Monday, June 4, 2012
Paying attention to habits
There was a fire one night at a convent and several nuns who lived
on the fourth floor were trapped. They were praying for divine
providence to show them a way out of the fire when one of the
sisters screamed, "We need to take off our robes, tie them together,
and climb down to safety."
Later as they were recounting the event to reporters, they were
asked if they were afraid that the crude rope might not hold up.
"Oh, no," they said, "Old habits are hard to break."
Do you know the story of the touchstone? It tells of a fortunate man
who was told that, if he should find the "touchstone," its magical
powers could give him anything he wanted. It could be found, he was
informed, among the pebbles of a certain beach. All he need do is
pick up a stone - if it feels warm to the touch, unlike the other
pebbles, he has found the magical touchstone.
The man went immediately to the beach and began picking up stones.
When he grasped a pebble that felt cold, he threw it into the sea.
This practice he continued hour after hour, day after day, week
after week. Each pebble felt cold. Each pebble was immediately
tossed into the sea.
But then, late one morning, he happened to take hold of a pebble
that felt warm, unlike the other stones. The man, whose
consciousness had barely registered the difference, tossed it into
the sea. He hadn't meant to, but he had formed a habit, and habits
can be hard to break.
Most of my habits are more like routines. I habitually arise about
the same time every day - too early, it seems. I exercise. I fix
oatmeal for breakfast. Most days I listen to the same kinds of music
and even read the same kinds of literature. (I hope I don't repeat
the same old stories.) My routines include those places I like to
visit and the people I like to see. It's all fairly predictable. But
what I call routine is more like a series of habits, some of which
work well for me and some I should perhaps look at a bit more
In fact, any behavior that I repeat, I reinforce. If I repeat it
often enough, it becomes habit. Soon I don't even think about it -
old habits are hard to break. Even good ones.
A Spanish proverb says: "Habits are first cobwebs, then cables." The
metaphor works well for "bad" habits. They first entice, and then
ensnare us like a cobweb. And if we continue in the behavior, the
web grows stronger and can be as difficult to break as a steel
But some habits can work in our favor. Such as patterns in the way
we live our lives. Or positive attitudes and healthy ways of
thinking. Our habitual attitudes and behaviors can either help us or
The truth is this: we form our habits, then our habits form us. So
we ought to pay attention to the habits we're forming.
Is there a behavior or attitude you would like to make into a habit?
Then reinforce it by repeating it at every opportunity. Is there a
something you wish to change? Then substitute a different attitude
or behavior and repeat the new one every chance you get.
When it comes to habits, practice may not make perfect. But practice
will certainly make permanent. Your habits will form you. So form
the habits you want and let them mold you into the person you want
-- Steve Goodier
Posted by Priya Deelchand