In the opening pages of Savor there's a section that speaks on habit energy. It starts by sharing that classic Zen story you've probably heard before:
A man on a horse can be seen approaching in the distance by some villagers. As he gets closer, since he looks to be in a great hurry, a villaber yells out "Where are you going?" to which the man replies "I don't know...Ask the horse!!"
That horse is the many ways in which we find ourselves mindlessly grabbing a soda any time we are thirsty, or eating a dozen cookies instead of one, or buying cookies instead of a healthier choice!
When I started out with Savor 11 years ago, I could identify a great many ways in which I allowed my habit energy to carry me through life. The one that always struck me as the most outstanding was going in to a coffee shop for a coffee, but walking out with a Denti Flapuccino (I don’t want to get any Barstucks legal notices because this isn't about bashing them) and a large chocolate chip cookie. About 900 calories instead of 20.
I would have the thought of a coffee and the initial intention to get only a coffee. Waiting in the line, I had ample time to mindlessly tune out and scroll my phone or whatever. All the while standing in front of the baked goods rack.
Now...this gets complex, but the short version of what would happen inside me was kind of like this:
"I'll have a coffee.", I would think.
scroll, glance up, scroll, glance around, scroll
Then I would have a thought, "Man a frap would be so good"
"Nah, I need to lay off the flapuccinos."
"Well, I do, but it's Saturday, so I could enjoy one today and then Monday I'll start my diet."
"No, I'll just get the coffee."
scroll, glance up, scroll, glance around, scroll
Walk out of the store with my Flapuccino and....a cookie?!
*takes bite of cookie*
"What the...when did I order the cookie?!"
Now, I have a lot of friends that work for BarStucks. I asked why they have 8 people working and not one around to take an order. Initially she said that they have a mandate to stay in their workstation no matter what. It's a completely ridiculous way of operating, especially when there never seemed to be a cashier at an "order here" station. No one else could move from their two foot square except that person who keeps the customer moving. Completely ridiculous.
…you don't really want people to move fast. Maybe you'd like for them to spend some time in line by the baked goods rack waiting to place their order. One article I read from 2016 says that 79% of shoppers will make an impulse purchase while waiting in line at the checkout, that last six feet to freedom. So there's that.
But let's go back to the process going on in my head and body when I was in the line. There's a couple of very deep complex things happening there that might not be completely obvious.
First, I wanted a coffee, I resigned myself to coffee, and I had the thought of a different drink but I decide firmly on the coffee. Then bought a different drink. Why?
Well, I have learned enough about myself to know that - for me - when I walk in the store that choice has already been made. In fact, most of the time, before I park my car or even pull in the parking lot, somewhere inside I have already decided I'm having that 500 calorie drink.
There's a seed planted right at the very first thought of going for coffee. It's SO deep, and so tiny that I can hardly tell you when it happens even after 11 years of working to see it. But I do know it happens, and I know that - and here's the first really crucual thing that's not obvious - I'm not talking myself in to getting the drink...I'm talking myself out of it. That choice was already made, and now I'm trying to change my mind.
This has something to do with the fact that we can't NOT think about something that someone tells us not to think about. If you say "You should definitely NOT get a frozen 500 calorie drink" my mouth says "yeah, that's true..." while somehwhere inside me I'm saying "I'm totally getting a 500 calorie drink". And from that point on I'm scrolling through my phone, waiting in line, while I pretend to talk myself out of it. I'm not sure if everyone works this way, but that's what I've learned about me.
Now the second things is even less obvious. Somewhere wayyyyyy down below that internal struggle that has a little bit of my attention is another struggle. This is the one that says:
"Psst! I know we are here for coffee, and we both know you're having a 500 calorie frozen sugar drink instead...but dude...next time you look up, check out that sweet looking cookie!"
"you mean the chocolate chipcookie? 240 calories?"
"No dude...that's not a chocolate chip cookie....that, sir, is a Triple. Chocolate. CHUNK. Cookie from heaven! I mean...you can't get it, we alreday know that...I'm just sayin. Look at that thing."
So...while I think I'm trying to get a coffee, my brain is doing whatever the hell it wants, and I'm barely aware of one thing, much less all the others.
This is our habit energy. Or mine anyhow. And as the book Savor says...
“We have to learn the art of stopping—stopping our running so that we can be present for and embrace our habit energies of worry, blame, guilt, and fear, and calm the strong emotions that dictate us. We have to learn to live fully in the present moment. We need to practice breathing in and breathing out with all our awareness. We have to learn to become mindful.”
If we can take even just ONE calming in and out breath to pause and think before we go in to the proverbial coffee shop and look down deeply at what is happening in our experience, we can choose with intention and stay focused. I have verified this to be true! I lost a lot of weight with this one simple practice!
What's the catch? Well, there is a small catch of course. We need this to be easier, and to be easier we must focus on it often. Daily meditation is a must. But luckily it can't, and doesn't have to, happen all at once. Start with a single breath. Three breaths. A minute. Five minutes.