There is an old question asking how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to really want to change.
We have all made New Year’s resolutions; some we have maintained most we forgot until the same time in the following years. One reason is that the ability to change habitual responses exists in a very short window of time. As routine events and experiences of the day race by the time to enact a change or modification of old habits is fleeting.
As a dentist now retired, I have always been motivated to floss my teeth. Even so, at times flossing feels more like a chore than a beneficial action. Not a huge problem but good for an example of a repetitive action that could be less bothersome.
Start with imaging you are playing baseball or as I am retired slow pitch soft ball. The pitcher throws the ball. The window of time to contact the ball when swinging the bat is very small. As the ball come towards you getting closer you have about one second or less to swing while the ball is within the hitting zone. After that if missed the ball in the catcher’s glove. All you can do is prepare and form an intention of what to do for the next pitch.
Next, breathe out comfortably and slowly as you allow your lungs to empty. Then stop for a few seconds and allow your body to start breathing in on its own. Notice the moment of quiet calm in the second or so that the breathing has stopped before it starts to comeback in. This moment is also fleeting and short lived.
Now imagine and choose some repetitive experience or thought you have that is frustrating or bothersome. It might be getting caught at a red light on your way to dinner or a noisy blasting radio in the car next to you. Your immediate response to this sense contact is without your conscious thought; it happens rapidly – something happens that you do not like. However, the waiting for the red light continues as well as the imagined noise along with your uncomfortable sensations of not liking it.
Good news – you can interrupt the cycle. You can jump into the contact zone of the pitched softball or the gap of stillness just after the out breath and before your body starts to breath in again. It is a small moment of time but it is the best place to initiate a change. Once the opportunity of this fleeting moment has passed your habitual conditioned response kicks in and the irritation of the event remains and possibly builds leaving echoes that may affect your mood.
The solution is to set an intention of remaining content and knowing that you have a choice. Be ready for the next pitch. You will have to act fast. As soon as you notice that something is happening that usually bothers you. STOP. Immediately recall your intention to remain content. Act before your habitual response can jump in. Yes, there is some discomfort is making this choice but it is less than sliding down the slippery slope of old habits. The sooner and faster you act the less painful and more valuable the result.
The above examples are minor obstacles and may be a good place to start. You “can” choose to not go down the slippery path of conditioned habitual response to repetitive experience. But first you have to want to change.