Forget willpower and motivation to make change and try this instead.

Change, we often yearn for it, yet resist it when it comes. Change is not always easy, but then again, staying the same can be even more painful. As the Dalai Lama reminds us, “Only when we feel the revulsion with samsara will we effect a change.” Samsara is the endless cycle of existence, and includes our habitual way of being. It has to become more painful to stay the same than it is to make the changes you need. This is when change happens, in the space of being too painful to stay the same that births a new willingness to make the changes necessary for a different result. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.

Fortunately we can look to our teachers before us for ancient practices that can help with modern day living-we don’t have to muscle through with willpower and motivation, after all they are the first to let us down. One of my first practices I learned in my Buddhist training was the Three Difficult Practices. I have been practicing it since my first spiritual sessions with my teaching Lama in 2000. When we become familiar with this practice we can become more aware of why we are eating, or acting in a certain way, in essence we get to know our habitual self very intimately through the lifetime of this practice. With practice we will no longer mindlessly eat, act or react, and it no longer becomes a question of willpower and motivation when you have awareness and a solid practice on your side.

Try this practice for yourself and see how much it can illuminate your habitual way of being.

The Three Difficult Practices

Astonishingly simple in theory, the Three Difficult Practices, is a great tool to have handy when you need to make change. or become more mindful about your behaviors and habits. It’s especially handy when you don’t know where to start. You will amazed how much this simple practice can illuminate who you really are and what you are truly capable of once you “Zero In” on your behavioral self. I have found it to be a compelling and lifelong, journey, and I think you might too.

1. Zero In-Becoming aware of the trigger

All habits start with a trigger that then lead to the unfolding of a habitual sequence of events. Often touted as bad, it is good to remember not all habits are created equal, And many habits are very good for us. In fact rather than label habits good or bad, let me invite you to think of them as promoting or demoting. Promoting or demoting, good or bad, all habits do become ingrained inside us and become entwined in us as if we are the habit itself. As Yogi Bhajan always reminded us, People make habits, habits make people. You are NOT your habits but if you let them run amock they will become ingrained in you.

Getting a handle on your habits begins with becoming aware of the trigger and the unfolding of the subsequent sequence of events that follow. In the beginning, this awareness can often come during or after the fact. That is ok, it is part of the process of rewiring your habitual responses. It took time to make the habit, it will take time to dismantle and scramble it.

You can’t do anything until you know about it, so this is the beginning of the process to break the habitual cycles that have a hold on you. Perhaps the cookie is almost in your belly when you realize that you went in the jar and ate it without even being hungry, that’s OK, this is how awareness begins, maybe next time the sound of the cookie jar will jolt you into asking why you are reaching for that thing at that time, is there a genuine physical hunger to be satisfied and is this the best way to do it? These are great questions for this initial inquiry stage. Maybe you blurt out the hurtful comment before you have time to rein it in. That happens, and next time you might catch it earlier. It’s not called practice for nothing!

2. Pattern Interrupt-Choosing to do something different

This can be the “difficult” part of the practice. You know how it goes, you vow to be kinder and it’s going fairly well, until that one person looks at you the wrong way or says that one thing that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, and makes your cheeks flush. Yep, that one. You swallow your thoughts and feelings and then reach for the cookie jar or bag of chips to make you feel better again. For many ingrained habits there is a response that is on auto trigger and it can take time to pattern interrupt. When dealing with your habits, time is your friend, keep doing or not doing the thing and it will become second nature over time.

Be gentle with yourself here, it will take time to become and do something different, start with the awareness and then work on the pattern interrupt so you can neutralize the habitual response and replace it with a new one. Expect to fall down, you will get up stronger each time. It works if you work it!

3. Rinse and Repeat-Welcome to Forever Work

The third part of the Three Difficult Practices is to keep doing it. When you become aware of your habits, promoting and demoting (more about those coming up), you begin to gain more awareness of your habitual triggers and responses. The key here is to keep doing it. As habitual creatures, our habitual behaviors can always be tweaked to better suit our lives in this moment. After all the only constant is chamge!

This is such a simple and divine practice I had to share it with you. As always, it is my pleasure to share this wisdom with you, may we all be free from suffering and know peace.

How about you? How do you deal with change, do you love it or resist it? Do you have a practice like this that has worked for you? Or are you ready to try this and see who you are behind the habits and behaviors you have curated for yourself? I would love for you to share your thoughts below, and until next time, lots of love from me to you.

Alone we can do so much, together we can do so much more.

Sat nam