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The force of habitHow do you stop a wheel in motion? Today I was discussing this question with someone in a chat. Because I have seen for myself how habits (or any other mental preoccupations) tend to ‘take off’ and get ‘a life of its own’ – where it for instance becomes automated and it is literally like a wheel running on its own momentum. First you push it into action, but then it accumulates motion due to its mass (structure/content) and its velocity (speed/direction) and through that it starts running by its own power faster and faster and stronger and stronger – which obviously makes it more difficult to stop. It is a basic law of physics.

Let’s have a look at the concept of momentum as it is defined within physics:

Momentum can be defined as “mass in motion.” All objects have mass; so if an object is moving, then it have momentum – it has its mass in motion. The amount of momentum that an object has is dependent upon two variables: how much stuff is moving and how fast the stuff is moving. Momentum depends upon the variables mass and velocity. In terms of an equation, the momentum of an object is equal to the mass of the object times the velocity of the object.” (Source: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/momentum/u4l1a.cfm)

What is fascinating is that it is the same principles when it comes to habits. The ‘mass’ of the habits, its content, is the ‘weight’ or the value that we’ve given to it, for instance in how we’ve defined ourselves within and according to it. As we all know, some habits are easy to kick, while others we hang onto for dear life in spite of knowing that they’re harmful to ourselves and those around us. So in order words, it is the way that the habit is compounded within us. The more ‘solid’ the habit is, the more we identify with/as it, the stronger it’s ‘mass’ will be. Similarly with ‘velocity’ as the ‘speed’ with which our habit moves as well as the direction it’s moving in, we can see the extent of the habit in how much we accept and allow ourselves to preoccupy ourselves within/as it. A habit that we have accumulated to being done twenty times a day is most likely more difficult to stop than one we only participate within once a week. So we can use the same equation to ‘calculate’ the momentum (‘self’-drive) of our habit by taking the structure/nature of the habit in terms of ‘who’ we are within it times the frequency with which we participate within it. And while this is all fascinating and an interesting thought-experiment, the real interesting question comes in when we ask: How to stop a wheel in motion? Or: How to stop a habit that is virtually driving itself on its own momentum? (Obviously due to our direct accumulation through participation in/as it)

“Any object with momentum is going to be hard to stop. To stop such an object, it is necessary to apply a force against its motion for a given period of time. The more momentum that an object has, the harder that it is to stop. Thus, it would require a greater amount of force or a longer amount of time or both to bring such an object to a halt. As the force acts upon the object for a given amount of time, the object’s velocity is changed; and hence, the object’s momentum is changed.” (Source: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/momentum/u4l1b.cfm)

A point to clarify here in relation to habits is that saying that it is ‘hard’ to stop the ‘momentum’ of a habit shouldn’t be used as an excuse or justification to not stop. No, instead we’re here working with applying a commonsensical equation borrowed from physics and applying it onto our mental preoccupation (such as a habit). What ‘hard’ then means is simply the ‘will-power’ or ‘effort’ one has to put into stopping the habit. It is the same with ‘force’. This doesn’t mean that one should now try and forcefully stop one’s children’s ‘bad’ habits of sleeping in for example. ‘Force’ in this context refers more to the amount of will-power one puts into stopping the habit, the dedication, the sincerity of one’s decision to stop, the perseverance to keep going when it seems like the ‘wheel’ is going to over-run you. ‘Force’ in this context means that one most place oneself in a way with an equal ‘mass’ and ‘velocity’ as that of the ‘wheel in motion’ and literally stop the momentum, eventually making it decrease over time to eventually stop completely.

So I find this analogy very useful – both when it comes to understand habits and why we suddenly find ourselves trapped in habits it feels like we can’t stop, but even more so and also: how to stop them and what exactly it is that is required to stop them. In my last post I mentioned how I now take my cat and place him in the bedroom with the door shut when he chews at the wires. This act of literally stopping him from continuing with the behavior is effective, but it took me some time to test what would work and I am still testing it. And so what I simply do now, every time he chews on the wire is I pick him up and place him in the bedroom. Then after a few minutes I let him out. If he does it again five minutes later, I repeat the same action. And I am going to do that until it works (unless it doesn’t, but then I’ll come up with a different solution). So I see clearly how stopping a habit that is already in momentum, is a matter of placing an equal force of standing as a ‘road block’ that blocks or slows down the momentum and to then keep doing it over and over and over, because this is required for something that is in momentum, it moves by itself in repetitive cycles that increases more and more.

Thus I must stand stable and consistent within applying the same action of stopping – until the momentum stops and the cycle of repetition is broken. If the habit is persistent – we must be persistent. If the habit is something we repeat many times a day, we must stop it many times a day. Many times we ‘try’ to stop a habit, only to give up because “it doesn’t work” or “it doesn’t want to stop”. But what we must realize is that we are the initiator of the habit in the first place. We made the snowball and pushed it over the hill and created the ‘snowball effect’ – the habit is our creation. Therefore we must place ourselves as creators again and re-create ourselves and reverse the momentum we have initiated for it to stop. This can be done in many creative ways; one can test out various solutions exactly as I have done with the cat’s habit of chewing the wires. But it is our determination, perseverance and resolve to stop the habit and ourselves as the habit through which we will make it stop.

One cannot (although it is possible, which is a topic for another blog-post) simply expect oneself to simply make a decision to stop a habit that has gained a strong momentum in one’s life or stop it only once and then it will stop by itself. No – we have to be the force that stops the force of habit.

“May the Force be With You.” – Yoda

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