It often feels as if the little things we do each day don’t matter. Like they don’t add up to anything except the same cycle of wash, rinse, repeat.
Maybe your colors bleed in the wash, and that’s the day when you learn the lesson of separating darks from lights.
Maybe your machine forgets to drain the water, so you have to trick the system to start over mid-cycle right after the rinse.
One day in my early twenties, I was convinced that crossing one’s legs while seated was bad for you. So, every time I sat — and I do mean every time — I had to remind myself to uncross my automatically-crossed right leg.
It was frustrating trying to break this automatic habit; I was focused more on the failure of attempting to break it, rather than recognizing that I slowly was. Now, I can’t stand to cross my legs and hardly ever do (even though I have no idea whether it’s actually bad to cross one’s legs or not).
That’s the thing with habits. Good or bad, once you do the work to change them, they change. And it’s the little things that don’t feel like they’re working, which eventually get you there.
What matters to you?
Far too many people are addicted to the habit of stress. When you view your days (and all the tasks therein) as impending deadlines, living is just one big means to a whole lot of little ends. Ends that stress you out, that seem never ending in and of themselves.
It’s the to-do list gone mad — crossing out things for the sake of crossing them out, but never truly accomplishing The Things That Matter To You.
You’ll know what those are because they’re usually left uncrossed. They’re the things that don’t get enough attention, because other things such as mailing the letter or getting the oil changed — what corporate execs call “low-hanging fruit” — are quick hits of accomplishment that seem more urgent than manifesting our dreams.
Things That Matter To You are usually long-term wishes that benefit from short-term habits. For me, the Weekly Dharma is one such habit. I wanted to find my creative voice again as a writer, so I set myself this deadline every week and showed up to do the work whether I felt inspired or not.
You’re already doing a lot of little things toward your wishes — some that matter, some that don’t. Your enduring happiness depends on creating more space for the ones that do.
Maybe that’s drinking a green smoothie every day, or taking the dog for a walk, or dedicating 10 minutes to a meditation practice.
Breaking the habit
Even this moment right now is ripe for exploring the things left uncrossed on your list. In which case, the habit that could use a little breaking is putting off The Things That Matter To You.
Here’s my advice: Don’t.
Don’t put off your dreams for the sake of crossing off minutia on a to-do list. The minutia will always be there, even after the dream has arrived. Especially then, and you’ll dislike it the most.
We can break habits of stress or misguided to-do’s with an open heart or one that’s closed. When closed, the habit doesn’t stick. We try this new way of being for a while, but eventually our old life wins us back because we don’t believe in sea change.
When our heart is open, breaking habits might still take just as long, but this time it’s for good. Legs remained uncrossed. Stress is taken in stride. The Things That Matter To You get more attention than they ever could before.
Brilliant: Daily little things that create an open heart will get you there.
Try It: Chair Pose with Airplane Arms, Utkatasana
Lots of yoga teachers describe Chair Pose as “the pose you love to hate.” Well, I’m proposing a new habit with Utkatasana — one that includes an arm variation that lets you explore your foundation without the upper body taking you out of the experience.
When you feel deep into your foundation in this posture, and your thighs are shaking and you’re ruing the day you decided to practice yoga, that’s your chance at an open heart. Remain closed, continue the negative self-talk. Try for open, and suddenly you can sustain the pose much longer than you ever thought possible.
It helps when you have a flying papillon to accompany you.
- Stand with your big toes to touch, heels about 2 inches apart. Zipper your inner thighs together, and bring hands to hips or by your sides. Exhale and sit low.
- Reach your glutes back, bringing the weight into the heels, ensuring you can see your toes. Engage the low belly in toward the spine, descending the tailbone.
- Energetically reach your arms behind you, about 45 degrees away from the body, with the palms facing down. Melt your shoulder blades together on the back, and continue to descend your tailbone while reaching back through the hips.
- Stay for six to eight deep breaths, longer or shorter to challenge yourself. Ensure you are still breathing at a slow, even pace throughout. To come out of the pose, inhale your legs straight and arms alongside, or reach them tall for Mountain Pose, Tadasana.