I broke a habit yesterday. It is a habit which I have had for over thirty-five years. When I say “broke”, I don’t mean that I did it purposely, just that it happened, sort of like breaking your arm. Come to think of it, why do we say that we “break” habits?
A quick look at the dictionary reinforces what I have always envisioned when considering the verb form of the word…BREAK: (v.) to separate into parts with suddenness or violence… And, as much as that is the way I feel about the habit which has been cast aside today, it is not quite the meaning we assume when we “break a habit”. I read on further down the list until I reach the seventh definition (there are quite a few more than that)…BREAK: (v.) to stop or bring to an end suddenly… But, as much as I enjoyed this little trip to the dictionary, I suppose you would like for me to move along, wouldn’t you? You also probably hope that I will divulge to you the long-standing habit which I broke. Okay, I will.
I quit drinking coffee yesterday. If it had been done with intent, I might be proud. It wasn’t. I just didn’t think to make a pot of the dark liquid energy, as I normally do. Events and frenetic activity conspired to keep me from it. Even just the slight period of time which has elapsed since I last imbibed has brought evident changes in me. Tonight, I pay the price, as the headache has taken hold and pounds at my temples. Truly, the first part of the definition, the part with suddenness and violence, seems to be apropos. I am however, as I write this, mending the lapse. The caffeine laced nectar is even now, making its way to my nerve receptors and reassuring my body that the break was merely temporary, a brief oversight and not a long term cessation of the habit.
We acquire habits in different ways; some unintentionally, as with my caffeine addiction; others, with purpose, as with our work habits. Mr. Covey, that self-help maven of book-writing fame, tells us that highly effective individuals have no less than seven intentional habits. You will probably be aware that I don’t practice those seven habits. What you may not know is that I abhor self-help books and have made a habit of staying as far away from them as I possibly can. Ah! Another unintentional habit—one, by the way, which I intend to keep. Nonetheless, we develop many habits over our lifetimes, some good, some bad, but all of them becoming a part of who we are and the person we have grown into.
I realized this week that one habit, which I picked up some time ago, was actually enjoying an anniversary this week. In fact, today marks exactly two years that I have been writing this blog. On this date in 2010, I began to bombard you with my thoughts and memories, as I determined that I would write on a regular basis. It is a habit which I had considered for a long time before developing it. As I went back today and read that first post, I realized that I actually threatened my readers with the habit, warning of the chaos which was coming and even suggesting that a straight-jacket might be called for. I am, as they say, still crazy after all these years. The straight-jacket may still be necessary.
Writing has been a habit which I have wanted to break on several occasions during the last two years and over four hundred posts. It is hard work, with periods of frustration which cannot be described. It has also been amazingly rewarding, as I have heard from readers who were touched by the words, or even inspired by them. Just the process of putting my thoughts down in black and white has been beneficial to me, as I’ve come to realize some of the good things (and bad) which I have lived through and from which I have learned. I think it is a habit I will keep, although, like the coffee drinking, there may be an unintentional hiatus from time to time.
I’d like to suggest to you that in spite of the bad reputation which habits have received, there are many which we should keep and nurture. Some of them come naturally; some require hard work to acquire and maintain. Caring for folks in need, teaching our children right from wrong, spending time with our spouses—these are just a few of the life patterns which should be habitually practiced. You will, no doubt, be thinking of countless ways in which we should live in integrity and love for each other. These habits are to be embraced, and enhanced, and exalted.
And then, there are the habits which should be eschewed (possibly alliteration is one?). I have many. You do too. I will not name a single one here, because if your personal peccadillo isn’t listed, you may believe that you have reason to gloat. There is not one of us who doesn’t have some habitual action which needs to be amended. The problem is that these habits are nearly impossible to break. The cessation of these actions requires a small miracle, not just the decision to stop doing them. And, unlike my coffee habit, the headaches from these habits come when we practice them, not when we stop them.
If I may preach on for a moment more, I have one suggestion for breaking the undesirable habits which may be helpful. Why don’t you try developing a better one in its place? I’m thinking of a man I know, who quit smoking many years ago. Every day, he still puts back the price of the pack of the cigarettes he would have purchased and, when he gets enough saved up; he buys a guitar or some other piece of musical equipment which he wants or needs. Over the last twenty-some years, he has even made money on those items purchased and then sold, so he is many hundreds of dollars ahead. Not only that; he has lived many years more than would be expected had he continued the unhealthy habit. Cigarettes given up for music—that sounds like a lop-sided trade any day!
Well, the coffee is gone. I think some quiet time is overdue. Enjoy it while you may. I’ll be back to practice my habit soon.
I’m hoping that you’ll retain the habit of reading the result.
“Habit is either the best of servants, or the worst of masters.”
(Nathaniel Emmons-American theologian-1745-1840)
“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
(Frederich Nietzsche~German philosopher~1844-1900)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.