Where Do Bad Habits Come From?

It’s interesting how one small thing repeated often enough can lead to one very big thing.

I remember, many years ago, as a young teenager, I succumbed to the taunting of my friends, put my first ever cigarette between my lips and lit it.

A few days later, in the company of those same friends I did it again and in a very short time buying a pack of cigarettes every week and skillfully finding strategic places to hide them from my mother’s ever-prying eyes became part of my routine.

My youth and inexperience precluded me from realizing that smoking cigarettes creates an olfactory experience for those in close proximity, and my mother wasn’t fooled, not even for a nanosecond.

That First Puff, or Drink, or Drive

Despite Mom’s best parenting efforts, it didn’t take much longer before buying a pack of cigarettes had become a daily habit.

Something that innocently began with a simple desire to belong became an albatross that hung around for more than 25 years.

Over the years I have shared that story with a number of people and almost everyone of them has immediately responded with a similar story of their own.

I learned how, for one person, meeting the gang for one drink after work on a Friday, led to two drinks and then three, and then a few on Saturdays, and soon everyday until, many years later, an extended-stay in a rehab facility became a lifesaving necessity.

I heard how the daily habit of walking eight blocks to work, and eight blocks back home again, quickly morphed into 2 daily train rides because of a snap decision to take the train one day during  a snowstorm led to taking the train twice a week and culminating in enjoying the ease and quiet comfort of a brief commute to and from work in the cozy comfort of a passenger train.

And I heard the story of how one night spent with friends instead of staying at home studying for a key exam, led to many fun, social experiences, leading to the eventual dropping out of school and an MBA never being completed.

Each story told of the unintended consequences of a new habit being formed.

And every one of these tales, as well as my years of being a smoker, are all the result of a damaging habit being formed – the result of an innocent decision to try something for the first time under the guise of “Why not? I’m just doing it once, no big deal,” with little to no thought being given to the potential consequences of our behaviour.

We never set out to develop a “new bad habit” and yet these can so easily result from a simple, often spontaneous, decision to do something outside of our normal behaviour (or succumb to the temptation to revert to our norms when we are trying to create new habits).

Our Rituals Become Out Results

Most results come from what we do repeatedly and yet all our habits are learned and, at some point in their inception, we made a conscious choice to do the behaviour for the first time, and then the second and the third etc., before the behaviour became a part of regular rituals.

And whatever consequences those behaviours produce are ours to own.

The lesson here is not to forgo new challenges, temptations or opportunities. It is to remember the powerful reality that resides in the immutable truth: When we choose a behavior, we choose its consequences.

Ain’t no way around it.

Till we read again.

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