zen habits : breathe

The Child That Holds Us Back

By Leo Babauta

It took me a long time to figure out why I, and so many others, have difficulties changing habits and making lasting changes in our lives.

It all comes down to a little child. And that child lives within each of us.

I had a hard time quitting smoking in 2005, because I really didn’t like the extreme discomfort of enduring the powerful urges to smoke. It was hard, and I kept trying to rationalize giving up. I kept wanting to give in to the urges, and make life easy again. At my weakest moments, I wanted to give up.

And I had given up, the seven previous times I tried to quit smoking and failed. I gave in to the urges, to the rationalizations, to the voice that said, “Go ahead and smoke — why are you making life so miserable for yourself? Life is too short.”

This is the voice that stops us from making lasting changes.

This is the voice that says it’s OK to have those pastries, those French fries, that fried chicken. Life should be pleasurable!

This is the same voice that says it’s OK to skip out on exercise, because exercise is uncomfortable and not fun and you’d rather be on Facebook or playing video games or watching TV. Life is too short for misery!

This is the same voice that causes you to procrastinate when you’re facing a difficult task. It causes you to skip meditation, or skip learning a language, or skip writing your book, because you’d rather be doing something easier.

This is the voice that keeps you from starting your own business, or pursuing the job you always wanted, because you’re afraid of failure.

It’s the voice that gives up when things are hard, and convinces you to give up too. It keeps you from meeting the love of your life, because you don’t want to go through the uncomfortableness of meeting new people. It keeps you from keeping the love of your life, because being honest with them is scary. It keeps you from learning to be alone with yourself, because that’s scary and lonely.

This voice isn’t you. It’s a little child inside you. It’s the younger version of you, perhaps when you were 5 or 6.

This little child, this younger you, doesn’t like things that are uncomfortable or scary or difficult. What 5-year-old does?

This little child likes things that are comfortable and safe and pleasurable.

This is the child that you were when you learned all your thinking habits, when you tried things and quit because they were hard. Who could blame a 5-year-old for being like that?

But you’re not 5 years old anymore. And yet your life is run by this 5-year-old. Mine was for many years, and sometimes still is when I’m not aware of what’s going on.

The trick is to notice that this 5-year-old child is telling you what to do. But don’t listen. Don’t obey. Don’t believe its rationalizations.

You can endure difficulty. You can learn to be OK with discomfort. You can face the fear.



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