As a teenager I went to a school that had a silent meeting 6 days a week. It was mandatory, no excuses and no skipping, and there were no books, notes or other distractions (it was before the days of iphones!). Every student and teacher made their way to the meeting hall each morning where the four groups of seating all faced the middle of the room, and we sat in silence for 10-15 minutes every day.
In hindsight doing this consistently from the age of 11 to 18 was one of the best things I could ever have done (even though at the time I probably complained about it some days). It was the beginning of my understanding of the value in a little quiet time every day. In those few minutes of silence you could get your head around the day ahead, go over mental notes for a test, consider interactions with others or think about how recent or past events had affected others in your life or community. Sometimes we would connect to a quiet place inside akin to meditation, or be inspired by an idea, or perhaps contemplate a career path or dream about what we might do in the future. The key was just taking the time to be quiet, every day, without external input, noise or distraction.
This week I remembered that daily ritual and it got me thinking about the 'pauses in-between' that seem to be getting less frequent in our daily lives. I remember as I grew up that there were pauses and moments for reflection every day, even outside of those meetings we had at school. We had time to be with our thoughts while waiting for a train, (while travelling on the train!), waiting for appointments, drinking tea in a café, or when folding laundry just to name some of the many! There were moments of quiet every single day. Smart phones are wonderful things, but they are a constant temptation in those moments of quiet, and we find ourselves reaching for them out of habit to make sure we don't have to stand with nothing to do for more than a second. The more society advances technologically, the less we experience moments of quiet reflection.
Take a moment to consider how many of us fill every spare moment with some kind of input. Simple things such as washing up or vacuuming which used to be times to think or daydream a little are now filled with podcasts, music, TV, audiobooks or online learning. When we're waiting for an appointment, for a friend to arrive at a restaurant, or for the adverts on TV to pass what do we do? We scroll, listen, play games and read.
Before computers lived in our pockets, those moments were spent in contemplation, thinking, analyzing, sorting, planning and dreaming. That time was spent with our inner voice. I know that listening to our inner voice can be scary (we can be really mean to ourselves!) but it's no reason to totally ignore it and zone out with distractions. If we don't listen to what's going on inside, we will never have the opportunity to work deeper into understanding, there is no opportunity to explore ways that might still the mind and we'll never have peace!
It's time to build in some space - some moments of quiet into our lives that allow us to ponder. If your inner voice is mean, it's an opportunity to practice the yogic principles of svādhyāya (self study) and ahimsa (non harming), actively and compassionately replacing the negative thought patterns with more constructive and supportive thoughts, and letting go of things that no longer serve you.
The more you practice being present in the moment and practice being ok with the silence, the more you realise the magic in those moments in between - where you can people watch, see beauty in the world around you, and be present and at ease. In these moments you could discover some connection to the world around you, feel a sense of lightness, find a connection to your true self, or maybe come up with your next great idea!
To find some space for our inner voice we must overcome the habit of reaching for distraction! Begin today by finding just a few minutes to be quiet without distraction. If you'd like some inspiration, here are 5 ways you can practice finding time for your inner voice.
~ If you run or walk, go on your next run/walk without earphones
~ Try driving in silence without music/podcast/audiobooks
~ When you're waiting in line at the supermarket/doctors etc do not look at your phone or read a magazine
~ If you keep a TV on a low constant chatter in the home or office, turn it off for a set amount of time each day to have a quiet house while you do your tasks or drink tea
~ Enjoy a sunset in silence, alone or with friends or family (without taking a photo or sharing on social media)
For many, the new year is a time to start (or re-start) a new habit or journey to a goal. It's easy and exciting in the beginning, but have you ever started a habit only for it to fade after a few days or few weeks?
There are theories that it takes 21 days, 40 days, or even 60 days to make a habit stick, but I believe there's more to it than that. Whether you want to start writing, dieting, meditating, reading, exercising, decluttering or practicing yoga there's no stronger motivator to maintain the habit in the long term than your 'why'.
The important thing is, knowing your 'heart why' rather than your 'ego why' can be the difference between lasting, positive change, and a daily battle or the disappointment of another failed attempt.
The ego tells us that we want to be able to do all kinds of things, but when the ego decides what we should be doing the reasons are often superficial and do not hold enough meaning for us to stick with the habit. The ego is easily bored, easily distracted, and doesn't like hard work. Put a tough day in it's way, a road block, or maybe just something more shiny and appealing and it'll abandon the habit without a second thought!
Don't worry, all is not lost! There is a way that creates lasting change!
If we spend a little time digging deeper into the real reasons we'd like to do something, we can find our true motivation – our 'heart why'. These reasons are usually connected to our life goals and are often orientated around health, happiness and family.
Let's look at meditating as an example of digging into the 'heart why' – this is an example of the thought process I once had in my journal to find my true motivation to meditate every day.
Why do I want to meditate every day?
I've read blog posts and articles that say it's good for me. Similar responses to this initial question could be 'because it's the yogi thing to do' or 'because I've heard that lots of successful people do it'
If I were to stop there, this reason alone is probably not enough to solidify the habit into my daily life even if I've heard and read that it would be good for me.
So dig deeper and ask 'why is it good for me'?
It helps me to slow down, find focus, be more calm, and requires discipline.
Great! That's better, but it's still not the true 'heart why'. All those things are good but is it enough to solidify the habit? Is it closely related to my bigger goals in life? Nope! So keep asking...
Why do I want to slow down, find focus and calm, need discipline?
Slowing down reduces my stress levels and stops me being swept away with feeling of overwhelm. Not succumbing to overwhelm, and finding focus helps me to complete the tasks I want to do in a day. Finding discipline to do this one thing, lets me know I have the discipline to do other things in my life and therefore get things done even when they're challenging or not easy. Lower stress levels are lower stress levels, right?!
We're getting closer and all those things are great, but they're not the big reason yet. Let's ask again! 'Why are those things good?'
If I'm more calm and focused, and have the discipline to complete the tasks I need to do each day, then I have more time for the things I love to do – spend time with my husband, friends & pups, and to be outdoors. If I'm less stressed, I'll be more present when I'm with friends and family, and I'll be more fun to be around.
Do you see the real reason I want to meditate now? It's not because I read an article that said it's good for me or because successful people say it works for them. My real reason for sitting on that cushion every day is because I know it will allow me to spend more quality time doing the things I want to do with the people I love. That is my 'heart why'. That is the one to write down and have visible for the days that practicing the habit doesn't appeal to me for whatever reason. We've found the true motivation I need to stick with the habit in the long term.
It's important for you to sit down and be true to yourself in this process – we all have different motivations in life, and what motivates me, may not motivate you. You have to dig deep and find what YOU want!
This just doesn't work for a habit of meditating, it can work for healthy eating, getting more sleep, daily writing, exercising, and anything else you might want to add into your life!
Why not give it a go? Find somewhere quiet for 10-20 minutes, I recommend writing in a journal or on your computer to really work it though. Don't hesitate, over-analyze, or over-think about what you're writing, there is no right or wrong answer and no one else needs to see this so don't hold back, just keep writing openly without judgment until you find your true motivation.
It's time to get past the ego's reasons that you want to implement new habits into your life and ask why, why and why again and again until you find your true motivation. Ask and answer until you find a reason that really resonates with your heart so that you can follow through in 2018!