As I told you during last week’s maxim, I want to talk about habits. And oftentimes, when we talk about something as understood and universal as a ‘habit’, we don’t realize that the slight variances in our respective definitions of such a general word can compound into grave misunderstandings. We need to explore that a little bit.
A habit, most certainly, at it’s core, is repetitive. It occurs regularly–not necessarily daily or hourly or weekly, but it’s something that you do often and predictably.
Our next question is why–why do you do this thing?
Some habits are…I want to say primal, or basic, but those words are a tad harsh. They’re simple and effortless and natural to you. I have a habit of chewing the inside of my cheeks when I think and checking Bleacher Report right when I wake up and right before I go to sleep. If we ask ourselves the ‘why’ of these habits, we get the four year old’s answer: ‘…cause’. We won’t call them ‘bad’, because they aren’t necessarily. They’re just…subconscious.
Other habits have more deliberate, goal-oriented foci. They’re established, concerted, conscious. I have a habit of praying every morning and every evening–I only established that after weeks of active engagement. I have a habit of reading before I go to bed every evening–that was really difficult to establish, cause, you know…Netflix…but I pulled it off. I gave effort, I focused, and I pulled it off. When we ask ourselves the ‘why’ of these habits, our answers is ‘because prayer fosters a healthy spiritual life’ and ‘because reading is how I obtain new information and expand my scope’. They have conscious reasoning behind them.
I’m attempting to establish a habit of posting three times a week as well, but as you can see, that’s been a bit of a struggle.
And therein really lies the crux of a ‘habit’–it’s not a struggle. Because of the expectation and consistency and comfortable repetition of prayer and reading, it’s no longer something for which I must strive, something that requires effort.
See, some habits are subconscious, in that we–forgive me–habitually do them. It’s just natural.
Some habits are conscious, in that we foster and nurture them, work them into existence until they begin working on their own–like pushing a boulder down a hill, it starts with great exertion, and as the boulder nears its tipping point, the ‘gravity’ of the habit helps us–the natural momentum–and less and less effort is required until the boulder simply rolls on its own. It’s something that wasn’t natural to begin with…but we made it natural.
A great book on habits? Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin–she speaks of keeping a ‘habit manifesto’ in this work, wherein she meticulously records what she does consistently and examines the impact of those repetitive activities on her life.
I’d encourage you–I’m doing it as well–for the next week, to keep a habit manifesto. Record, as loosely (me) or exactly (Ms. Rubin) as you prefer, what you do, think, feel (more than just actions–your mental and emotional habits are similarly powerful) during the day.
Find common threads, consistencies, and patterns–categorize them as subconscious or conscious, and examine what they brought to your day, what their ‘worth’ was. Was their great value in this habit? Or was it ‘bad’, in that it was a rut, a trench from which you struggled to escape?
Likewise, examine irregularities, anomalies, and singularities–what was their inherent value? Would you like for that value to be repeated, and if so, how can you shape this single occurrence into a regular habit? What prevents you from habitually utilizing that particular event?
I’d be interested to see what you find–and I’ll share what I do as well. However, a primer: I surmise, from my own experience, that habits interact like planets in space–they all pull on one another with some gravity, either strong at proximity or weak from afar. Sometimes the pull is with their natural motion–sometimes against it. But habits interact with and impact one another, as interwoven tendencies.
An example: if I consistently watch an hour of Netflix every day before I do my homework, am I more likely to start homework…or watch some more Netflix, when my hour is up? Well, with incredibly discipline, perhaps the homework. But I do not possess such droves of discipline, and as such…the temptation of that cliffhanger will catch me, and onto Netflix I go.
Habits are powerful. Our days, weeks, months, are defined by what we typically, regularly, do with them–the effect of a repeated action is compounded, certainly, over time.
So consider your habits–log them as you see fit, and ask yourself what worth you’re getting, what worth you’re losing, and how it could all be optimized to a better individual.