Breaking Up With Habits

Nine months ago, we moved from NYC to the mountains of South Carolina. I looked at the move as a chance to leave behind some behaviors that no longer served me. Specifically, I wanted to engage in my own well-being by making conscious choices instead of convenient ones—to clean my own apartment instead of using a service; to cook my own food rather than daily to-go containers; to take hikes rather than shop for handbags. Admittedly, I could have done this while still living in NYC, but it seemed more viable to move where those values were already built into the setting. The changes were easy at first because they were new and exciting. I did my own laundry for the first time in 20 years, I filled my kitchen with farm produce rather than excess shoes, Paris mountain state park replaced Bloomingdales as my Saturday morning go-to.

But then… I found a restaurant where the bartender extra-pours my wine. Bloomingdales has a website. Laundry piles amass because I’m the one who has to do it.

In yogic philosophy, there’s this idea of samskaras: mental attitudes and ideas formed by our actions. Every time we repeat an action, it makes that impression a little deeper in our subconscious. Over time, it becomes harder and harder to smooth over that groove. And there’s your definition of a habit.

The other day, I found myself talking with a potential friend who started going very deep very fast, which is usually a positive sign you found someone you bond with. But then it started spiraling. The conversation became a therapy session masquerading as a coffee date. I found myself in territory I was very familiar with but unable to stop. It ended awkwardly— she told me everything and I revealed nothing. She looked anxious and I felt depleted.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I am a natural magnet for this situation because 1) I like to listen; 2) I like to offer insight; 3) I have an unhealthy need to be needed.

It’s not good. It puts the other person in a position of complete vulnerability that they may later regret, and it puts me in a martyr mentality that I ultimately resent.

I hadn’t previously thought of this trait as a samskara. My role as a teacher and healer demands empathy, but lines get fuzzy in the non-professional setting. In NYC, I assumed I always ended up in this social dynamic because the city is amuck with narcissists. It is the nature of survival in a setting that large.

This woman wasn’t a narcissist but somehow I had put her in a position where she needed to tell me everything that was going wrong, and I was just listening, not needing to reveal anything about myself. The irony is not lost. My behavior that day was agog with its own shade of insidious narcissism and it was also my most comfortable role. I recognized a real habit in my personal life that no longer served me.

We can’t fully pave over previous mental grooves, but we can create new, deeper ones through the repetition of different choices. And just like that, no matter how much it piles up, I am and always will be willing and grateful to do my own laundry.

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