“All of our life is but a mass of small habits – practical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual – that bear us irresistibly towards our destiny.” William James, M.D.
Some goals I have set out to reach have not been achieved. Have you had a similar experience? What gets in the way? Bad habits are sometimes the root cause.
Some activities which can become bad habits:
- Overeating, which can lead to being overweight;
- Drinking too much, which can interfere with every area of life;
- Phubbing, which can damage our relationships;
- Overthinking. Paralysis by analysis leading to no decisions; and
- Fill in what may apply to you.
Philosopher and Harvard trained physician, Dr. William James, spent considerable time in studying and writing about habits. He wrote, “Ninety-nine hundredths or, possibly, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual, from our rising in the morning to our lying down each night.”
Dr. James states that the overwhelming percentage of our daily activities are habits. We execute them day-after-day-after-day…the same actions. Since they are automatic and duplicated every day, should we not consider the value they add or do not add to our success journey? While we may not have a choice in many of these activities, does it not make sense that some portion of our acts advance the ball down the success field of our life?
Charles Duhigg in his bestseller book, The Power of Habit, states that habits cannot be eradicated. They can only be replaced. Wow! A scary statement if the habit in question is a bad one. James had a strong opinion of this memory function of habits when he wrote: Water “hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before.”
This memory element of habits, the ability to easily do what is repeated over and over, is both scary and attractive. Every day that I get up and repeat actions that are contrary to my own benefit is another day of a habit that may not be eradicated. But every day that I add a habit that propels me on the road to success is another day of hollowing out that channel. As Dr. James says, that will allow the water of my dreams to flow, again and again.
If the science about habits is true, then our choices are extremely important. The logical next question is, “Are there any particular habits that are the best for adopting?” Based on the scientific studies, the answer is, yes. Some habits are central to a successful journey, because they influence us to establish other positive habits. One good habit grows into three good habits. They are called keystone habits.
“Studies have documented that families that habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, better emotional control, and more confidence. Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a great sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. It’s not that a family meal or tidy bed cause better grades or less frivolous spending. But somehow these initial shifts start chain reactions that help other good habits take hold.”
Over many years, we have created numerous habits to help us do the most common things needed for normal daily living. Yet, along the way, we may have, unconsciously, added habits that are in direct conflict to a better life. Bad habits. And once created, they may be there for the rest of our life. They cannot be eradicated, only replaced. Hmm.
How are we to proceed? Work on replacement often. Figure out habits that we do not like or need or that may harm us. Find substitutes. According to the studies, stopping a bad habit cold turkey is more difficult than replacing it. While based on science, it sounds more like common sense—something my grandmother would have taught me while sipping tea on the porch. If I want to quit something, I need to put something else in its place.
Today, I will replace a bad habit with a good habit.