Lowering the activation energy barrier

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Romans 7:19 (NRSV)

I’ve been pondering this verse all day today as I have been realizing (yet again) how often I don’t do the things that I know will ultimately make me feel good (eating well, getting enough sleep, getting exercise) and how often I do the things that I know will ultimately make me feel less than good (stay up late, eat junk food, do my sloth imitation on the couch).

In the context that St. Paul actually wrote this, he’s using this to emphasize how depraved and evil all humans are because we are enslaved to sin. I don’t buy his reasoning about this anymore, but I do still find some comfort in knowing that I’m not the only person to have ever struggled with living up to the ways that I want to live.

In my case, most of the times when I don’t live up to the ways I want to live, it is due to some combination of laziness and samskara (a Sanskrit term we talk about in yoga that describes the habitual conditioning of our minds—and therefore our actions—to follow the same pathways over and over again). In each case, doing things in some new way requires that I get over an activation energy barrier to escape from my samskara rut.

I’ve been paying careful attention today to the places where I am managing to make changes that I desire and the places where I am not. In each case where I’m managing to make desired changes, I’ve discovered that there is something that I’m doing that is making it easier for me to do the thing I wish to do. In every case, it’s been something that has lowered that activation energy barrier.

For example, in a recent overview of Ayurveda in my yoga teacher training, I was reminded again of the recommendation of drinking warm lemon water first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything else. I’ve tried to do this before and have always failed. I’d buy the lemons, but they would wind up going bad in the refrigerator because I never remembered to do anything with them in my half-awake morning state. This time, I got the lemons and put them out on the counter in a pretty bowl where I see them every time I walk into the kitchen. I also placed a small cutting board and knife right next to the bowl to make quartering them easy. With my water jug and travel mug set up nearby, I’m not only reminded to do this each morning, it’s also easy to do because everything is right there ready to go. And you know what? I’m really enjoying this new habit! I think it does help my digestion, after all.

That’s one small example, but I have others like it. Placing the book I’ve been using for my morning readings (Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison) on my nightstand such that it’s in my way when I reach for the snooze button has helped me actually do a daily morning reading more consistently than I ever thought possible. (It helps that this is such a wonderful book to read!) Having healthy breakfast materials prepared beforehand (hard-boiled eggs and whole grain bagels) makes it easier to eat a good breakfast. The list goes on.

Noticing this has gotten me thinking about all of the other things I want to be doing that I’m not doing (and those I don’t want to be doing that I am doing). I’m excited about exploring ways to make it easier to get out of my samskara rut for each of those as well. One step at a time. And for each positive new habit I build, I’m noticing that it makes the creation of additional good habits that much easier to do.

I just love it when my observer-self notices simple, practical ways to make things happen!

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.

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6 thoughts on “Lowering the activation energy barrier

  1. And in an amazing bit of synchronicity, this same verse wound up being quoted in a book I was reading later in the evening (after the writing of the post) which was also discussing samskara! The whole idea of not being able to live the way I wish to live is also well-known in yogic (and Buddhist) circles as well. I’m truly not alone!

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