The hold of habits

Photo for representation.

Habits are notoriously difficult to overcome. As a popular adage goes, ‘Take ‘h’ from ‘habit and ‘a bit’ remains; take ‘a’ from this and ‘bit’ stays and cut ‘b’ from this and ‘it’ remains. This is true whether a habit is good or bad. The following story illustrates this well.

A habitual smoker went to a wise man seeking a solution to his problem. The wise man said, "This habit is causing you a lot of trouble. How long have you given this thought?" 

The man considered this and answered, "Well, only recently." "Have you any good habits?" asked the wise man. "Yes, I go the temple every Thursday and pray," said the smoker. 

"Have you given this habit much thought?" asked the wise man, "No, I do it automatically," said the smoker in reply. "You see," said the wise one, "It is your behaviour, whether good or bad, that has become habitual. For instance, we brush our teeth every morning, go to work and also indulge in smoking thoughtlessly. By creating rituals, we free ourselves from spending thought on the actions that shape our lives. Every action we choose can initiate reactions which end in a habit."

Established routines can either save us or spoil us. Habits leave our minds less preoccupied so that we can spend our time making more important decisions. Almost any act that brings pleasure, comfort or relief can lure us into repetition and throw us into a groove from which there is no escape. This applies whether it is a right action like generosity or harmful
ones like smoking or indulgence in substance abuse.

It is in this context that quiet reflection comes into play. We need to take time off every now and again to review our actions. This will make us wary of habits that can bring harm to ourselves and to others.

It is helpful to keep in mind that every decision we make, big or small, is in our control. We can choose to act in ways that are beneficial to us and for others. Our automatic responses often create patterns that save us time and thought, but in the long run, they can become the source of harm. Once in a while, it will do us good to become aware of our behaviour as it can encourage and nurture this hold of habits.

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