habit

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

I’m a big believer in the power of habitual action. Consistency is key.  Doing something day in & day out is the best way to remove choice from the equation.

Now, as a person who has struggled with eating disorders & addiction, the OCD part of my personality can run with this consistency thing and take it way way too far. (Hey if running every day is good, then missing a day must mean I am a terrible horrible no good person right?!)

Where is the balance?

When looking at my goals, addressing habits I would like to form and those I’d like to ditch – I need to be pretty damn hard on myself.  I need to take a stern & honest look at how I am doing.  I expect a lot and I always believe I am capable of doing more and doing better.  I also know that there are times I need to give myself a freaking break.

Despite all of my hard work, I still have some bad habits. (duh!) If I were to look back at an old journal (which I, in fact, recently did – from 1995!), I would find nearly the exact same worries and struggles. The exact same frustrations with myself. Pretty much the same goals too! In differing degrees of course, but the aspirations I had for my life back then remain true to this day.

As I get older, I am more keenly aware of the power of habit.  I am less afraid of the rigid nature of doing something [the positive, desirable thing] every single day.  Why is that?  I think it’s because I am stronger.  My motivation is solid and my goals less slippery.  I am less swayed by the opinions of others.  I’m aware of the incredible impact my habits have on my teenage son.  I am smarter now.  I understand the correlation between my daily actions and future results. I am less caught up in magical thinking.

Nineteenth century philosopher William James wrote at length on the topic of habit.  I simply love these three points!!

  1. “The acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of it’s not occurring at all.”
  2. “Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right … It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it be never fed.”
  3. “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you
    aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ‘set’ to
    the brain.”

I am highly motivated to “put myself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way”….the temptations to slip and/or ease up on myself lose their appeal once momentum takes hold and the positive effects start to snowball.

Traditionally, resolutions (“commitments to new habits”) are made January 1.  It’s a clean slate, a new year, a fresh new page.  I like that idea, but I am inspired NOW.  Start now.  Choose now. Whatever the habit may be…waking up early every single day (which pairs nicely with going to bed at a reasonable hour…*raising my hand over here*), eating well, practicing a creative outlet on a daily basis, saving money, reaching out to loved ones more intentionally & frequently, keeping a tidy home, reducing waste, practicing forgiveness, working hard towards an athletic or career goal….there are so many possibilities.  I would love to hear yours. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “habit

  1. James is a genius!
    Getting things done is not about will power; it’s (in part) about creating environments that elicit the behavior you desire from yourself. It’s, as you say, about removing choice from the equation.

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