9/19/2007

Habits, Habits, and more Habits

We do it once or twice, its an act. We do it everyday, its a habit. Charles C Noble once said, "first we make our habits, then our habits make us." Everything from the way we make our coffee in the morning, to how we prepare for bed at night is a culmination of actions which we repeat day after day. In doing so, we program the actions into our subconscious minds. In the end, we no longer need to think about what we are actually doing as we go about our day.

Many of us talk about breaking our bad habits. The reason we have those intentions is we have come to realize the destructive nature of the things we consistently do. Sometimes, even while we are doing it, we feel the guilt associated with doing what we know to be counter-productive to our growth. So how do we break our bad habits?

I am not sure we can. Breaking a habit is not the best way to "break a habit." Instead, we need to work on developing new beneficial routines and adapt them to our everyday lives. As we developed the bad habit, we deeply implanted programing into our brains much like a path we create from walking the same way through a field day after day. If I wanted to create a new path, I would not focus my attention on destroying the old path, instead, I would begin to walk in a different direction to my destination. In time, grass would grow over the old path causing it to slowly disappear.

Creating a new path is not easy. The first time you attempt to take a new path through the field, you may experience some anxiety. This new way does not feel as good as the one you used to take. In your mind, you ask yourself questions to justify why you should even bother putting yourself through this when you do not have to. You pretty much have to force yourself to keep going to you make it to the other side of the field. Once you are there, you evaluate your experience. Was it "not so bad," or "so uncomfortable you never want to go through it again?" Do you decide to take the worn out path the next day to avoid this emotionally charged experience?

The analogy of creating a new path serves as a simple illustration of habit creating process. My next post will focus on practical things we need to know when creating new habits. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I'm not sure that old habits ever go away... I think you just change your perceptions so that you no longer see the same situation even when to all outside appearances it hasn't changed. You might no longer see a few free minutes as time to have a cigarette, for example, but as an opportunity to get some quick mental quiet time.

I love the walking through the field example... it pretty much illustrates what I'm talking about. You no longer look at the field and see your original path as the way to move forward, you now see your new path, but you have to teach yourself to see it the new way.