The chaos, the noise, the dust is settling around us and we have time. The shock of this pandemic is starting to fade into acceptance, and now the space. This time and space will do things to us, we can’t resist or deny this fate. I am noticing in my work, that after processing through the shock, my clients are getting a much clearer look at themselves. This quarantine is like taking emotional windex to a dirty mirrored surface. As the image appears sharper and more vibrant, what is being revealed?
When excellence is based on habits
I know that what is being revealed back to me is a clear look at the habits that are positively and negatively shaping my life. I am not having to search outside of myself, they are the nagging desires that I have been faithfully ignoring. Why haven’t I learned a foreign language yet or implemented a web-based portal for clients, or hung those photos or organized the medicine cabinet? These unrealized goals create conscious unrest, feeling unaccomplished and frustrated as I continue to move forward without really addressing them. As Carl Jung said, ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate’. I blame fate for my inability to learn a language and fate for not utilizing a web-based platform and fate for not giving me the exact right moment for organizing the cabinets.
‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit’ – Aristotle
Decisions … or habits?
In a paper published by Duke University in 2006, researchers found that more than 40% of the actions people performed daily weren’t actual decisions, but habits. If we are all on autopilot for almost half of our day, it would be nice if those habits were benefitting us. This pandemic is really pulling the curtain back to reveal our habits. How much time do we spend scrolling through our phones? Watching the news? Gossiping? Telling stories about ourselves or others that contradict our desires? It is in these little behaviors that we are creating our great, big, unique lives. I have told myself that I am not a person who can learn a foreign language, it has become a belief about myself, part of my identity. I have certain allegiances to beliefs about myself that are not serving me. This pandemic has made me curious about my bad habits at language learning and I decided to bring them into my conscious awareness. I sit with French for a minimum of twenty minutes a day, and I speak it while learning it. Yesterday, my partner and I were watching a movie in French with French subtitles, and I understood most of it. I can even feel proud of that achievement because I am willing to release the attachment to the identity of ‘someone who can’t learn foreign languages’.
“I am someone who…”
In these times of having a LOT of time, what identities would you like to create? For example, ‘I am a Mother who consistently responds to my children with love and understanding’ (instead of ‘I am a Mom whose children drive me insane’), or ‘I am a father who responds from stability and balance’ (instead of ‘I am a father who has a short fuse’). Or, ‘I am someone that saves more than I spend’ (verses ‘I always have a bad relationship with money’). ‘I am someone who prepares for a healthy lifestyle by keeping predominately healthy foods around the kitchen’, verses ‘I am someone with no will power that only eats junk’. You have the time now to sever your allegiances to defeating identities that are not serving your real desires.
The burn period
Many times, releasing old identities can be painful. When working with clients, I call this the burn period. We imagine those rockets in outer space that perform ‘burns’ to get themselves into more optimal orbit positions. It takes creating small new habits (set of directions) and then burning through the new feeling to get yourself into a better position. Human burns can sometimes be very painful, so why do them? Because there is huge reward at the end of the burn: maybe you have a new skill, that leads to new interactions, that leads to new places and conversations and identities for yourself that feel better and better. Maybe you are burning through old beliefs about relationships or friendships or dynamics with work, that allow you to form allegiance to new identities that bring better relationships. You can cultivate truer ideas about yourself by beginning the small habits that support these different identities.
Starting small, better habits
This is the best of times to start these small, better habits. To begin, see what naturally is coming up for you during this time. Then begin taking small steps towards addressing that desire or curiosity every day. Do not expect results, immediately, in the next month or even in the next year. This is the time when you are cocooning yourself in this new space. There is not judgement about your progress, just the small commitment to it daily. On a very micro scale, it is like watching a pot of water come to a boil. You see no change in the water for many minutes, initially. The energy is building up inside of the water, but you see no bubbles. It takes time and faith, when nothing is visible, for you to believe that by keeping the heat on, you will see it boil. And, inevitably, with steady heat – it does. So keep the heat on, and see what boils during this pandemic – je te promets, c’est possible! (French for: “I promise you, it’s possible!”).
Article written by Erin Larsen
Mental Health Therapist
Erin is from the US and received her graduate degree from New York University in 2007 and completed her post-graduate studies at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Psychoanalysis in New York City in 2012.
She began private practice in New York City and has continued her work here in Bangkok.