May 262013
Thoughts on change and ingrained habits

Human beings are often creatures of habit and routine. The Free Dictionary defines habit as a recurrent, often unconscious, pattern of behaviour that is acquired through frequent repetition.

Routines are comfortable and add predictability to life. Regularly doing things that require little conscious thought makes it easier to concentrate on those things requiring full alertness.

Comfort and dependence on routines and habits, however, make it difficult to cope with change. Even those of us who think we are not slaves to routine may be surprised at how ingrained some patterns of behaviour have become, and how upsetting disruption to those patterns can be.

Anyone who has tried to break a long-standing, not-so-healthy habit knows how difficult it can be. Make a small re-arrangement in your kitchen and see how long it takes you to adjust. Manitoba moved from seven-digit to ten-digit dialing in fall. I don’t know when I will remember this without dialing the seven digits first and getting no response.

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. ∼Mark Twain

And yet, new habits can form surprisingly quickly. After spending just four months in Arizona, we returned home accustomed to where things were in the house we’d rented there. We had to get used to things in our own home again. After a winter of driving my car, which has the gear shift on the floor beside the driver’s seat, my husband found himself reaching down to shift gears in his van, instead of reaching for the gear shift in the steering column.

I find encouraging that we can get used to new ways that quickly. In our case, the complete change of scenery may have been a factor in how quickly we became accustomed to new ways. Still, it offers hope for anyone wanting to replace “bad” habits with “good”.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ∼Aristotle

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