Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

26 Aug 2017, 13:37 p.m.

Choice, Habit, and Sunlight

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2017 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Years ago, when advising me on how to change a habit, Mel Chua told me about the stages of behavior-rewiring. And the first step is noticing. Mindfulness. Not just about the reflex, but about whatever stimulated that response. Making it a conscious choice instead of something that happens automatically.

I am getting slightly better at noticing the cues and guiding myself into better habits. I start noticing that I'm about to do a particular thing as a response to boredom/fear/other stimulus, and so I let myself do that, as a conscious choice, but I tell myself that not next time but the time after that, I'm going to make a different choice, and then the time after that I'll do the unconstructive thing. And then each day I decide that the next day I'll choose to do that thing slightly fewer times. And over time the habit fades.

And sometimes this is fairly fraught. No more denying whatever pain, fear I'm avoiding. I need to let myself feel the panic masked in boredom, the anger or loneliness that feels anxious.

And that is hard. It's hard to rip denial away and face these. Maybe to grieve whatever loss I haven't admitted yet.

But you are what you practice. And what do I want to get good at -- or even better at, if I've been practicing for a long time? Do I want to get better at lying to myself? Probably not. And hurting my future self, procrastinating, feels like a lie -- it's the self-deluded lie that problems will go away if I avoid thinking about them.

At least for me, the metaphor feels like: I got jabbed by something sharp and jagged, and the wound didn't heal right, and I need to uncover that wound and feel fresh air on the bare skin again and rinse it out and look after it as it heals again.

Best wishes to us all.