Let us contemplate on habits and as to how they influence our lives.
A habit can be defined as a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.
Habits are acquired in childhood and once imbibed, persist throughout life.
The habits that we acquire in early childhood are derived through observation and interaction with our parents and other significant people with whom we have close and repetitive contact.
This is the foundation on which we build other habits, as we grow up, that have characteristics similar to the ones acquired earlier.
The fundamental ingredients that are involved in constituting a habit are thoughts or pattern of thoughts, feelings and emotions linked to these thoughts, and our beliefs. These translate themselves into words and actions, constituting behavior, that are spontaneous, repetitive and predictable when faced with similar situations in life as the ones in which they were first imbibed during the formative years.
The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.
Our innate nature determines our likes and dislikes with respect to the various choices that present themselves during our interaction with our environment and people.
These established patterns of strong likes and dislikes form the central core of habit formation.
When faced with a situation that is in alignment with what we like, there is an automatic, spontaneous and unconscious response to the situation in a manner that has become set and repetitive, through past experience, so as to derive maximum satisfaction or benefit from it. For example, when we are faced with the choice of food in a restaurant, we automatically make a choice of the dish that has given us the greatest pleasure when consumed in the past.
Likewise, our dislikes, based on results of earlier experiences, put us in an automatic avoidance mode of rejecting that which had resulted in a distasteful or painful experience in the past.
These reactions to our likes and dislikes happen instantaneously and at a level below our conscious awareness. We are hardly aware that we are habitually reacting to similar situations in the same way over and over again.
Habits therefore become reflex actions driven by our likes and dislikes. They propel us instinctively to seek pleasure in the fulfillment of our desires and avoid the painful experience of our fears.
“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” -Charles C. Noble
We find it difficult to change our habits due to the following reasons:
Our habits have been our close companions for so long that they become second nature to us.
We act out our habits unconsciously and so their existence escapes our conscious awareness.
Our habits serve us well to avoid pain seek pleasure thereby helping us stay in our comfort zone.
It requires great effort and investment of energy to break old habits and cultivate newer ones.
“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”.
“A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them”.
Our habits produce outcomes that may be productive or counter productive, based on the situation and the context in which they are exhibited.
In a lighter vein, let us see how habits, even the good ones, can become counter productive, producing disastrous results when exhibited in an inappropriate context.
THE RELIGIOUS MAN
There’s this religious man who had been lost and walking in the desert for about 2 weeks. One hot day, he sees the home of a missionary. Tired and weak, he crawls up to the house and collapses on the doorstep. The missionary finds him and nurses him back to health.
Feeling better, the man tells the missionary, “Thank God, I was able to reach you in time and Thank God you were able to restore me back to good health”.
He asks the missionary for directions to the nearest town. On his way out the backdoor, he sees a horse. He goes back into the house and asks the missionary, “Could I borrow your horse and ride it to reach the town? “
The missionary says, “Sure but there is a special thing about this horse. You have to say “Thank God” to make it go and “Hallelujah” to make it stop.”
The man says, “Sure, ok”, and thanks God for facilitating his onward journey
So he gets on the horse and says, “Thank God” and the horse starts walking. Then he says, “Thank God, thank God,” and the horse starts trotting. Feeling grateful for the ride, the man says, “Thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God” and the horse just takes off. Pretty soon he sees this cliff coming up and he is doing everything he can to make the horse stop.
“Whoa, stop, hold on!!!!”
Finally he remembers, “Hallelujah!!”
The horse stops 2 inches from the cliff.
Then the man leans back in the saddle, looks up to the heavens, and says, “Thank God.”
The good news is that we can conquer our habits. We can drop our unproductive or counter productive habits and cultivate new productive habits. In this manner we remove behavioral patterns that impede our progress and inculcate behavioral patterns that ensure successful outcomes in life.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit”. – Aristotle
Habits can be dropped or cultivated in the following ways:
- Remaining aware at all times of our habitual reactions to various situations in life and the result of these reactions.
- Seeking the help of a friend or member of family to point out our habitual reactions to varying stimuli and their outcomes.
We may choose any one or both to help us bring to our conscious awareness our habitual thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behavior. Once in our conscious awareness, we are in a position to analyze our habits and determine whether they have served us well or not over the years. Based on our conclusion, we may then decide to drop, modify or completely replace the habit with another one.
The success of this process depends on the intensity of our desire for change and on our ability to persist and persevere in our efforts to bring about a change.
Before signing off, let us ponder on a quote that illustrates the important role our habits play in our lives.
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”