Our habits are a path to deep transformation
Habits are our regular and repeating behaviours which are done unconsciously. For me this is picking my skin. For as long as I can remember I’ve picked my skin. As a small child any itchy bite I would scratch and scratch, tearing it apart. Then when it formed a scab I would pick that off also, leaving my skin covered in scars.
I remember when I was around nine years old, a friend noticed the scabs and scars on my legs and said to me. “Gross, do you still pick your legs?” As though it was a habit I should’ve grown out of. I felt ashamed, but the shame was never enough to stop me. I continued to scratch and pick.
When I transitioned into my teenage years, my hormones changed. I would never let a pimple go untouched. My hair was long to cover the scars on my back and I wouldn’t dream of wearing a backless top. They were especially worse over winter, when my skin would get oily, so I wore foundation to cover the spots. Over the Summer months I would spend hours lying in the sun until I turned bright red and burnt, peeling layers of skin off to clear away the scarring until my skin was evenly toned and brown. The picking continued.
I’m 28 years old now. I’m in no way healed from this habit. Daily I’m aware of my hands scanning my skin. I’ve resisted publishing this article, as I wanted the habit gone before it was published. It’s been a couple of months now, so rather than sitting on it for two years, I’m stepping up and sharing, now. Because I’ve realised that overcoming habits is a process. It takes time, mistakes, awareness, learnings and feeling emotions.
Even though I’m still figuring things out as I go, I felt compelled to share my journey, challenges and insights.
When I catch myself running my hands over my skin, checking for any bumps and imperfections, I practice awareness. I find this extremely challenging and something I still haven’t nailed. But when I do, I feel so empowered! Awareness is noticing what I’m doing. I notice I’m running my hands over my skin. In this moment, I have a choice, either continue to scan my skin or pause. If I pause then I bring my awareness to my breath. I lengthen the inhale and lengthen the exhale. Once steady, I bring my awareness to my body, noticing any tension. I soften and relax. Once I’m in this relaxed state of being I feel calm and focused.
All my life it seemed to me this habit was a part of who I was, I had come to terms with the fact that I was born this way and I had to learn to live with it. It never occurred to me that the habit would stop.
A major step to overcoming my habit was my attitude. I shifted my attitude from a fear based “I can’t do this” to a place of abundance, “I can do this. I’m whole and when I pick my skin it takes power away from me.” Rather than seeing my habit as a part of who I am. I now see it as something I do, which gives me clues and insights as to who I really am.
This is where the juicy insights are. I continue to stay curious and begin asking questions. What triggered the picking? What was I doing, thinking or feeling that lead me to perform this unconscious behaviour? For me this is a number of things:
When I’m in the creative process and I experience a block, the fear of not knowing what to do. When I’m thinking about a future conversation and feeling anxious. The fear of not being understood. When I’m driving my car, when I’m trying to go to sleep, when I’m reading a book or when I don’t know what to say. Becoming conscious of what triggers the habit makes me more prepared for dealing with next time I’m triggered.
What I’ve realised is that picking is a mechanism I’ve developed to avoid feeling. Instead of feeling anything difficult or uncomfortable, I pick my skin and it provides me with something to do that is easy, familiar and comforting, for the short time anyway.
It’s so important to celebrate. Way too often I get caught up in being serious and doing it right. I can be so hard on myself that I forget to have fun! This step of celebrating reminds me to find the joy in life. To be proud of where I’m at and kind to myself. Whether it’s celebrating by giving myself a hug or telling myself I’m awesome, dancing, sharing a delicious meal with friends.
Writing this article has been part of my process of overcoming my habit. But in sharing the invitation has become for you to consider which of your own habits might potentially provide a path to deep transformation. The process of awareness, attitude, questioning and celebrating is still one that I’m working through. But what I’ve realised is that my habit which I always thought of as my flaw, is actually my greatest gift. It’s shining light on my discomfort. And leaning into that discomfort it reveals the most powerful growth and transformation.