HabitsIn the elegant ballroom of the world famous Gleneagles Hotel, a rock starwearing a gray fedora arrived with his usual entourage of dancers and back-up singers. But the rock star came down with a severe headache a fewminutes into his performance. It did not affect his boundless energy theslightest bit, although, as he continued to tear up the stage. At the end of theshow, the audience gave him a lot of éclat. How could this happen? He hadformed the habit of singing through consistent effort, and if he was laid lowbecause of a problem like this, he still had the magic in his voice to go on,keeping the audience enthralled. This is the beauty of “habit.”No one will raise an eyebrow when I say that we are creatures of habit.People comb their hair, brush their teeth, dress, undress, eat, and drink…outof habit. We love routines. We are tickled pink when we are doing what weusually do. With regard to the importance of routines, the Americantheologian Tyron Edwards said, “Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes goforth in action; action form habits; habits decide character; and characterfixes our destiny.”A habit is conditioned behavior, which means that we react to our situationsin a conditioned, standard way each time. A habit operates like a snowballsitting at the top of a snow-covered mountain. It takes very little energy topush the snowball over the edge. However, by the time it reaches thebottom, that little habit has the force and effect of an avalanche. Ninety-eightpercent of the actions we perform are born out of our routine habits.Think twice before forming a particular habit. Understand its nature. Explorethe long-term gains. Keep in mind that the habit you choose should aid youin keeping a smile on your face forever so that you can confidently say,“This is my habit, and I am lucky to have developed it.” Habits shape aperson’s character. If a person develops good habits, he will have goodcharacter. If he develops bad habits, he will have bad character. As Plutarch,the Greek biographer, said, “Character is simply habit long continued.”Now think of a situation that shows what might happen if a person does notform habits. The feeling would be something like, “Oh, God, is there apossibility of leading a life without having developed some habits?” Wewould be scratching our heads with amazement, anger, and horror. As asimple example, imagine how many times a day you wash your face.
Without habits, you have to put a lot of thought into what you are doing eachtime before you act. A sure nightmare, is it not? Devoid of habits, life wouldcome to a standstill. Nothing would be reflexive. Habits enable us to waltzthrough our daily chores. Undoubtedly, habits are powerful tools. Old habits are difficult to abandonWhen a person has been accustomed to profligate spending habits fordecades, it is too much to ask him to curtail his spending ways, let alone toleave them behind completely. When a person has stuck to philanthropicactivities for years, it is almost impossible for him to be a skinflint. In thiscase, I remember a popular aphorism: “Old habits die hard.”Compare a habit to a tree. A habit that is relatively new is similar to a youngtree with short roots that are easy to uproot from the ground. In contrast, ahabit that you have for many years is like an old, mature tree that has long,deep roots. Habits can be broken easily in the early stages of their growth,but once they become deeply ingrained, it becomes an arduous task. Newdrinkers can break their habits quite fast. People who have maxed out ontheir drinking for decades understand the difficulty in breaking that habit.This illustrates the fact that old habits cannot be broken in an instant. List of successful habits (1) Do the yeoman’s service. (2) Offer a lifeline to grief-stricken people. (3) Go globe-trotting. (4) Create a work-life balance. (5) Become quality conscious. (6) Reach out to those who are financially hard-pressed. (7) Absorb knowledge.
Methods by which I can change my habitual life: (1) Experiment with my outfits every other week. (Sometimes I prefer retro clothes.) (2) Sport funky haircuts. (3) Develop a new hobby. (4) Learn different culinary skills. (You will be amazed by the numberof herbs, sauces, marinades, rubs, essences, crackers, and salts that sit on allthe shelves of my kitchen. By the way, my kitchen has a lustrous plain oaktable and chairs with a wooden backrest pierced with hearts and wovenraffia seats.) (5) Check out state-of-the-art gizmos. (I am a gizmo geek.) Good habits vs. bad habitsGood habits produce positive benefits, actions, and attitudes that make youwant to acquire and integrate them into your life. Good habits are very dearto us. Bad habits are energy sucking, time killing, and physically taxing. Badhabits are hard to change because perhaps you think that your habit is “cool”and “acceptable.” Hence, you do not feel the need to make a change.Additionally, you do not want to change because of the instant gratificationthat bad habits deliver. There are several bad habits that we can learn, and,sadly, we feel relaxed with many of them. These include eavesdropping, hairtwirling, monopolizing a conversation, being addicted to caffeine, flakingout, being chronically late, pathological shopping, and being addicted to theInternet, computer, or television. Only when we pay the price for theseactivities do we realize the harm done by such bad habits. That is whyNathaniel Emmons wrote, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worstof masters,” which means that good habits bring you success and bad habitsdestroy you. Good habits are difficult to acquire but easy to live with, andbad habits are acquire to start but difficult to live with. Good habits arecultivated through conscious effort and self-discipline. Discarding bad habitsimplies that you must confront the immense, accumulated force of athousand repetitions.
The ramifications of “smoking” are explained through an example:Blackwell smoked a cigarette every evening after dinner, deceiving himselfinto thinking that it was the best tool for relaxation after a demanding day atthe office. Now, after years of smoking, Blackwell has landed in a hospitalfor an MRI scan. He waits for the scan report with bated breath. The doctor,after a detailed inspection (of the report) pulls no punches but tells him thecomplete truth: “Dude, you are suffering from lung cancer, and I am afraidyou do not have much time left.” That is the most shattering news Blackwellhas ever heard in his life, and by all means it will remain so.Every year, over 400,000 people die due to smoking-related illnesses in theUnited States. Extremely chilling statistics!The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that adult malesmokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life, while female smokers lose14.5 years of life.Consider these cases: American actress Bette Davis fought a losing battlewith breast cancer and died in 1989 after suffering from several strokescaused by smoking. Singer/actor Sammy Davis Jr. died of throat cancer fromsmoking at age 64. Years of smoking also caught up with Walt Disney, whodied of lung cancer at age 65.On the flip side, many people have sung the praises of cigarettes. RobertBenchley said, “Tobacco smells like Saturday and consequently puts me in achronic holiday mood.” Hemminger went lyrical over smoking:Tobacco is a dirty weed; I like it.It satisfied no normal need; I like it.It makes you thin, it makes you lean,It makes the hair right off your bean;It is the worst darn stuff, I’ve ever seen; I like it.Reminder: If you puff a cigarette “once in a blue moon,” it will not affectyour health a great deal, but if you smoke several times a day over a periodof years, then you are risking serious health hazards. Yet, do peopleunderstand the language of “moderation”?
“Can’t”—A word that should have no place in a person’s vocabulary“Can’t” is a demotivating word. When you allow this word to get into yourmind, it weakens your fighting abilities and makes you incapable ofbreaking a habit. It always holds you back. So the stock phrase one shoulduse is “I have enough willpower to conquer my bad habits, anytime.” Examine the habits of successful peopleWe already know that people who are great and illustrious have habits thatmake them so. If you want to be successful in life, observe the “reservoir ofhabits” of achievers and super achievers, and inculcate those into yourpersona. Be a glutton for the biographies and autobiographies of successfulpeople. As Jim Rohn says, “Success leaves clues.” It is your duty to detectwhat those clues are. Childhood habitsAshton is a college sophomore majoring in English. He is the apple of hisparents’ eye. He hails from a modest background. His parents are trying hardto pay the tuition for his studies. Ashton’s academic performance is subpar,and he is not trying to “raise the bar” for his achievement. He has a hugecircle of friends. His friends are the dregs of society.Once, Ashton went to Giddy Bridge pub in Southampton with a group ofthree friends. There his friends offered him a drink (a drink is defined as 12ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilledliquor), saying, “This is for our friendship, try it.” At first reluctant, hesomehow managed to take a sip of that stuff and experienced a euphoricfeeling. In a matter of few minutes, he became tipsy. Taking advantage ofthis situation, his friends made him smoke cigarettes and shelled out moneyfor gambling, too. That one night changed his life for the worse as hebecame permanently dependent on those three friends. Ashton’s susceptiblenature caused him to “play into the hands of bad habits.”Ashton’s parents addressed only his financial needs but failed to infuse goodhabits into his personality. Just to take this point one step further, the loucheof modern society is roundly because children are not well raised in their
formative years. Nurturing children is a tricky matter because they are likelyto absorb positive or negative habits very quickly. They have a pliant nature.They are still on a learning curve. To instill positive habits in children,parents should set a good example. It would be a debacle if a chain-smokingfather were to advise his son that, “Smoking is bad for your health.” AsLydia Sigourney wrote, “In early childhood you may lay the foundation ofpoverty or riches, industry or idleness, good or evil, by the habits to whichyou train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life issafe.” Drinking vs. adding poundsContinuous and repeated drinking causes you to bulk up with fat, as alcoholdecreases the body’s ability to burn fat for energy as well as increases yourappetite. High levels of abdominal fat were found in drinkers who took fouror more drinks “in one sitting.” In relation to this, moderate drinking doesnot seem to contribute to abdominal fat.Campbell was nine years old when he first drank a bottle of vodka, alongwith half a bottle of Martini & Rossi. At 15, he was eventually diagnosed asan alcoholic, by which time he was consuming 10–15 cans of beer a day.More than 20,000,000 Americans are alcoholics, including several millionwomen and teenagers. The damage that alcohol addiction does toindividuals’ bodies, to their homes, and to our society cannot be quantified.No wonder Solomon wrote: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: andwhosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” The stranglehold of bad habit(s) can be overcomeThere are big, life-threatening habits like smoking and drinking that terrorizeus with dreadful consequences if we do not take action as early as possibleto break them. Do remember, breaking such habits is no easy task, as aperson has to dig deep within himself in his war against these habits. I havedevised a two-pronged strategy to help you overcome your bad habits: (a) Grasp the negative aspects associated with a bad habit. Convince yourself that replacing a bad habit with a positive one is the only way to go. For example, instead of sitting in front of the television for
long hours like a zombie, replace this habit with a better one, such as going for a walk or sitting at the zoo observing animals like baboons, vervet monkeys, rhinos, and antelope. Perform this simple exercise: Take a sheet of paper, and in the left-hand column write the name of your habit, and in the right-hand column write a well-thought-out reason for changing your habit. (b) Break your habit step by step. Suppose you decide to quit drinking from this moment on. Consequently, you stay away from a drink for a day, then repeat that for the next day, and continue doing this for a month until your habit of drinking is completely broken. Habit vs. addiction“A father grumbled that his eight-year-old cuddly son is inclined towardspancakes, peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, hamburgers, and pizzas.He even likes the ambrosia of chocolate mousse.” Many parents make issuesout of nonissues. They worry that something is seriously wrong with theirchild. Well, habit and addiction can be divided along these clear lines: Habitis within acceptable limits, whereas addiction is “no holds barred.” Analyzethe above scenario by posing the following questions: (1) Is this a “habit” or an “addiction?” (2) Will it lead to a protruding tummy in the long run? (3) Does this decrease his playtime? (4) Will it have a bearing on his academic work? The best part of answering the above questions is that it helps a concerned father to take action. A levelheaded approach is most essential. Reacting to a child’s activities with vehement anger can only intensify the crisis. The worry habit
As Tan wrote, “Worry is the advance interest you pay on troubles thatseldom come.”I have a bosom buddy whose mind is a hotbed for worry. He is worriedabout the future, his body image, the safety of his children, timemanagement, old age, and taxes. He is literally worrying himself to death.Worry is his inescapable mental habit because he has done it a lot in thepast. This habit of worry has poisoned his home life.Worry is not a radical solution to a problem. Granted, worry contributeshugely to any predicament. When we are on a “worrying spree,” we arethinking about something continually but doing precious little to sort it out.Worry can have a gut-wrenching effect, thus making you unable to thinkwith a clear head. For one in ten people, extreme worrying is a way of life.Not all worry is bad. There are some issues that are worth worrying about,like excessive spending, erratic driving, harmful chain smoking, a weather-beaten face, uncontrollable eating, and an obsessive interest in gambling.From a statistical viewpoint, of the things you worry about, 40% neveroccur, 30% have previously occurred, 12% are unnecessary, and 10% aretrivial. Merely 8% of the things you worry about are real, and they can bedivided into those you can work through and those you cannot. Evidently,this is a jaw-dropping piece of information.Now is the correct time to broach these additional major topics of worry (1) Extreme weather and natural disasters (Devastating floods in Asia and Africa, a deadly heat wave in Europe, the destruction caused by hurricanes in the United States, for instance, Hurricane Katrina, are all obvious examples.) (2) International terrorism (3) Overpopulation (Sustaining the lifestyle of the average American requires 9.5 hectares, while Australians and Canadians require 7.8 and 7.1 hectares, respectively; Britons, 5.3 hectares; Germans, 4.2; and the Japanese, 4.9. The world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1, while India and most of Africa are at or below 1.0.)
(4) Pollution (It can have disastrous effects on the delicately balanced ecosystem. As an antidote, countries such as China and the United States are making efforts to green their economies. For the United States, this includes unleashing $150 billion over 10 years to create five million new “green” jobs. China recently announced a $584 billion economic stimulus package, up to 40% of which is aimed at bolstering conservation, environmental protection, and renewable energy efforts.)(5) Corruption(6) Deforestation (400,000 square kilometers of the Amazon Basin have already been deforested.)(7) Unemployment(8) Rising oil prices (affect average people the most)(9) Home foreclosures(10) Nuclear stockpiles Signs of a worrywart: (1) He is aloof and withdrawn. (2) His health is going downhill. (3) His face registers extreme panic. (4) His head is spinning. (5) He has a stomach ache. (6) He has a sleep disorder. (7) He is losing weight.
Beneficial advice: Live in the moment. Disregard the issues that are “out ofsight and out of mind.” Mentally rehearse the positive outcomes. 21 days—Slogan for habit formation/termination Holden decided to wash his hands off his decade-old drinking habit. He entered a rehab center in Manhattan. There he was treated by a legendary psychiatrist. Beginning with the first step of his treatment, the psychiatrist told Holden to take it easy, as this (a deep-seated psychological problem) would be curable with consistent effort and focus. He told Holden to follow his guidelines, which would enable him to kick the habit of drinking in four weeks. The psychiatrist delved into the medical history of the patient, analyzed every single detail, and prescribed appropriate medications. Holden did everything that the doctor instructed, without skipping a day. It is hardly surprising that he began to improve by leaps and bounds. On the 21st day, the psychiatrist discharged him from the rehab center. Thanking the doctor, Holden remarked, “I am feeling better and stronger. This is a rebirth for me.” The repetition of an action, attitude, or thought process every day for at least 21 days develops a new habit. This indicates that you should repeat actions day after day for up to 21 days before your subconscious mind will start to do them automatically. If you by chance miss one day during this period, it is better to start all over again (de novo). Research, too, has indicated that an action that is repeated for a minimum of 21 days strengthens the power of habit. Lack of repetition weakens the power of habit. These guidelines are relevant to the formation of both positive and negative habits. Bear in mind that positive habits yield positive results until you are consistently sticking with those habits. Winning is a habit In this dog-eat-dog world, you ought to have the zeal to be “on top of the heap.” This applies to restaurateurs, CEOs, homemakers, small business owners, etc. Winning involves straining your every nerve, and making an airtight plan and doing other legwork to beat your competitor. You simply go all out to win, win, and only win. There are no half-steps involved. Anything less than perfect is just not acceptable. Let me be clear to you that, just because the motto is to “win,” you should not adopt
illegal, crooked methods. The idea is to “win” in a legitimate, fair and square way. Talan is a cybercelebrity because of his successful blog. His blog is a mélange of memory and chat attracting 70,000 regular readers from around the world. He has no financial concerns. His fame has grown to iconic proportions. Unsurprisingly, he is always in the public eye. He is an emperor of the blogosphere. Talan is a winner because of his winning habits. Warren lacked the moral fiber to be a good leader. He frequently put the wrong foot forward and was dubbed as a “consistent dud.” On the domestic front, he is estranged from his wife and daughter. He is a loser in life because of his loser habits.Note: Winners know that they must actively participate in the formation ofgood habits, lest they unknowingly fall into energy-draining habits. Valedictory remarks on bad habits Bad habits meddle in our lives and become an extensive nuisance. Think about these instances: overindulgence, a superiority complex, a fixed mind-set, being an anger junkie, navel gazing. Take the plunge in defeating your bad habits. Growing pains will make things a bit difficult in the beginning. Do not give up. Just hang in there, show courage, and believe that you will be better off without your bad habits sooner rather than later. Motivation does not come from outside—it has to come from within. Be an inner-directed person. When you are confident about yourself, you can face anything in this world. Take it from me, victory will be yours.