I first came across this poem in the opening of Sean Covey’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”. I was really taken by the last words – “be easy with me and I will destroy you“. I had never given a habit that much thought before. But this description, is almost scary. And so it should be.
Habits tend to be classified as either good or bad. Most attention seems to be placed on changing out bad habits, breaking them, so to speak. All the attention in self-improvement goes towards the effort of ridding ourselves of these unwanted habits, as if they are the only habits we possess. In fact, our brains are running many types of habit loops all the time. Kind of like an operating system running in the background of the computer. The guts that makes all the fancy software programs work.
Just as the cautionary words from above, if we instead are curious about habits, we have the ability to modify, change, break, add, delete, or whatever we desire. I have not found a better description of habits or methods to work with them than “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This book opened my eyes to what was possible in terms of making changes, rather than lengthy descriptions leaving me feeling hopeless.
Charles Duhigg describes a cookie habit, breaking it down into a cycle. It stars with a cue, then moves into a routine and finished with a reward. Once our brains learn this habit, it can happen lightening fast and completely without any further analysis. Interestingly, this happens for good and bad habits. Our brains don’t judge.
What I have found works best is to start small. It is less tiring, mentally. Easier to keep track of. I pick one habit I want to add. A double-header here would be to add something good in place of a bad habit I want to break. For example, if I wanted to add 20 minutes of exercise, I might tag onto that a healthy breakfast. So instead of rushing out the door having only had coffee, I’ve done 2 things good for my health. It is kind of tricky, but sometimes that is how you have to be.
“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” -Ralph Marston
By expressing appreciation or by honouring others with gratitude, there is an act of giving. But the benefits are far greater to the giver than to the receiver. The same is said about simply smiling. Even if you don’t feel like it, your mood will improve. Once you start doing these things more consistently and feeling the rewards, it will become a habit. How amazing would the world be if the first thing we thought of, in any situation was who can I appreciate here, instead of who can I blame?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” -Aristotle
By working on managing personal habits, I think we gain insight into motivations which we might not have understood before. Instead of beating ourselves up for our bad habits, we begin to realize that we can change them. Or we can choose not to. Either way, this allows our brains to wander over to more interesting and creative thoughts. At least that has been my experience.
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