are based on the kinds of qualities you want to cultivate for yourself. For instance, do you want to be more spontaneous or more tenacious to have the ability to stand up for yourself in the face of adversity or stay calm in a crisis or have more peacefulness or compassion?
There are so many different kinds of qualities that you might want to cultivate, and for each of them you can come up with practices that will help you become more that way. For instance you might want to park your car differently than you normally do, so that you celebrate when somebody who is driving in front of you finds a parking spot, because we’re all in this together and we all need parking.
And then once you arrive in your car you stop and breathe for a couple of breaths to slow yourself down before doing the next thing. Maybe before you go to bed at nights, you want to take time to notice three good things that happened in the day and then think about why they happened. That will change your outlook on your day. Maybe you don’t want to go bed with dishes in the sink. Maybe you want to make sure that instead of making demands on people, you make requests of them or come up with a different way of answering how are you, instead of saying fine - answering in a way that is genuine and vulnerable. These are all qualities, these are all practices rather that cultivate qualities that you might want for yourself. So, you can tailor make practices for yourself.
There’s one very important thing to remember about conscious practices, and that is you will forget to do them, when they’re new it’s inevitable. There’s the cycle of practice and it goes like this: you practice and then you forget to practice, and then you forget that you forgot to practice, and then finally eventually you remember that you’ve forgot to practice and then you practice.
That’s always how it goes. Don’t be down on yourself for slipping back into old ways of being, old unconscious habits, it’s okay, just come back again and again to how it is that you’d like to be behaving, because you are what you repeat. And over time you will grow and develop in ways that are in concordance with the practices that you decide to create for yourself and that you continue to do. So, make your life deliberate, make it conscious, repeat the things you want to repeat.