We often think of habits as things to be perceived at the macro level, across long stretches of time. Rarely do we perceive the minuscule actions and thoughts that work in tandem to create what we perceive as a habit.
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
Take something as simple as coming home and immediately positioning ourselves in front of a screen for a comforting dose of entertainment.
The action of sitting and switching on the screen is only the last in a long chain of small decisions and allowances that have been made according to previously established and unquestioned patterns.
Perhaps one has a habit of mulling over all future responsibilities on the commute home, whilst listening to radio advertisements that remind the mind of a particular snack’s deliciousness. This results in a pattern of stress that makes a run to the fridge the only natural action upon arriving at home, and the pleasure of entertainment the only way to drown out an overwhelming stream of disorganized worry.
These tiny actions and thought patterns can be easily observed in the early morning: our minds tend to default to a familiar set of mental images and emotions upon waking. These prime the next set, and those the next, and so on and so forth.
The term ‘autopilot’ is often used, but it fails to convey that autopilot systems are the result of thousands of tiny adjustments, decisions, and calculations that result in a predictable pattern of behavior.
This is why meditation is so powerful. By observing our thoughts for a mere hour, we can see the wellspring from which all of our mistakes, failures, and disappointments come. We can see the reason why day after day, year after year, things remain the same, and problems come and go like so many lights on the highway, each just like the last, stretching out behind us and into the horizon.