Rohse: Health, happiness rest in purging old habits and forming new ones

Habits are important.

First we make habits. Next, our habits make us, the English writer John Dryden, tells us.

And, adds Dryden, “All habits gather by unusual degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.”

Another English writer, Samuel Johnson, adds, “The chains of habit generally are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. But when habits are skillfully formed and become truly a second nature, they provide us with truly a second nature, a faithful helper.”

This “beneficial harnessing of routine” can be a powerful aid.

We’re reminded that when you sow an act, you reap a habit. When you sow a habit, you reap a character. When you sow a character, you reap a destiny.

There’s no doubt that habits can become powerful if not restrained.

So perhaps, given the power of a habit, we should exercise utmost care in the habits we do establish. And habits are illusive. We suddenly open our eyes one day and discover we have created an ugly habit. Which brings to mind that we should be cognizant of what kind of habits we create.

Have you taken an audit recently of your habits? Maybe it would be a good practice to, seriously, from time to time, just see what ogres we have in our habit closet. Research is now being done with habits since their importance is becoming more acknowledged. Maybe habits are a bit like happiness. No man is happy who does not think himself so. That same kind of awareness should apply to habits. Have you audited your habits recently? 

Maybe we should put on our calendar a regular reminder that it is audit time. Don’t be reluctant to be honest with yourself. You might give an unsuspected dangerous habit a chance to become highly undesirable. Maybe after that audit you’ll decide to make some changes and get rid of some that assuredly are not beneficial, and establish some new ones.

Recently, after an audit, I realized that I had to get rid of a habit. I enjoy watching ballgames on television, and many of them lasted late and yet I kept getting up at the same time. No wonder I was dragging. I wasn’t getting my prescribed allotment of sleep. I’m now working to correct that habit.

Another I need to change is to erase the undesirable habit of procrastination, even after adopting the words of Cervantes, who wrote, “By the streets of ‘ by and by,’ one arrives at the house of ‘never’.”

Changing habits might be a life-changer for you. You can have fun shopping for habits.

And there is lots of help out there. Check some of the books that have been written about the “science” of habits. Check articles written about habits. 

One day recently I was amazed to realize that I had lost a habit — a habit that I very much appreciated, I like to walk and my habit was to walk every day.

Walking is one way I get exercise.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that habit. I was too busy one day and didn’t walk, and then something else happened the next day, and some how it stopped being a habit. That was a habit that I vowed I was going to reestablish. Habits are sly. We need to keep an eye on them. When you create a new habit, you can feel proud of your accomplishment, but starting a new habit takes patience.

John C. Maxwell, who is a habit researcher, is enthusiastic about the power of habits. He promises, “You’ll change your life when you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in daily routine. Dealing with habits requires discipline.”

Here are suggestions from habit researchers as to some practices successful people practice when putting their habits to work every morning.

Introduce yourself to each new day — not by checking your phone but rather with a brief digital detox. You might consider replacing your smart phone with an old fashioned alarm clock. If you’re in a dither, you might get results by playing soothing music. Be sure to have a healthy breakfast, and these researchers are promoters of meditation — even 15 minutes a day can be of considerable benefit, they say. These suggestions from successful people include keeping a daily journal in which you set up your goals for reflection. And it may surprise you to learn that these successful people think it wise to scatter gratitude on a daily basis. It is important, also, to surround yourself with optimistic people. Provide yourself with relaxation. Take a short walk. Burnout is to be avoided. And, by all means, get enough sleep. That’s the healthiest thing you can do, along with workouts and drinking enough water. Be social — and keep your office organized and clutter-free.

And make sure to set aside enough time for your self-care.

Books about habits can be of much interest and give helpful information. One source advises that it takes 18 to 254 days to “build” a new habit. It takes an average of 66 days before habits become automatic.

Laughing more is an idea for one habit. I like that suggestion. We need to laugh more.

It’s good for us. Make a habit of it.

Another habit: read, read, read. Searching for the next book you want to read would be a dandy habit.

As to the importance of habits, it is important to note that about 43% of the acts that we perform each day are activated by habits as those people think of something else and work “automatically.”

Wendy Wood, author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits, the Science of Making Changes that Stick” suggests that habits are a learning mechanism, a shortcut to keep in mind what we automatically did in the past that we worked for and got some reward.

And what a Christmas gift a new habit might be. It does for you jobs we’ve taught it to do.

Have Santa bring you a gift, and habits are pretty amazing gifts. You get something done that you dislike to do and the habit sees that that something is done— just the way you wanted it done without your giving it a thought.

The researchers tell us that. So give yourself a nice habit that you’ve introduced by repeating yourself innumerable times. It sounds a bit like when you were in the first grade — and just look where you are now.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at rohse5257@comcast.net.


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