“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” ~Charles C. Noble
Until recently, I firmly believed that a classic set of toxic habits consisted of nail biting, smoking cigarettes, and abusing alcohol and drugs.
I completely forgot that there are some behavior patterns that can do equally bad damage to our vital and creative energy, claiming control over our lives and holding us back.
Ignorance is bliss, someone once said. I overstayed my welcome in that state of mind more than once. I thought my bad habits were actually making my life easier, and following the path to personal growth always seemed so cumbersome.
Eventually, my desire to improve became stronger than my fear of getting out of my comfort zone. I realized that the patterns of my behavior were too destructive and the feeling of comfort and familiarity was just an illusion.
So I decided to look long and hard at everything that had to be changed. The first step would be to break a set of toxic habits and take back control.
1. A thirst for approval.
I spent a large part of my life doing things in the hope of getting others’ approval.
I did things I didn’t want to do and not things I felt passionate about. I would sit and learn math to fulfill my parents’ dream of me becoming an economist, while all I wanted to do was to paint, write, and read books about nature, biology, and psychology.
I even stopped writing, which I feel is my purpose, because certain people saw it as a hobby. In chasing their approval, I completely gave up control of my life.
But the ugliest truth is that I valued their opinion of me more than my own. No matter how great I did, no matter how much positive feedback I received, it never seemed to be enough.
When we make approval-seeking a habit, we lose touch with who we are and what we really want, meaning we’ll never be able to truly approve of ourselves.
2. Sit. Wait. Hope.
I used to sit and wait and hope that somehow a complicated situation would magically resolve itself. I thought that if I waited long enough, I would suddenly understand my purpose, write a book in one sitting, and my body would get in shape without doing anything.
I would spend countless hours sitting and procrastinating, believing that “good things come to those who wait,” whereas, in reality, “better things come to those who work hard for it and have patience to wait for the results.”
There is a huge difference between procrastinating and mindfully waiting for something good to happen. When you work toward a goal and you have patience to see it through, you mindfully wait for the fruits of your work to bring you closer to your goal. And there sure isn’t anything mindful about aimlessly procrastinating and not doing anything productive.
I finally understood that waiting and hoping for something good to happen in my life would never bring me any satisfaction. Notice that the word “satisfaction” ends with “action.”
Action is that formula that brings us happiness, as we need to take action to see results.
3. Super competitive-comparative mode.
From childhood, it was somehow wired in my mind that I had to prove that I was better than everyone else in whatever I did. This state of constant competitiveness and stress about being taken over by someone else kept me going for years.
I cared so much about being better, stronger, and about reaching excellence before everyone else that I completely forgot how to breathe normally, how to connect with people, and how not to alienate everyone.
I didn’t have many friends back then. And it’s really lonely up there on the top when you have no one to share even the smallest of your achievements.
Excessive competitiveness brought out the aggressive, rootless, and a little bit obsessive-compulsive part of me.
When I saw my true colors, I simply didn’t like that person in the mirror. I decided mindfully to release the desire to be better than everyone (which isn’t even possible) and only compare myself with myself of all the yesterdays.
After all, it’s not about being better than everyone in this world (that’s a lot of competition); it’s about being better than ourselves compared to who we were before and reflecting on our progress from that point.
4. Relying too much on other people.
When I wasn’t feeling like doing something, I would pass it over to someone else. And then I would rely on that person to do things for me instead of learning how to solve challenges myself.
I relied completely on other people when I moved to London from Saint-Petersburg. I was hiding behind my fear of having to meet new people, learn new culture, and speak a different language.
My partner was extremely supportive, but even he would get annoyed with me sometimes when I would be afraid to go to a shop, call my bank, or try to plan a weekend getaway. He kept insisting that I took more responsibility, because this was the only way to learn how to solve problems.
I didn’t see that the more others did things I didn’t feel like doing, the more opportunities for growth I missed.
When you look at sequoia tree up close, it is so enormous, you feel like an ant before it. But when you step back and see it from a mountaintop, it looks like a tiny match from a matchbox.
The same goes to our daily challenges in life. Up close, they seem so formidable and unsolvable, but that’s only true if we refuse to try.
And no matter how many challenges we pass on to someone else, life will always have more in store. After all, we receive one lesson that repeats itself until we learn it. And the fastest way to learn it is to tackle it head on. Then, and only then we are ready to move on.
We all have unhealthy habits. Identifying them and working to eliminate them can dramatically improve the quality of our life. It may take time to introduce changes, but if you do it mindfully and focus on the benefits, you’ll feel less resistance and a readiness to change for the better.
Photo by Karen Corby