Astikya – The Ayurvedic Secret to Busting Habits
I used to think that low self-esteem was the central issue to not being able to change unwanted habits. I really believed that fragile or damaged self-esteem made it difficult or impossible to get rid of bad habits even when they resulted in poor health or quality of life. I thought that if you just tried hard enough to value yourself more, unwanted behaviours would just slip away.
With that in mind, the million dollar question was, how do you build self-esteem?
This is where it gets a bit tricky because the starting point to esteem-building is seeing yourself as deficient and the low self-esteem something that needs to be fixed. People try to boost self-esteem by manipulating things in the external world that they think will make them happy, like achievements, weight loss, wealth, beauty, fame or power. Sadly, many people compare themselves to others as part of this process and it becomes very destructive, exhausting and addictive. And of course this doesn’t work as a strategy because the external world is constantly shifting and changing- businesses fail, beauty fades, cars rust and bodies get old.
Even if it were possible to perfect the outside world, this would not fix the inner feeling of low self-worth and like an itch that cannot be scratched, the grasping becomes a permanent feature. Social media has heightened the damage of the self-esteem game by creating so many ways for you to compare yourself to others and find yourself wanting. There are always people who are more beautiful, more successful, more affluent or more whatever the measurement used is. It is a stress and anxiety trap, laced with shame and disappointment.
Each failed attempt and each broken promise to change only strengthens the unwanted habit and provides strong evidence that you cannot trust yourself. As trust erodes, so does hope, giving even more power to the stubborn habits that provide a superficial hit of pleasure or pain relief, but create suffering and prevent deep fulfillment.
Every time you practice doing the thing that you don’t want to do, you lose a bit more self-trust and the unwanted habit gains traction. The true key to existing that downward spiral and finding freedom from habits and addictions is slowly building robust self-belief and trust that you can change.
So the real million dollar question is, how DO you build robust trust?
The same way you eat an elephant! One bite at a time.
Astikya is the Sanskrit word that means to cultivate unshakable faith, both in whatever you believe in and in yourself. It is cultivated every time you practice the new desired habit, and say no to that which you don’t want to do anymore. It is tapas or discipline, and any habit can be learned just like any other skill, with attention, practice and repetition. The more you do the new behaviour, the more likely it is to become the new samskara or unconscious competence.
Astikya means to have faith in ‘vihit karmas’ or the desired actions, because each time we practice the new behaviour we build a bit more trust and deep happiness. Vihit karmas are actions that bring freedom, and take us in the direction of our true and sacred inner selves where nothing needs fixing.
Only water the seeds that you want to grow
The good news is, it is a much more straightforward and uncomplicated approach than trying to build self-esteem. Just keep practicing the new habit, don’t give up when you slip up. Just keep coming back to it, the same way you just keep coming back to the yoga mat. The deep fulfillment and happiness that will result in eventually mastering your new habit will help you step way beyond the quest for self-esteem. Bit by bit, and with patience, you will find yourself walking towards moksha (liberation) and santosha (contentment) until the old habit has lost its grip.