“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” — Mark Twain
I’ve come to respect the immense power of habit to influence our lives for better or worse. In everything from eating to sleeping to managing money to how we interact with each other at home, at work or on the road, habits can make or break our health, our sanity and our happiness.
To me, the very word “habit” sounds boring and unappealing, but good habits are forceful allies in the craziness of life. They are sort of like the “autopilot” that keeps us functioning by taking over when our reason is distracted or assaulted.
Bad habits, on the other hand, can sabotage our best intentions and most genuine efforts. With incredible tenacity, they mock our optimism and self-improvement ideals, leaving us feeling foolish for even trying to overcome them. Addicts, of course, experience this more keenly than those of us who have less obvious compulsions, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have at least a few detrimental tendencies they’d like to overcome. For example, I have a bad habit of eating Cheez-It crackers right out of the (extra large) box, which I’m doing right now as I write this, despite knowing that healthier snack options would be better for me.
I think Twain hit on an important secret here. While we hear the occasional story of a successful “cold turkey” setting aside of a bad habit, most often we have to be patient with ourselves and others when it comes to breaking bad habits, and take it a step at a time. It’s usually not successful for me to make unrealistic goals such as “I will never eat anymore Cheez-It crackers as long as I live” or “as long as I weigh more than five pounds over my ideal weight” (which in my case appears to be the same thing). I can start with closing the box right now (okay, okay!) even though it’s not empty yet. Not quite, anyway.
Then I can move on to other steps, such as NOT BUYING any Cheez-It crackers in the first place. I was doing pretty good with this, until they came out with Zingz. Oh, my. Talk about unplanned complications! If you have the same problem with Cheez-It crackers that I do, take my advice; don’t even THINK about trying Zingz. It’s like coaxing yourself down three flights and then taking an elevator back up six.
I’ve often heard that it’s easier to let go of a bad habit if we replace it with a good one. In my experience, that’s true. So in just a minute, I’m going to go to the kitchen and get a mandarin orange and another cup of tea. Want to join me?
Admittedly, there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about slow, incremental approaches, but they do work, as long as we keep moving in the right direction. Sometimes we don’t see how far we’ve come until we look back and realize that we’re a respectable distance from where we started. That gives us a boost to morale that can keep us going, as long as we don’t let ourselves get overwhelmed with the idea of the long distance that still lies ahead.
If your bad habit is too big and heavy and obstreperous to be heaved out the window, try coaxing it down one step at a time. Sooner or later you’ll get to the ground, and you’ll enjoy a much-deserved break — and maybe even some congratulations and applause. See you there!
One year ago today, it was Easter weekend, so I’m adjusting the posts to fit.
April 18, 2013 is linked today. March 29-31, 2013 will be linked on Easter weekend.
Almost one year ago today: