Yesterday morning my friend Condredge Dole, an enormously talented young man who builds amazing websites, was sitting across from me in my office when he asked me a rather interesting question.
He pointed out that for the past year I have been writing a weekly blog on habits. Much time has been spent discussing some 19 different habits and isn’t it time to chat about how we acquire, sustain, are controlled by, and change habits?
A long time ago Mark Twain helped us understand the power that habits have in our lives when he famously said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times”
Many of our lives are governed by our rituals – those things we do repeatedly – and when we make the decision to change those rituals, we soon learn the lesson Mark Twain was teaching us.
The old saying that “Old habits die hard” is, somewhat misleading is I don’t think we ever quite get rid of the habit but rather, what it does is disappear from our consciousness and lies dormant, patiently waiting for the slightest opening through which to re-enter our lives.
This was brought home to me a few months ago when I was walking across the street to meet a friend for coffee in a restaurant. As I was in the crosswalk I noticed a man standing outside the restaurant, smoking.
I recognized him – someone I’ve known casually for several years – and have never known him to smoke.
I greeted him and, naturally out of curiosity, pointed to his cigarette and asked, “What’s up with this?”
He looked at me sheepishly and it’s replied, “Yeah, I know. I started again after 17 years.
I have come to the conclusion that is not possible to get rid of a habit. The best we can hope to do is exchange one habit for another and do so with enough conviction and repetition that the old habit stays out of our lives forever.
I have studied habits for a long time and I believe that habits do not form of themselves but rather there is a three-step process that is essential in the formation of a habit.
Firstly, there is a foundation upon which all habits are built. That foundation is called our beliefs – those things we uniquely and individually believe to be true.
What we believe to be true is the base from which we choose or decide to take action. Most of the things we do are driven by something we believe to be true in the moment we make the decision.
The second part of the formula kicks in once we take action. We tend to do the same things over and over again. Dictionary.com defines a habit as, “An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”
It further describes a habit this way, “Customary practice or use: Daily bathing is an American habit.”
In Canada, of course, we only do this once or twice a year so while clearly bathing is a habit for Americans, in Canada it is, fortunately, only a semi-annual annoyance.
Aristotle told us that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, it is a habit.”
Our habits stem from those things we believe to be true which drive us to do the same actions over and over again.
I believe this formula goes a long way to explain why we experience such difficulty in changing habits. It is because when we set out to change a habit we focus all our attention on our behavior – and not on our beliefs driving the behavior.
Next week we will re-examine this formula and see if we can shed some light on making habit changes a little easier for us all.
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at www.lifesinksorsoars.com and let me know what you think.
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