Making habits work

Habits die hard and, rather interestingly, the truth of this statement is borne out by the word itself.

Take away the head of habit and what remains is ‘a bit’. Take a bit more and ‘bit’ remains. Repeat the action and ‘it’ still remains. Clever word play, one might say, but it is one that makes complete sense.

Consider the following story. One day a man came across a book in his attic. It was yellowed and old and the pages crumbled as soon as they were touched. It was a book on magic and the man was able to find only one paragraph that could be read as a whole. It said that on the shores of the Black Sea lay a pebble that could turn anything into gold. There was only one way of distinguishing it from others – it was warm to the touch.

The man hurried to the Black Sea and began an earnest search. From morning to night he picked pebbles and felt them. To make sure that he did not pick a pebble twice, he flung it into the sea. The years passed but every pebble he picked was as cold as ice. By now he had become an expert at the job. He could pick a pebble, feel it and throw it in a trice. One evening he was wearily leaving the beach, when he saw a pebble lying in front of him. He picked it up and joy of joys it felt warm. Alas, force of habit made him fling it far into the sea!

We see that habits can make slaves of us. Often we find ourselves inadvertently doing what we do not want to or do not expect to. There are times when we tread the familiar path without, in the least, being conscious of it.  Why is this so? It is the result of many repetitions of the same act. Scientists say that the first time an act is performed, considerable thought accompanies it.

The second time it is done, not so much thought is required. When repeated time and again, less and less thought is needed. What has happened is that a track is established between the nerves and the brain. The act has turned into a reflex action and a habit has been formed.

Habits are powerful factors in our lives because they form unconscious patterns of behaviour. They can either be stumbling blocks to our progress or contribute greatly to our effectiveness. Whether good ones or bad ones, they cling to us and influence our behaviour. Habits of procrastination, lying and cheating can become so embedded in us that they become part of our personality. They then vitiate our relationships and colour our outlook on life.

On the other hand, habits like orderliness, punctuality and kindness can become second nature and function as valuable aids in reaching our goals and building a better life.
Habits can be of thoughts, words or actions. Whether one is six or sixty years of age, one can break out of bad habits and cultivate good ones. All that is required is a little will power and patience. This can make all the difference between worry and happiness, between dissatisfaction and peace of mind.

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