Mindfulness in Habit Formations
I am interested in studying about habits and knowing more about habit formation and habit change. Recently, I saw an interesting video on youtube. It was about developing the will-power. Will-power is strongly linked with habit formation or habit change. The main premise of the video was that when one tries to do something in a different way than one is already habituated to, the new action helps to create or reinforce new neural pathways in the brain. This leads to more mental flexibility and thus helps in changing established habits . Inspired by what I learnt, I decided to take up a 30 day challenge to brush my teeth every day with my non-dominant, i.e my left hand. And also I decided to journal it every day. And I did it!. Er..well... almost every day, except for one day that I forgot. The observations were quite interesting. Here they are:
Day 1: May 16, 2016
It was difficult to brush with my left hand. When I started, it felt like I am not able to clean my teeth properly. The left hand was not able to guide the brush to all corners and sides of the teeth. My right hand (dominant) was involuntarily coming up to grab the brush and finish the job, better and faster. But I resisted the urge and controlled my right hand mindfully. Let's see how this goes tomorrow.
It was not as difficult as yesterday. But I noticed one thing. Just when I put the paste on the tooth brush and went to the wash basin, instinctively, my right hand took the brush from my left hand and left hand was preparing to open the tap. I became mindful of the fact and stopped my right hand from taking control.
The act of brushing by left hand is not without danger. Today, the left hand couldn't control the force and the tooth brush hit the gym. Though no blood came out, still it was a little bit painful.
I had forgotten about the left hand brushing this morning. So, I started my brushing, without being aware of what hand I was using. Mid way through, I realized, I was using my right hand. So, I changed to the left and became conscious of the act of brushing. Realized that being mindful is very important to change habits.
Due to my absent-mindedness yesterday, I was extra careful today. Brushed using my left hand from start to the end. No gum casualties or inadvertent eventualities for the day. The speed is still slow. The awkwardness is reducing. But not fully comfortable yet.
I was mindful from the beginning. But I observed how exactly I start brushing. Usually, I take the tooth brush in my right hand and pick up the tube of toothpaste also in the right hand. Then, I hold the toothpaste in left hand and unscrew the cap using my right hand. I exchange the toothpaste to right and brush to left, squeeze the toothpaste tube with right hand and guide the paste on to the brush.
But today, I reversed the entire process. It was amazing to observe, how involuntarily, my hands were trying to do everything without my knowledge and I had to consciously break the pattern. Also brushed completely with left hand.
Day 6 :
I was telling Lina about something when I picked up my toothbrush. Was not mindful and the right hand picked up the brush and right hand squeezed the toothpaste tube. When I realized, I had my left hand take over. This act of non dominant hand brushing is becoming an exercise in mindfulness than anything else. The brushing, though completely using left hand, was uneventful. I am having lot of hesitation in brushing faster using left hand, unlike my right hand, which finishes the brushing quite fast. Being mindful is allowing me to observe and learn more about the simple act of brushing.
I have completed a week of brushing using the left hand. Today, there was some urgency while brushing. I had to get ready really quick as I had to go somewhere. Using my left hand, I felt like I was doing it very slowly. If I would have used my right hand, it could have been quite faster.
After brushing for about 15 to 20 seconds, I realized that I was using my right hand. Being mindful is important while doing something, but is even more important while starting something. The act of brushing with the left hand later was smooth.
Today I could brush quite fast using the left hand. Slowly, I am getting used to it. The problem is when I have to flick the direction of brush from brushing the teeth on left side of the jaw to the right or vice versa. I think, by day 30, that will also be easy!
In just 10 days, it is really difficult to break an instinct. However mindful I try to be, my instinct gets better of me and right hand moves forward. Today, I caught myself brushing with my right hand for 4-5 seconds initially. Then realized the mistake and left hand took over. 26th may
Again starting problem. Habit of 40 years cannot be changed in 10 days. But no harm in experimenting. Today, absent-mindedly, I was using the right hand for about 30-40 seconds when I realized my mistake and rectified it. The left hand brushing is becoming less and less awkward.
I was mindful from the very beginning today. Did everything with my non dominant left hand. Feeling great that I didn't use the right hand for brushing.
Again, the trick is to be mindful when starting the activity. Today, I was observing both my hands and found how automatically, the dominant hand does so many things, before the act of brushing starts. The number of times the hands swap the brush and tube of paste is mind-boggling for such a simple act of squeezing the paste out. Completed everything with non dominant hand!
It is so strange. I had to catch a flight to Pune early morning today. So, I woke up at 3:00am and rushed to get ready. Didn't have time to jot down this. Now, at 10:00pm when I am trying to recall how I brushed my teeth today, I am unable to!
Was very mindful from beginning and able to complete brushing in left hand.
Day 16: Jun 1:
Brushed in the train, while traveling to bhubaneshwar. Used left hand throughout.
Getting habituated to be mindful of using left hand. Brushing speed has definitely increased and do not have the unbrushed feeling anymore after brushing with left hand.
It doesn't feel unnatural anymore to brush with the left hand. Though the fine motor control of right hand is still not there, yet the left hand is now able to do a decent job
Brushed with left hand and nothing unusual happened.
It is becoming smoother and smoother to brush with the non dominant hand. Speed has also increased and so has the confidence. The right had is more tame and involuntary actions of right hand which used to move on its own to grab the brush has stopped.
I think it has become quite natural for me to use the left hand while brushing. There is no awkwardness or uneasiness. Still, if I compare with my right hand, the speed is quite slow.
Left hand brushing without any problems. Now, flicking of the wrist to move the brush is also easy.
Left hand brushing is becoming easier day by day. I think I am able to brush faster and with finer control. So, just to compare how I was doing, today, I used my right hand for the last minute of brushing. And, what did I find? The right hand is still far far superior in controlling the brush and it's speed than the left. If I were to quantify it, the left hand would be operating at 20-25% efficiency of the right hand!
Non dominant hand brushing is not very difficult now. Also, I do not have to be extra mindful in the beginning to engage my left hand. It is remaining in my sphere of consciousness and I use my left hand. The right hand is now more restrained and is abstaining from involuntarily picking up the brush. Speed in the left hand is still a concern.
Used left hand. No issues. No remarkable observations!!
Using left hand has become natural. Nothing special.
Even I don't have to be very mindful to brush using the left hand. It is natural.
Brushed with left hand. No special remarks.
Just when you think you have mastered the left hand brushing , your habit of 40 years raises it's head to tell you how powerless you are. Today, I was actually speaking with Lina when I put paste on the brush and after a minute of brushing, I realized I was using my right hand. Then changed to the left.
The last day of challenge and my thoughts prevent me to start brushing with the non dominant hand. After a few seconds, I realized that I was using the right hand and changed the hand. Learning is that changing a habit is difficult, but not impossible. Being mindful is the easiest way to get a habit changed.
Lessons Learnt:There were a few lessons that I learnt from this exercise.
- I learnt that it is always difficult to start something new. But once you get going, slowly things become easier and better.
- Being mindful was the biggest aid in establishing this habit change. The days that I was mindful, I had could do this activity with ease. The days I was not, I forgot.
- There is a memory of the body. With the years of repitition, the hand knows what it has to do. Muscular habits are do deeply ingrained that it takes real mindfulness to change them.
- With the required practice, any habit can change.