Mindfulness and the power of non-habit

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

We all have habits; good ones; bad ones; dangerous ones; ones we love; ones we would rather not have. Habits help us to deal with the tide of daily life that washes over us, sometimes shielding us from some of life’s traumas, but sometimes also putting us in danger.

The reason for this post, is someone asked me the other day, whether my mindfulness was a habit. And, how I came to practice mindfulness so often.

I pondered this, as I wanted to reflect that what I was doing and calling mindfulness, was in fact what it should be – present in the moment – rather than a rote set of activities, that I could then attribute to mindfulness.

The Story…….
Let me start by stating, that I came to mindfulness through a need. My own personal need to understand and stop feeling as if life was running away from me, whilst at the same time crushing me under a weight of all that the modern world brings – work, family, kids growing up, the feelings of time rushing by, etc, etc.

We had people living with us that were stressing the family environment; we are as normal, a family unit of four – mum, dad and two children. Hang on though, think of 11 people living together in one house. We were supporting people that were in transition and were staying with us. However, instead of a few days, think of three months as a timeline. Three months, with a house full of 11 bathroom routines; food and dinner routines; the emotions of the day piled up on one another and a whole set of hormones and stresses. In addition, I was severely challenged at work and felt under tremendous pressure. The type of work pressure that was going to break me, mentally. I was waking up at 3am and was unable to go back to sleep, thinking about both the personal and work issues.

Over time, like chinese water torture treatment, you come to believe that the reason why you you are feeling the way you are is completely out of control, but drop by drop you are starting to drown.

So with all of this piling on top on me, or so I thought, what did I do? I was surfing the internet and came across an article on depression and mindfulness. I read it and recognised many of the symptoms I was feeling. The article referenced a talk given by Ruby Wax at The School of life.

Go check it out. It is one of the most funny, insightful, truthful and honest talks I have seen in a long time.


She talked about Mindfulness and a Doctor Mike Williams. I wondered who he was if he had written any books and checked out Amazon. Bingo – Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world.

I bought the book, realizing it was the 8 week MBSR – Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme that Ruby had followed herself. I started reading it the following Sunday and my life has been completely different ever since. Go on think about it for one moment. Has a single book changed your life so fundamentally??

I followed the course religiously. Completely and honestly. I did every single exercise, practice and even went so far as to download the CD as MP3 audios onto my mobile phone so I could listen to the practices whenever I wanted. For eight weeks I did the practices every day, always starting the week’s practices on the Monday. I would get up early on a Sunday morning and quietly read the next chapter in the book – as each of the eight weeks was explained as a separate chapter in the book. I would then get up at 5:30am during the week to give myself the time to practice the exercises.

At the end of the eight weeks; the last chapter of the book completed; I thought, “what do I do now?”. So I continued to practice the exercises every day. I listened to the guided meditation exercises five days per week. I would do the 3 minute quick check in’s during the day. I would do the body scans on a Saturday and rest on a Sunday doing nothing apart from reading and relaxing. And I have continued this, for over 18 months.

You could say that it has become a habit. That it is now so ingrained in my life that I do it automatically. I would challenge that it is not. It is a non-habit. What on earth is non-habit? That does not make sense.

It does and let me explain why.
I get up every day at 5:30am during the week. I have a routine to get myself ready in the morning to go to work and that it involves the following:

# Get out of bed & grab the clothes I laid out for myself the night before

# Go downstairs and grab my mobile phone – no I am not going to make calls, read texts, play games, or look at facebook. And unlike most people, I do not use the excuse of using my mobile as an alarm clock. I have a traditional one by my bed. I read and believe that you need a break from the technology. Else, you might be tempted to look at the latest tweet, text, or flash when you are falling asleep or waking up.

# Go to the spare room and prepare for work

# Do 10-15 minutes of Mindful Movement exercises

# 10-15 minutes of mindfulness – using the mobile phone as the playback for the Dr Mike Williams recordings

# Shower, shave & get dressed

# Go down stairs, let the dogs out, make a cup of tea and have breakfast. Prepare the tea for everyone else and finally……

# Leave for work

But, you will say that is a set of habits!, OK, I would agree that there is a routine. But, every day, I do different mindfulness exercises and a different mindfulness reflection. The framework of mindfulness is there, but the content remains fresh. How can you say that after 18 months? Because it is. I have added more yoga movements to the routine; I have the “monkey mind” to contend with and since the whole purpose of Mindfulness is to be present in the moment without criticism, it works.

And, I have fundamentally changed. Changed in so many ways. The depressive cycle has gone. And my character has changed for ever.

Is this a habit? A non-habit? A change of direction in life? I don’t know. I leave you to decide. I believe it is a “non-habit” rather a framework to live by.

As always, I leave you with a quote….

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


“The fridge had been emptied of all Dudley’s favorite things — fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers — and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called “rabbit food.” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

We have had “Doris” the fridge freezer, in our lives for eighteen years. We bought her just after the renovations to the house we were living in at the time. She moved in, bright and shiney grey upright box and has been silently working in the corner of the kitchen ever since. We moved house 5 years ago and she was moved out to the utility room. Still she sat there working away without complaint, until the other day. One of the offsprings went to the fridge freezer to find that the top bit, the fridge was happily cooking the food inside at 20 degrees! The freezer below was still working away at minus 20 degrees. Panic, panic. The food that could be saved was moved into the micro fridges in the kitchen. The rest was thrown away.

We had a brief family discussion on the merits of replacing Doris and all agreed that it was time for a replacement. Eighteen years is a good run for a fridge freezer, but we did not think it was worth trying to get her fixed.

So how do you go about buying a fridge these days?

The local town used to have a white goods shop – somewhere where you could go and browse fridges, freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers, chest freezers, dishwashers and the like. That closed down and has been replaced by a toy shop. Large supermarkets in the UK, sell some of the white goods, but not necessarily a fridge freezer. There are probably only two major outlets in the UK any more that sell a complete range of white goods. So choice, as they say has got less.

However, we now have the power of the internet don’t we. We can browse and shop on line 24*7. We can see virtual pictures of goods; are given dimensions and specifications; and have the ability to compare products online. We can also see what is the cheapest deal online. Lets go for that then. We looked at a couple of web sites and saw some models that we liked. The choice was then either to buy online without seeing the physical product or follow the current practice that some people browse online and then go to one of the physical outlets to see the product in reality. That was our approach.

One of the websites we looked is the virtual offshoot of a major department chain that has a branch at High Wycombe. So Saturday morning comes around and off we whiz to the store. We had decided before going that there were two models in the price range that we liked, we were going to confirm that they looked as good in reality as they did online and to buy there and then.

When we got there, only one of the two models that were shown online was physically there – what a disappointment. Why is it always the case that when you look online and then compare in store, that not all of the models are available to view? I know that normally the choice online is so much more than can be physically shown in a store, but if you are doing a promo as a company on a particular set of products, it does pay to make sure that the physical and virtual line up of products match.

Anyway, we started to go down the line of freestanding tall fridge freezers. Different heights, different fridge and freezer capacities. Different prices. In effect we were doing the comparison in reality, that you do online.

But, and here is where the difference between the physical and virtual internet worlds differ. We suddenly realised; as we were standing there with the freezer door open on a particular product, talking about the capacity of the freezer; that our purchasing criteria that we had thought of before; used to compare products online and thought was correct; was in fact wrong.

Why wrong? Well we had thought of a direct replacement for Doris – similar fridge and freezer layout, even a similar dark grey colour. However, our requirements were completely different. What we really needed was bigger freezer capacity and smaller fridge capacity. Would we have realised that if we had purchased online without ever seeing and comparing products in reality. No, I don’t think so.

With that realisation, we reviewed the available products and chose a completely different product and model. We asked the shop assistant if it was available, and guess what, back to the online store to check for availability! Yes it was. So, we went through the purchase process and she kindly logged our details on the system. We even paid £9 to get Doris taken away, there was no way I was going to try to hump shift a fridge freezer into the back of my car and take it to the dump. Delivery date set and agreed; product paid for; we left.

My reflection on the experience was mixed. I love the power, ease and availability of the internet shopping world and for most products and goods, it is fine. But sometimes, it does pay, to see the product in physical reality. Until the day that the internet can project a virtual reality product into your home and you can virtually “touch, move and interact with it”, I think that the high street shopping world will still exist.

I leave you with this quote….

“I loathe people who say, ‘I always read the ending of the book first.’ That really irritates me, It’s like someone coming to dinner, just opening the fridge and eating pudding, while you’re standing there still working on the starter. It’s not on.” ― J.K. Rowling