By and large, our lives are shaped by the things we do over and over, day in day out, tires circling through well-worn grooves. These are the routines and habits that lend form to days and weeks and years, and give the world illusory order. As long as everything remains the same, we know what to do. There is safety and comfort in the repetition.
My life is filled with these little routines. I have a specific order in which I get ready for bed that's remained basically unchanged for several years. Lately I've been watching my repetition and considering what these habits are creating in my life. Small, daily choices can add up over time to become so much more important than each of the individual choices along the way. One cigarette won't kill you, but thousands over a period of years will. So will years of poor daily dietary choices and the no exercise habit.
Conversely, there are all kinds of wonderful little routine gifts we can give ourselves to create a positive future. I'm a longtime fan of daily flossing and am a month into a religious exercise habit. When it's cold and I'm tired, I encourage myself into my gym shoes by thinking about how much easier it'll be to live in my old lady body because of all the work I put in before it can start to break down. Aside from the fact that he's a ninja robot, my almost-100-year-old great grandpa is in amazing condition because he's taken such good care of himself consistently over the period of his life.
It's typical in Kundalini yoga to do a certain set or meditation every day for a specified period of days in order to create a new habit. We practice the same skill over and over until it changes us fundamentally and becomes who we are. We are creating neutrality and balance, opening to abundance, releasing anger, becoming better communicators- all through a committed daily practice. I've written a lot about how powerful and transformative this process of consistent commitment can be.
Now imagine that instead of practicing kindness and openness, you were to practice being mean and selfish, guarded and reactive. "That's ridiculous! Who would practice those things?" you ask. Anyone who consistently behaves in these ways is practicing these behaviors. If you walk through the world in constant fear and anxiety, you are practicing being afraid and anxious. If you are consistently inconsistent and unreliable, you are practicing acting this way. People usually behave defensively or unkindly because of some trauma or hurt, but the longer that they act this way, the more ingrained the behavior becomes and the more difficult it becomes to break. These habits serve a protective purpose but are not what we want to cultivate in the long term.
At the end of the day, we're known not for what we believe but for what we do. Look at all those "family values" politicians whose careers are blown when their big, moral talk is drowned out by some variety of (usually sex) scandal. It's hard to take a person's defense of the American family seriously if they're a married man trying to meet ladies on craigslist, ahem. Nice shirtless pic, dummy.
It's our consistent commitments and habits, whether they be healthy or destructive, that define our lives. So I ask you, what do you want to create in your future? Lasting wellness? Healthy relationships? Look at your little daily repetitions and consider what they are creating and whether or not the long term outcome is one you want to live with. God (or Spaghetti Monster)-willing, we will all live long enough to regret our mistakes. Hopefully, with mindfulness and care, we can minimize those mistakes now and look back at our lives with pride like my vibrant, awesomely wizened great grandpa.