Is It Time To Trade In Your Groove For A New One?

More than a decade ago we renovated our bathroom, during which the light switch migrated from left of the door as we entered to right. To this day, my hand will sometimes reach the wrong way.

Habits are great, until … well, until habit slips into an inescapable groove. The light switch is a simple example. A reminder of how hard it is to break a habit. Other habits are harder to notice and harder still to break. For myself, I’m thinking of mental habits in particular. The way I’ll default to the weird comfort of familiar negative self-talk, instead of exploring the nuances of a situation that didn’t turn out the way I hoped or wanted.

Everyone has faults they fall back into time and again, which neither fear nor humiliation can remediate.

On this idea, I recall a story … well you know I never suggest anything I don’t support with an example.

One of Bacchus’ lackeys was ruining his health, his spirit and his wallet. Such people haven’t done half of their errands when they are at the end of their dollars.

One day, when this one was full of the grape’s fine juice, his senses long left at the bottom of a bottle, his wife locked him in a tomb. There, the vapors of the vin nouveau continued fermenting at their leisure. When he awoke, around his body he saw the accoutrements of death — an oil lamp, a winding sheet.

Oh! He said. What’s happened? Is my wife a widow?

At those words, his wife, disguised as Alecton (the Fury who occupies herself with moral sins), masked and disguising her voice, approached the presumed dead man on his bier. She presented him with an infernal meal fit for Lucifer.

No doubts lingered, her husband knew he was a citizen of hell.

Who are you? He said to the phantom.

I am the Cellar Keeper in Satan’s kingdom, she replied. And I bring food to those confined within the black tomb.

The husband spoke without thinking — You don’t bring them anything to drink?

A bad habit is a ball and chain we may not even be aware of.

Of course, habits can be supportive. I believe in the power of good habits as a foundation for our wellbeing. Eat healthy. Exercise. Sleep. Drink water. Laugh. Floss (yes, despite controversy on this one, I still believe in it). There are an abundance of good habits to cultivate and more coming online everyday, it seems.

But when we rely on them to the exclusion of other bases for action, we lose the mental flexibility to focus on longer-term ambitions. There’s new scientific research underway to pinpoint the synaptic transactions in our brain, which modulate the balance between goal-directed and habitual action. Here’s the title of a recent report: Endocannabinoid Modulation of Orbitostriatal Circuits Gates Habit Formation.

The researchers are investigating how to chemically turn on and off our inclination to form habits. Can the habit of drinking way too much, or obsessively-compulsively checking if the oven is on, or telling yourself you’re fat, ugly and stupid (in my case), be overridden in our brains? If a Fury — blood dripping from the eyes of her dog head, snakes for hair and bat’s wings — is not enough incentive to break a habit, scientists hope to find a neural kill switch inside your brain.

On the other side, such a switch might induce better habits.

Sign me up. A trifecta shortcut to break bad habits, develop better habits and reach my goals.

I don’t believe it. Everywhere I turn there are magic pills being developed to replace actual action. Don’t change your diet habits. Take this every day. The train is already on the tracks. This new scientific research promises to boost the local to a high speed direct.

But when we make no stops, when we aren’t willing to slow down and take time to find balance, we will be out of balance. Good habits will go awry. Bad habits will continue unrepentant. Goals will fall by the wayside. It’s not that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. It’s that the unexamined life is out of balance and thus has foregone a wealth of possibility. Every habit, good or bad, must be up for scrutiny, repeatedly. Every goal assessed and re-assessed. What habits support our goals? Which don’t? Every groove needs cleaning now and again to ensure balance.

The Winter Olympics are drawing to a close. All of the athletes rely on years of work to achieve balance. Why? — because there is no other way. The ability to untangle from a multi-skier pile up and a broken pole, get back on top of your skis and emerge the winner in the 30k race, like the ability to land a triple axel, is not available in shortcut form.

Just so, you and I are engaging with the world, in search of fulfillment, striving for balance.

I want to look that Fury in the bloody eye, throw the switch to the right, and walk into a world lit by the power of possibility.

What are these Fableogs?

Fable en Français



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