Habits can help, when coming from the right place - Your West Valley News: Columns

Habits can help, when coming from the right place

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Carol Secord

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:15 pm | Updated: 10:53 am, Tue Aug 27, 2013.

Let’s play a little “Who Am I?” guessing game.

I am your constant companion.  I am your greatest helper of your heaviest burden.  I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.  I am at your command.  Half of the tasks that you do you might just as well turn over to me, and I will do them quickly and correctly.  I am easily managed; you must merely be firm with me.

Show me exactly how you want something done.  After a few lessons, I will do it automatically.  I am the servant of all great people, and alas, of all failures as well. Those who are great, I have made great.  And those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine, but I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person.  You may run me for profit or ruin; it makes no difference to me.  Take me, train me, be firm with me and I will lay the work at your feet. Be easy with me, and I will destroy you. Who am I?

Did you guess correctly?  Answer: I am habit. Now reread the above paragraph and see how much sense it makes when you know the answer.  

Simply stated, habits are action that have been learned and practiced so many times that they occur without conscious thought.  Sometimes habits are the result of specific training, like teaching a child to look both ways before crossing a street.  While in China a few years ago, I put myself in a dangerous situation, because of my habit of focusing on traffic as I would when crossing a street in the U.S.  I looked in the direction I expected it to be coming, but since they drive on the other side of the street, that habit did not serve me well. Actually, after a close call, I avoided crossing streets as much as possible.

Some habits develop from negative consequences, as for example, avoidance of certain foods because they make you physically ill. I have a friend who learned that she must be on a gluten-free diet.  I’ve asked her if it is hard to watch others eat so many foods she has enjoyed in the past. She says it doesn’t bother her, as she knows all too well the consequences of breaking the habit.

Even the threat of negative consequences can establish habits. Driving at or below the posted speed limit is an example of a habit learned in this way. I am always amazed to see speeders whiz by, oblivious to the potential negative consequences of an accident or a ticket.            

Other habits develop because of positive consequences.  My husband has the habit of never taking second helpings at a meal.  As a result he is slim and trim.  Sometimes I have explained to a hostess that it isn’t that he doesn’t like her food, but he has that firm habit.

Before you attempt to change a habit it is useful to see how it originated, the circumstances under which it occurs, and the positive or negative outcome from doing it. We may find helpful William James’ Rule of Habit:   

•    Seize the first opportunity to act.

•    Launch yourself with the strongest possible initiative.

•    Practice daily.

•    Never allow an exception to occur.

Let’s make all our habits helpers, not burdens.

Readers may write to Carol Secord at 9715 W. Lindgren Drive, Sun City, AZ, 85373.

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