Habits : From Cobwebs to Cables

November 3, 2010

Pearly Whites 75/100
Creative Commons License photo credit: ShellyS

Habits are everywhere

Good and bad, useful and useless, helpful and destructive, we all live with multitudes of habits from the moment we wake until we drift off, and from birth through death.

Habits allow actions to become automatic, therefore reducing active thinking on things we do often.  We brush our teeth, pet the dog, call a friend while baking, swing by the drive through.   We do things for ourselves, our jobs, families and communities through habit a lot of the time.

Almost all habits serve us in some way

Good habits like brushing our teeth or smelling the milk before pouring keep us healthy and presentable.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Andy Woo

Bad habits like smoking and belching have certain positive elements too – the relaxation and nicotine high from smoking, the gas relief from a big burp.

Even the habit of doing nothing, or surfing the internet, or vegging out in front of garbage TV serves a purpose of relaxation and letting go.

Good or bad, Habits are hard to change

Most of our habits are built up from years of repetition, along with the positive reinforcement from whatever benefits are associated with that habit (even if the habit has other negative consequences too).

Cobwebs and Cables : a blessing and a curse

I’ve always loved this :

“Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables. ” ~Spanish Proverb

The good side of habits is that once established, they want to stick around.  So if you’re habituated to drinking lots of water, and stop for some reason, it’s pretty easy to go back to it.

The bad side, of course, is when you want to STOP a bad habit – it can be wickedly hard to do, especially if the habit you want to change has been around for a long time, or is bringing you lots of  ‘benefits’.

Succeeding in hard things is one of life’s great pleasures,  and changing your habits feels great when you succeed, but it’s often a long, hard battle, and setbacks are common.

There are few things in life as hard to change as our habits

Hard doesn’t mean impossible.  I’m sure you can think of habits you’ve changed over the years.

I spent about 25 years of my life waking to alarm clocks using the “snooze” feature.  I would hit and re-hit and re-hit that button, usually waking fitfully in 9 minute intervals for 30 or 60 minutes (often until the snooze would expire). I did this through siblings, roommates, boyfriends and well into my marriage.  My husband, however, does not use the snooze feature and I started to realize it was really unfair to him.  About 18 months ago I decided to stop “snoozing”.  I would think about when I REALLY needed to be up, and set the alarm for that time.  The first few times were tough, but after that it got easier, and my husband appreciated my efforts, and before long “snoozing” was behind me.

I have plenty of other habits I’ve changed.

And even more that I’d like to change in the future…

But right now my sights are set on one habit in particular : Getting Regular Exercise

My next new habit : getting regular exercise

I’m going to explore more about habit change in upcoming posts using this “regular exercise” habit as my case study.

I’ve apparently chosen a doozy, because habit experts say that it’s easier to change habits of things you do EVERY day (and that’s not my exercise goal).   It’s also complex, because I have many things I like to do besides exercise (you could interpret that as “many excuses…”).  I basically have a lot to work on to make “regular exercise” a regular habit, and I think it will be useful for me to think it through in a series of posts.  (Don’t worry – I know most of my accomplishment of this goal has to be done actually exercising, not by thinking & blogging!).

Some good habit resources :

I’ve been a habit-article junkie for many years now, and I’ve read quite a lot about habits and personal change, some of it for work, some of it for my weight, some for other personal development things.

Probably the best thing I’ve read in the past several years is the book “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath.  Lots of good ideas have come to me from “simplicity” books, and I’m also continually picking up new ideas from the blog Zen Habits.

Any habits you’re working to change?  Any good resources to share?

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