Your Daily Practice
What does your daily practice consist of?
If you’re like most people, this question leads you to draw a blank. “My daily practice??…what do you mean, like meditation or yoga or something…?”
No, not exactly.
Those things could very well be part of your daily practice, but what I’m referring to is something more fundamental to who you are: your repeated patterns of thinking and behavior.
So here’s an important question.
Are you able to clearly identify the aspects of your daily practice that are:
- working against the larger goals you have for your life?
- violating your own value system?
Cognitive behavioral therapy flows from the perennial idea that our moods and our self-concept flow largely from our habits of thinking and behavior. Thus, if we are regularly feeling off-center, down, insecure, depressed, anxious, irritated or angry—then it is vitally important that we start cultivating healthier habits in our minds and in our actions.
We all have aspects of our daily practice that are self-defeating—that’s just part of being human. Problems arise, however, when we regularly avoid looking at and reflecting on our own negative patterns. Avoidance means we are not taking them seriously. In the same way that we can be inattentive and neglectful of a child, we can do the same with aspects of ourselves. Very destructive! Healthy living requires that we be aware of and work on the tendencies we have within us that get us off track and make us drift excessively toward the negative.
Yes, many people say things like “I know what my issues are.” Unfortunately, far too few of them are doing the work that is required if they want to grow beyond patterns that are harming themselves and loved ones. Truly taking responsibility for your own ‘stuff’ is very uncommon. What’s on many people’s agendas is the activity of blaming others. Once we’ve developed that pernicious habit, we significantly disempower ourselves and start heading down a dark and dead-end road.
Thus, my therapy work is built around ensuring that my clients (1) are able to clearly identify and take responsibility for the habits of thinking and behavior that are making their lives worse and (2) have some reliable routines (tools and strategies) that help them understand and grow beyond their own self-defeating patterns.
In every moment of every day we are participating in the conditioning and shaping of our minds, our hearts, our relationships and our lives. And we do this primarily through our daily practice. Cultivating healthier habits of the mind starts with realizing that our thinking and behavior can fall anywhere on the continuum between being:
These intra and interpersonal patterns are learned, and thus they can be unlearned. In other words, if we get serious about our own personal growth, we can absolutely move away from the non-constructive while cultivating habits that are constructive, relationship-enhancing and life-building.
Make no mistake—it is in our daily patterns of thinking and behavior that we can find the primary forces that are determining the dynamics of our relationships, the quality of our moods and the types of results we are generating in our lives. Think of the vulnerability and bendability of a string of wire. Compare that with stringing many strands together—over and over and over—until you have an unbendable and unbreakable cable. This analogy (which I’m stealing from a Horace Mann quote referenced in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) helps to illustrate the habituation and conditioning processes that we undergo, over time, in our personalities, attitudes and ways of being in the world.
We are, without a doubt, creatures of habit. Modern neuroscience expresses this idea by saying it is as if our habits of thinking and behavior actually carve pathways (i.e. like paving roads or laying fiber optic cables) in our brains which then process and transport information in predictable ways.
To what degree is your daily practice supporting the cultivation of psychological/emotional health in your life?
This question needs to be asked and answered long before psychiatric medication is considered for depression and anxiety. We all know far too many people who are taking medication and doing little else to improve their moods, relationships and overall functioning, and that is not a healthy direction for our society. The serious medical disorders of Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety develop when the normal depressive, anxious and angry feelings of everyday life are not understood and handled effectively—day after day after day after day—often for years.
Momentum builds, the snowball effect is set in motion and little by little we develop life altering mood problems. What medication commercials do not advertise is that serious Depression and Anxiety do not fall out of the sky—they are, more often than not, lifestyle illnesses just like heart disease and hypertension. Thus, we need to remember that the normal feelings of depression and anxiety are like kindling, and we need to be able to neutralize and heal those unpleasant feelings on a regular basis, lest they escalate into infernos that threaten the quality of everything we do.
So how do we neutralize and heal the negative kindling of depressive and anxious feelings?
Each of us must work diligently and consistently on cultivating, over time, a healthy and constructive daily practice that fosters emotional development and mutually satisfying relationships with others. Easier said than done, to be sure, but arguably the wisest investment of time and energy that we can make.
Chris Kingman lives with his wife and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn and has a full time private practice in Manhattan—with offices in Tribeca and the Flatiron District. Follow Chris on Twitter or Facebook.