Last week, I presented a list of 8 bad habits. The post received an overwhelmingly positive response, but some of our readers wanted more. They said, “OK, I get that I shouldn’t do those things, but that’s easier said than done.” And I agree completely.
I thought about this over the past week, and my initial instinct was to go through each item describing ways to eliminate each habit. However, as I brainstormed, I found that many of those issues can be resolved by similar means. So instead of going back through that list, I thought, why not talk about 7 great habits that can be used to replace those (and many other) unskillful habits?
1. Making time for complaints
This is a direct answer to the first item on the previous list: Complaining, which is a completely normal human tendency. The problem is that we do it often, and we do it unconsciously. So why not try complaining from a state of complete awareness?
Take a specific amount of time, or a few, each day to complain. I’ve found a great medium for this is journaling, but if you’re not into that, then you can implement ‘mental journaling.’ Simply sit and think or write about everything that’s bothering you in that moment. No filters, no judgement. Then, put it aside. If complaints crop up (as they do) outside of your allotted complaint time, simply acknowledge them, and save it for later.
2. Cultivate kindness
Or as the Buddhists say, lovingkindness or metta. This great habit is in response to gossiping, another unskillful pattern of behavior. For some, kindness toward self and others comes easy. For many, it does not. That doesn’t mean that you are unkind. It simply means it may take a little more doing to bring it out of you. It starts with you.
When you cultivate lovingkindess toward yourself, then it begins to spread outward to others. It can produce an incredible sense of well-being, joy, and motivation, and acting from this mindset illuminates how truly unskillful are gossiping, cruelty, ill will, etc. Click the link to learn how to be kind.
3. Goal Setting
A response to procrastination, but setting goals seeps into all aspects of our lives. It will often eliminate procrastination along with many other unconscious habits while providing massive spikes in motivation. Goal setting is something that most people know they should do, but cannot bring themselves to do it. Often this aversion is fear-based. We’re afraid to set goals because we are afraid to fail AND we are unconsciously accustomed to the pain of keeping ourselves in a foggy place.
Some people choose to live an existence from one moment to the next without concrete goals or plans, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if there are tangible things you really want in this life, setting them out in a structured way can literally change your mode of life. It is a very individual practice that differs for everyone, so I urge you to find what works for you, but here is a good place to start.
4. Structured downtime
The counter to ‘incessant business.’ Often, as our lives get busier for one reason or another, we run and run until we crash. We get our break time, but often in an unconscious, inefficient way. Maybe work is your life, but if that’s the case you probably understand that in order to keep doing good work, you need a rest every now and again. This happens inevitably, and can often be a point of anxiety if it is unplanned.
For instance, we’re consumed with work and we forgot our best friend’s birthday, but we have to go. You spend the whole time thinking about how you should be working. Or, we’ve been working so much that we overslept the next day. We needed the sleep, but it has caused problems for us. These are not the best examples, but you get the idea.
Take the time each day, or week, or month; whatever works for you, and plan your downtime. Of course, things will pop up out of the blue. That’s life. But planning your downtime can largely minimize the negative effect it has on your life. After all, leisure should be a positive part of your existence!
5. Staying inquisitive
In response to ‘spending money on things you don’t need’ and ‘worrying about what everyone thinks about you,’ this may seem a little vague so let’s explore. We all know the adage, “think before you speak.” Well, I say, “Ask before you think, then speak (or act) if you must.” Of course, the brain doesn’t really work like that, but the point is that we may have an impulse or fear or whatever, and we feel we need to act immediately. When a thought like this arises, get into the habit of calmly asking yourself a question.
For instance, “Why do I want to buy this guitar?” Is it because it looks cool, and it will make me look cool? Do I just like the idea of it? Or is it because it will increase my well-being? Is it because I’d honestly love to learn how to express myself through music?
Similarly, when you’re worried about what other people are thinking of you, ask yourself why. Am I afraid they won’t like me? Am I trying to hide something? Does it matter what others think? What do I think about myself? That is the most important question. It all comes back to you.
This habit can be applied to almost anything. You can use it during an argument, for making tough decisions, for creating any type of art…you name it. Embrace the question.
6. Focusing on the positive
The cure for ‘perfectionism and self-doubt.’ This has the potential to be one of the most life-changing habits. I’m not talking about prancing around with a false sense of positivity. I’m talking about noticing when something goes right for you.
We are wired to hone in on our failures and mistakes so that we can make adjustment and prevent that from happening again. Fine, but if we are in that mindset all the time, then we are probably not very happy people on top of the fact that we’re always sniffing out failure. Then we can’t let go of our own and we begin to judge others for their failure.
Every time you accomplish something big or small, get into the habit of taking note. Say, “look what I just did. I’m awesome.” It is as simple as that. The more you do it, the more you will balance out the negative.
Oh, ho ho…the mother of all great habits (in my book anyway). This is in direct response to ‘dwelling on the past and worrying about the future.’ However, this can be the overarching cure to all unskillful habits if used correctly.
Meditation is practice. We are practicing being present. Only in presence can we destroy our anxieties about the past and future. You’ll notice that all aforementioned habits in this article have an element of this.
It is about dropping into your true self. You become the observer who sees all your inner workings; how they affect your thoughts, emotions and actions. From this place, we are able to complain consciously, cultivate kindness, set goals, enjoy downtime, ask pertinent questions, and focus on the positive.
Meditation is not the only way to cultivate presence, but I believe it is the best. Ultimately you must find what works for you. For an introduction to meditation, click the link. Or, visit our meditation section and browse the goods (meaning articles.)
Wishing you peace and presence in all your endeavors!
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.