Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Power of Habit

“Habit is stronger than reason.” -George Santayana

Whenever I travel out of town in the morning (e.g. to attend a meeting or a class), I like to stop at a local bagel place to order my favorite sandwich for the road: egg and tomato slices on a spinach-garlic bagel. (Yum!). The restaurant has a practice of slicing their sandwiches in half, which makes it very difficult to eat with one hand while driving. It often ends up in my lap.

I usually ask the preparer to forgo the cutting of the sandwich, if possible. It's almost never possible. I estimate, despite my requests, they still manage to cut my sandwich 29 out of 30 times. It's not the end of the world and I don't complain. In fact, it's somewhat amusing and I usually have a good laugh with the server.

Why is it so hard? Habit. They sell hundreds of sandwiches a day, and I have never heard anyone else ask for it to not be cut. Statistically, there must be a few more like me; however, the vast majority of the sandwiches are cut, and the servers have a strong habit in place. The habit is so strong that the server's hands cut my sandwich before their awareness realizes what happened.

The servers always seem mystified that they can't seem to "remember" to not cut my sandwich.

Obviously, this blog isn't about bagels or sandwiches.

It's about the power of habit.

Aristotle taught that we are what we repeatedly do. We can use this power of habit to achieve great things in our lives.

I've found that it only takes a few weeks for the early stages of habit to develop. Is there a habit that you would like to cultivate (i.e. meditation, exercise, healthy eating, rising at a certain hour, etc)? Make yourself do it for a few weeks (probably against the will of your old habits) and you'll start to see a change.

Most people are intimidated or disheartened during the first few weeks of forming a new habit and give up. Successful people are those that persevere just a little longer.

I gave up eating sweets last year. I'm not really sure when it happened, but I think it was sometime over the Summer. I challenged myself to go for a week with no sweets. Then two. Then three. Why? I had a terrible addiction (habit) to sugar. Now, I don't crave it at all. I'll probably allow myself some sweet stuff this year, but--honestly--the non-sweets habit is getting hard to overcome. I have a hard time bringing myself to eat sweets now.

Similarly, I have been rising at 6:00 AM since Junior High School. Very rarely do I wake to the alarm clock. Most days, I awake just before it's programmed to alarm. Yet, we go through a time-change twice a year. How is this possible? Why isn't my internal alarm clock off by an hour for half of the year? Answer: it only takes a few days for me to get on the new schedule, and then habit takes over once again.

The power of habit is an extremely powerful tool that you can use to your benefit. Take advantage of it!

“Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits” - Robert Puller