Lunch with an old friend. Knitting. Smoking. Eating ice cream. The beat of a favorite song. Walking in the neighborhood. Drinking. Obsessing about work.
Habit patterns create deep grooves in the mind and personality. Some habits, like addictions, create chaos in our lives. Some, like a good night’s sleep at home in bed, are stabilizing.
Thought patterns create familiarity too. Knowing this can help us understand why we have such a tough time changing. And why we are comforted by old habits when we’ve had the rug pulled out from under our feet.
For most of us, there is a pull or compulsion in the familiar. This is partly why it can be difficult to make dramatic changes in our patterns. My meditation teacher Swami Veda advised us to change any type of habit by ten percent. Let that settle then work on another ten percent change.
Working with our minds, it’s helpful to accept that we have created momentum through past thoughts. If we have a pattern of negative thinking, it’s not going to change overnight.
Strategies like challenging the truth of our thoughts can be powerful. If I believe the only way to be happy is if a certain person approves of me, that creates a dynamic different from if I know that thought to be false.
Familiar thoughts, people, locations and activities can also create an identity, which we might believe is who we really are. This collection of processes is woven together with memories of the past along with hopes and fears for the future. Words, images, sensations in the body – a potent combination of familiarity that can feel like a real ‘me’.