I was little surprised when my lunch companion sheepishly excused himself from the table saying he needed to go outside for a few minutes.
I long ago learned that “going outside for a few minutes” is a smoker’s code for needing to go and have one.
What surprised me was that he had told me in no uncertain terms some six months ago when last we were together that he quit several days before and was never going back to this “disgusting habit.”
When he returned a few moments later we talked for sometime about the challenges of quitting smoking.
I know from personal experience that this is indeed a difficult thing to do. It took me many attempts to quit before I finally succeeded many, many years ago.
So rather than talking about quitting smoking I felt it might be more beneficial to my friend if we spent some time talking about the influence that habits have over our lives.
It is long been said that we are “creatures of habit” and, in fact, we do, indeed live ritualistic lives whereby we tend to do the same things over and over again.
From the simple acts of brushing of teeth several times each day to going to bed around the same time each night, habits seem to dominate our lifestyle in so many different ways.
Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Success therefore, is not an act, it is a habit.”
“We are what we repeatedly do.” A powerful statement. I think Aristotle was onto something.
If we honestly examine the results in our lives – where we are right now versus where we want to be – I believe we will confirm the truthfulness of this statement to ourselves.
This means, that if we are not getting the results in our lives that we would like to get – from constantly struggling to lose that weight, get into shape, quit smoking, spend more time with our kids, read more, take more courses etc. – we need to evaluate those rituals that repeatedly keep us away from where we do want to be.
I think we can divide our habits into two categories – the habits of doing or the habits of not doing. There is possibly even a causal relationship between these opposing habits.
For example, the habit of coming home at the end of the day, collapsing onto the couch and shovelling potato chips down your throat while you stare at your TV may be contributing to your not developing the habit of coming home at the end of the day, changing into your workout gear and going to the gym – even though what you really want is the result that regular visits to the gym will produce in your life.
So why do so many of us consistently strengthen the habits of doing the very things that move us further and further from where we would like to be?
I believe we do this because we only ever do one thing. We do what is most important to us in the moment. Period!
And it is more important to brush our teeth than to leave home without having done so.
And it is more important to watch TV than to spend time with our kids.
And it is more important to sleep in for an extra thirty minutes than to drag ourselves out of bed and go for a run.
We’ve talked about this many times before. How our actions are determined by our desires to gain pleasure and avoid pain. And how we tend to worker harder to avoid pain than to gain pleasure because, quite often, in order to get to the forest of pleasure we have to walk through the field of pain.
Pleasure often arrives at the end of pain and we frequently want the instant gratification of immediate pleasure so we avoid doing the very things that will bring us greater, long term pleasure.
Far too many of us have developed the detrimental habit of trading what we really want for what we want RIGHT NOW.
In other words, we have allowed ourselves to develop the powerful habit of not doing.
Imagine this: What would your life be like today if just one short year ago you had committed to mastering the habit of doing the very things that would give you the life you truly want and you had vowed to do those things repeatedly regardless of the tug of opposing habits to doing other, less painful, things and had followed through on your commitment?
How different would your life be today?
And how different will your life be just one short year from now if you make that commitment to new habits and start acquiring them right now, today?
These new habits are like well tailored clothes.
And, like nuns, we need to wear them proudly every day.
Till we read again.