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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 
closely.

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 
cable.

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 
hinder us.

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 
to be.

-- Steve Goodier


Posted by Priya Deelchand

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