Shards of Consciousness

Use Habits To Your Advantage

A while back I wrote an article on bare attention, in which I described how the habit mind, or robot, can become stultifying and limiting to living a conscious, creative life. This doesn't mean that habit is a bad thing. On the contrary, habit can be one of the best friends you have.

When you are learning a new skill, you approach it with full consciousness and attention to what you are doing. As you become used to doing it, you begin to hand the routine details of the activity over to the robot. You focus your attention and awareness on the parts of the activity that require creative action.

The purpose of this is to free you to focus on the important parts of the activity. For example, think about when you learned to drive. Remember how complicated it was. You had to think about how much pressure to apply to the gas pedal to reach a certain speed in a certain amount of time. You had to remember how far to move the gearshift to put the car in the right gear. You had to think about how to manipulate the steering wheel to make the car turn the way you wanted it to turn. You had to learn how to use the brake pedal so you didn't lock up the brakes but at the same time didn't hit the car in front of you. You had to pay attention to the cars around you, their locations and speed, and which way the road went so you would stay on it. Further, you had to do all of this at one time.

Now, you have a few years of driving behind you. The mechanics of driving have been taken over by the robot, leaving you to pay attention to what is going on around you as you drive, and respond in an appropriate manner. Your conscious mind has been freed to focus on the parts of driving that can change from moment to moment and so truly do require your conscious attention.

If you had to go through each day focusing on every little thing, you would be like the centipede trying to decide which foot to lift next. The habits you have learned, the routines you have developed, allow you to focus your attention on the creative parts of living. The key is to learn to differentiate what can be routinized, and what you need to do consciously and with the full focus of your attention.

Except as an exercise to be conscious, many of the mechanics of daily living can be handed over to the robot. A daily routine frees you to live consciously. If you always put your keys in the same pocket, you don't have to wonder what you did with them. If you put the TV remote in the same place when you are done with it, you don't have to waste time looking for it.

Do take time periodically to see what habits you have developed. Habits and routine can be helpful, and free you to focus on the important things in your life. They can grow unnoticed, though, and take over greater areas of your life than you originally intended, and so be harmful. Look especially at emotional habits, habits in your relationships, and habits in how you think. If you find a habit becoming deleterious, make a conscious effort to change it. This will take the habit out of the hands of the robot, and return the activity to conscious control so you can shape it into something more suitable.

Focus your attention on the creative parts of your life. Be conscious in your relationships. Be aware in your vocation and avocations. Take time each day to perform some exercise in being fully conscious. Live life consciously within the framework of habit that you have built.

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