We all have bad habits. Some physical or mental activity we engage in that erodes our vitality.
The challenging thing about giving up bad habits is that they can feel pretty good to us! Recently, I’ve had to tackle this fact head on by giving up drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. But what I thought was going to be a difficult and painful endeavor has been joyful and supremely life enhancing.
I wanted to share with you my experience and perspective on how we take on inner and outer change.
We often have defensible reasons supporting our “bad” habits.
The over eater is actually a gourmand in love with the palette of culinary delight the world has to offer. The paranoid tycoon has made his fortune second-guessing and unearthing others’ motives in business dealings.
With the conviction of their own experience, they can assert: who are you to judge what is a “bad” habit?
And to a point, they’re right! That is, until the arguable bad habit threatens the sanctity of our primary relationships. Or when we’ve decided that there is a significantly more fulfilling potential for ourselves that is being impeded by said habit.
I wrote in an earlier post how I transformed my body last year through marathon training following a five-day solo retreat. I lost 10 pounds in 2 months and was crushing my personal best race times. I was getting in striking range to qualify for the prestigious 2018 Boston Marathon.
Simultaneously, I was personally achieving unprecedented success in my sales work for my consulting firm. I was also smoking cigarettes daily and loved getting my drink-on strong!
I loved the rebel energy of being in the best physical and professional shape of my life, while lighting up and knocking a few (or several) back whenever I wanted. It gave me a sense of breaking taboos and a wild superpower. I was convinced this was helping to fuel my victories.
In a few months, I placed in the top quartile of 7 races and I became the top sales person at my firm for that calendar year.
When my big marathon in Eugene, OR, came up to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon, I missed the necessary time by 1 minute and 34 seconds. I wrote in a previous post how this made me take pause: when you work so hard for a goal and miss, a window opens for deeper reflecting.
I decided I wanted another shot to qualify for 2018, given all the training I had done.
With my coach’s blessing, I signed up for a marathon in Burlington, VT. It wasn’t ideal because it was only 3 weeks after my marathon in Eugene. But I wanted this second attempt to be a simple affair. Racing in Burlington meant I could travel alone from my home in Boston without missing work and being away long from my family.
I crossed that finish line missing my qualifying time by 2 minutes and 4 seconds. Wracked in pain, I hobbled over to a quiet shady grassy patch nestled by the majestic Lake Champlain. I gave it all I had in two marathons and now had a visceral respect for the elite athletic fitness required to qualify for the world-celebrated Boston marathon.
I had a long heart-to-heart with my running coach by phone in that park. I confessed to him about my smoking and drinking during training. I could see how the cigarettes and drinking had eaten away at the deeper resources I needed to call forth in the crucible of a marathon.
During this conversation on that picture-perfect sunny day, it became clear to me. What would be more meaningful: the opportunity to develop the body, mind, and heart of an elite athlete, or the freedom to savor my smoke and drink as I pleased?
I chose another marathon for the fall and I decided on a date when I would quit all smoking and drinking until after the race. I was both excited and nervous. I knew my life would have to change for the better by abstaining. However, I was preparing myself for periods of gritting my teeth to resist the myriad of ways that the temptation to drink and smoke would show up.
The Joy of Breaking Bad Habits
As I got closer to the date I would quit, I was surprised to feel a part of me getting louder that could not wait to start abstaining. And when the day came, it was remarkably easy. And now, weeks later of being dry and fresh, I’m still amazed.
There have been immediate tangible benefits. Training for my next marathon, I’m running faster while my breathing is easier. I am sleeping deeper which is making my mind sharper and energy higher. While all this is precious to me, there’s an uplifting effect on my spirit that is priceless.
Having the possibility of a cigarette or a drink(s) was always dangling before my mind’s eye, captivating part of my attention.
By being resolute that this was no longer an option, my awareness has been liberated to flow into other areas that beckon my consciousness. Most importantly: my love for God. I believe this inner irrigation is the essence of the time immemorial spiritual practice of renunciation.
In the context of giving up bad habits, I don’t think it works to say “no” to something we typically enjoy unless it’s in service of something more profound that we’re saying “yes” to.
What we are saying “yes” to needs to be big and important to us. In this light, it is a joy to not drink or smoke because I’m reaffirming in my being that I am committed to my higher potential.
It is so much more than just making healthier choices for my body. It is about tapping into my resolve for a greater life.