Oftentimes we identify an area of life or a personality that could use some improvement, right? So we discuss what needs to take place to replace it, or alter it. And so a vow is made to change it for the better. And sometimes that works…for a little while…and sometimes the old habit/behavior/ reaction/trigger shows back up again. Still alive and well. So how do we stop that and make a true, more lasting change for the better? It’s popular belief that to change or improve a not-so-great habit/behavior, it takes 21 days of practicing the new, healthier behavior. Well, I researched this and it’s not exactly the most accurate time frame. So what is?
Well, it varies dependent upon the person and the task at hand obviously. Without getting into philosophic and therapeutic discussions and going off in different directions, let’s stick to a basic foundational element: Training. Yes, training. Some research indicates it takes an average of 66 days of deliberately practicing a new action/habit for it to replace the old one. So I thought I’d put that to the test. Along with a few friends, family, and clients (and even some people I’ve never met!), I am taking on a challenge. Please feel free to join us in what will hopefully establish a healthier “habit” of reacting to life in a way that better serves our true selves than it does the ego.
I think I first heard, “starve the ego, feed the soul” on the Dalai Lama’s Twitter feed of all places! But I could be wrong. Wherever it came from, this saying returned to my mind during a session with one of my clients. In my car ride home, I reflected more on this. Personally, I was not thrilled with how I had recently reacted to some events in my own life—I did not handle them as well as I’d like to have. I felt more anger, defense, stubbornness, and pain than was ideal, that’s for sure. So what was going on? Then it hit me: I was listening to my ego and letting it take over. NOT the best idea.
In our current world we so often react to what goes around us in a way that is not good for us. We are taught to “look out for number one” and “don’t trust anybody but yourself” and the like. But in doing so, are we also acting in a way that doesn’t ultimately bring about peace, acceptance, love, happiness? Over-indulging on defensiveness, self-preservation, pride, lust, stubbornness, anger, pain, or materialism feeds our “ego” and in turn starves our soul. And while that may feel good or relieving in a moment, ultimately it is not. Basically what we are doing is separating ourselves from what will truly bring about inner peace, confidence, and happiness.
Starting on Sunday, we will embark upon a journey of two months’ worth of deliberate steps and actions to better serve our souls and deny the selfish ego…each and every day. One person might recognize he is materialistic and pause mid-purchase, remember to starve the ego, and return his unnecessary new iPhone to the store shelf. Another person might make the decision to pick up the phone to forgive her best friend for an argument they’d had. A mom may choose to not utter the critique to her daughter that was about to come out of her mouth. A husband might think to smile and compliment his wife’s support and encouragement at the end of his long work day instead of rolling over in bed to go straight to sleep.
The goal is to foster mindfulness and divert focus away from the ego-serving reactions and behaviors that ultimately stand between lasting peace, confidence, and joy. As I like to say, we cannot always control the raging storm around us and to try to do so is often misplaced effort and anxiety—but while it rages toward and around us, we do have the ability to remain true to ourselves and be the calm in the storm. Whatever might be in the way of that calm must be addressed. Perhaps taking two months of deliberate action to starve the ego will help to establish a new norm.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor intern with the LifeWorks Group in Texas (www.wefixbrains.com). She specializes in the empowerment of trauma survivors, Veterans, first responders, and expats. Blog contents are her own and do not represent the Army or DoD.