• Gwen Pollara

The Neural Delights of Forming New Habits

As you might know by now, I am a historically messy person. Hanging up clothes has always been considered by my sub-conscious brain as a “Big Waste of Time.” That is, until at some point, when my space/home would become so messy, my stress level would breech the flood walls of my conscious brain.

At that point, I would drop all other obligations and tidy, tidy, tidy.

In most scenarios, someone spontaneously comes to visit so that I have not had time to clean up my home. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of authenticity and do not condone endeavors to appear more or less of something that a person is not. For instance, if I appear to be super organized when I'm not, I could actually be creating a subtle judgement of others who are not organized. But if I'm simply naturally organized, so be it....carry on. I have one friend who is super organized. Her drawers are labeled and contents neatly displayed. I celebrate this trait in her. I feel inspired when I'm in her home. However, for me, being tidy hasn't come naturally. But HAVING a tidy home does make me feel spacious, uplifted and proud of my home.

In the past I have derided myself for not being able to just put things away when I'm done with them. I was that kid who constantly stole away with the kitchen scissors so that my mom was constantly looking for them. (Sorry, Mom.)

For the past week, what I've noticed is a subtle but notable shift in how I handle the winter coat situation. Something truly miraculous has happened. When I come in from the cold I just take off my coat, go to the coat closet (oh to have a accessible coat closet!) and hang up my coat on a lovely wooden hanger.

There are hooks waiting for my coats. I put them there so that I could avoid hanging them on hangers, but lately I have found that some coats, like my new bright red wool coat, begs me to hang her up on a hanger. Hangers help secure a coat so that it won't fall onto the ground. Hangers help keep the shape of the coat, especially wool ones. A coat on a hanger is easily brushed free of pet hair, which we have a lot of in our home.

So what shifted? And how did it shift? I believe it has taken me years of incremental steps toward a better attitude. I different way of relating to my space and belongings. I have a lot less stuff for starters. I have one wool coat and I want it to last forever. (I picture wearing that red wool coat when I'm 80.) Secondly, I have spent a great deal of time testing my core beliefs about a lot of things. My belief that it is too much trouble to hang my coat, (read: “I can do it later.”) and my habitual pattern of NOT being fully in the present moment have both led to chronic untidiness.

Being in the present moment is how we start to change our habitual patterns and instill new neural pathways, i.e. new habits. For most of my life, the act of hanging up my coat was weirdly fraught with actual


discomfort in my body. I would feel a great resistance to the act like someone was holding back my arms. But by asking myself a simple question, “What do I want?” helped me to hang out with the discomfort and hang up the coat anyway. I knew I wanted to be a more tidy person so that my home would always feel uplifted and so I wouldn't continually feel overwhelmed by the messes I had created. It has been through little moments of effort that new habits have formed and now hanging up a coat just feels habitual without the my body resisting. It actually feels good to use that hanger!!!

Exercise: What is one habit you would like to shift or change? Can you start to notice what happens in your mind and body when you go to do the new thing? (E.g. hanging up your jacket at the end of the day, hanging up a towel, putting dirty dishes straight into the dish washer.)

Try acknowledging the sensation in your body or the voice in your head that has traditionally stopped you from doing the thing. Say, “Hello, I see you. I know you just want to leave this dish here for later, but if you do it now, you will build a new habit that will bring you tidiness and joy.”

And remember, BE GENTLE with yourself. This neural rewiring toward new habits takes time.

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