zen habits : breathe

Breaking a Bad Habit Shatters the Rung Beneath You

Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post from Sean Platt of Writer Dad.

I’ve always thought of life as a spiraling staircase, gracefully wrapping around time and achievement, as opposed to the blunt vertical found on a ladder. Comparing life’s ascension to a set of stairs is often apt, but there are moments when life as ladder is far more fitting, such as when we find ourselves stuck between rungs, mired in the middle of old pattern and new performance. This is when the decisive climb from one rung to the next must begin so that we may climb toward our tomorrow, while leaving yesterday behind.

Steps may be clambered in tandem (my wife and I often fall into reflexive harmony when we find ourselves on stairs together), but climbing a ladder is a solitary endeavor. We begin at the bottom, then spend our lifetimes reaching for the top, each rung pulling us closer to dusk and further from dawn. Destinations are determined by our daily decisions, as is our grasp and the speed of our climb.

Each of us finds ourselves at some point stuck between the rungs, pinned at an impasse. Perhaps success has halted, and our growth is no longer happening at the rate it once was. We can wrap our hands around the rung above, but we do not have the strength to pull ourselves upward. Often, it is the rung just below that is holding us hostage with insubordinate habit. It is then when we must lower our heel, shatter the habits to bits, and then continue to climb without looking behind.

It is never too late to learn a new habit; never to early to shed the old like dead, useless skin. Bad habits are formed by the slow and steady accumulation of mindless minutes. As a million years of rainfall will smooth the slope of a mountain summit, so do a million misplaced moments warp our good intentions.

We all are capable of reverse engineering our own bad behavior, but we cannot unlock the door without looking for the key.

We can start by searching for the reason in our routine. Understanding why we do something is an excellent precursor to halting the undesirable. If a bad habit is built by a sequence of negative actions, then a good habit can be formed by stringing opposite elements in an opposing direction.

New habits are most difficult at their birth. The links of our new chain are frail, and barely strong enough to hold their weight, but every moment of determination thickens our resolve.

For the last three years, I’ve run a preschool with my wife. Recently, I sailed the seas to full time writer. The needs of a cadre of kiddies are nowhere close to those of the online world, and adjustments needed to be made.

At first, it was easy to allow my old habits to swallow me. It would have been simple to swear I was doing my best, but I wasn’t. The whisper was there, and I rarely commanded his  silence. You know the voice, we all have one. Mine tells me to check my email, or my analytics… or my email (it’s been five minutes after all). Telling myself I could do better wasn’t enough. I needed to reach for the rung, and pull with all my might.

I could tell you that I used the mute on my computer to silence the song of my inbox, or preach the pluses of using pen and paper, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Not one single bit. What worked for me may not work for you. I’ve read enough tips to know. I don’t need a “How To,” I need a “Why Should I.”

It is the universal thread that’s important – our need to change, and desire to do so. When want meets willing, there is no limit to how high we can climb.

Read more from Sean Platt at his blog, Writer Dad, or subscribe to his feed.

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