Paramount Importance Of HaBits.
Chains of habits are too light to be felt, until they are too heavy to be broken...
This article is going to be about habits. Your elders must have told you to incorporate good, virtuous habits in your life to lead a life of balance and peace. So far so good. But the thing is: no one tells us how to incorporate good habits in our life. Ok, agreed that it’s a right thing to do, but it’s damn difficult one. We know what the right thing to do is, but we don’t know how to do what we know is the right thing to do.
So, in this article, we will have a scientific look at the psychological nature of habits, and then discuss a few techniques. These techniques will give you practical guidance on how to:
1. Annihilate bad habits
2. Form great ones.
But to do these two things, we first need to understand the basic nature of habits.
So let’s get started.
Fundamental nature of habits.
Habits are automatic routines of behaviour that are repeated regularly, without thinking. They are learned, not instinctive, human behaviors that occur automatically, without the explicit contemporaneous intention of the person.
- Definition by wikiquotes.org
Habits basically mean our lifestyle. Pay attention to that word. Life-style. Style of living life. Basically, your way of life. That’s what habits are. Now, in our life, we have some deep seated habits. For example, brushing in the morning. That’s something that we just do. We don’t contemplate whether we should brush or not, we don’t call our friends to ask for advice. We just do it. Now that’s a habit. So the distilled psychological sense of a habit is something that has been deeply ingrained in your routine, something that you do subconsciously without any conscious decision-making.
Now let’s have a look at another example. If someone says something inappropriate to you, you feel angry, right? Now, think about it: did you decide to be angry? The answer is: no. Anger just came. Sub-consciously. That’s a mental habit. Try it out with someone if you wish. Choose a random person from the road, and rush to him and slap him. Slap him hard. Carry your younger sibling with you, and tell him/her to shoot the reaction of the slapped person on a handicam. Now, if you manage to explain to the gentleman in consideration that it was a purely intellectual experiment carried out just for psychological understanding of the phenomenon called anger, and if the gentleman is gentle enough to let you go, and if your sibling has properly taken the recording, you will see that the person didn’t wait there to decide whether or not to be angry. Anger just came to him. Without any conscious effort. That’s a habit.
Now, above we saw two examples of habits: one good, and one bad.(Brushing is good and anger is bad, just for your clarification...!) However, they were habits. So now let’s dig deep. How were those habits formed in the first place? Surely, the God didn’t whisper in your ear before you left him: “Baby, be a good child, brush twice daily. Ok?” Nope, surely not.
So how such common, universal habits were formed at the outset? After asking myself this question and pondering upon the same, I made a striking observation. I found out that most probably every habit that we have ever formed in our life was formed by four very specific forces acting on us. By becoming aware of these, we suddenly get clear understanding about the nature of habits, then it becomes easy to change them.
Below are those four forces:
1. Force of subconscious influence
2. Force of conscious influence
3. Force of repetition
4. Force of understanding
Force of subconscious influence
A child’s mind is immensely receptive. It is like sponge, it has got a capacity to absorb. From the very childhood, a child observes that people get angry. The mother gets angry, the father gets angry, the fat aunty next door gets angry, the milkman gets angry, and the guy on the television also gets angry. Initially it doesn't understand. Then, the child begins to form links: the people get angry when they don’t like something, when things go against their wish. Slowly, but steadily, the same societal ideas which the child heard and saw so much of is imbibed in his own character. This happens bit by bit. The child starts observing more things: the teacher uses the tool of anger to exert authority. So that’s what the child will do to exert authority on a still smaller child, passing on the anger that he subconsciously learned from the society.
In time, after being fully exposed to a society driven by anger, after seeing that everyone thinks it’s his/her right to express his displeasure if things don’t go according to his/her own wishes, the child is automatically programmed to behave in that way.
In time, anger becomes such an integral part of our being that we think we always had it. But that’s a totally wrong view.
A child just born doesn’t know how to be angry. If someone hits a child, the child will cry- and that’s natural. It is hurt, and crying is a natural, biological reaction to hurt. But it won’t get angry. It won’t even try to hit back at the person who hit him- because that isn’t natural- that’s taught to us by the society. But the society’s silent influence hasn’t yet affected his natural way of being, so he doesn’t get angry- because anger is an un-natural psychological reaction that doesn’t come right from birth. It’s taught to us by the society by the force of silent influence.
Here it’s important to note that the parents and the society didn’t want to fill the mind of the child with anger to such an extent that it becomes a deeply ingrained sub-conscious habit. They rather did it unknowingly, by the force of silent influence.
However, the point is that the habit was passed- consciously or subconsciously. Now the child is also a thorough part of the society, and it is also passing the habit. The agent of passing change, but the method always remains the same: silent, subconscious influence.
(Most of the habits which are persisting in the society though generally unwanted are passed down in this manner.)
Force of conscious influence
Above, we saw that society unknowingly passes down some of the habits by silently influencing the receptive, spongy mind of the child. But there are a few habits that are instilled in us consciously by our parents. Take the example of brushing. Ask your mom, and she would tell you that as a child, you didn’t like to brush. You always made a fuss of it, and sometimes swallowed the strawberry flavoured toothpaste. But now, it has become an act that you do naturally every morning. This is largely because your mother constantly coaxed you to brush. She forced you to brush. You couldn’t go out and play with your friends if you don’t brush, you can’t watch cartoons on television if you don’t brush, and you can’t become a cricketer if you don’t brush.
There was constant persuasion from her, and sometimes there was force. But she did all this consciously. Her actions were driven by conscious care for you, and your teeth. She made deliberate efforts, intentional efforts. She did it knowingly. That’s conscious influence.
[Most of the general good habits are passed down in this manner.(though a little bit of sub-conscious influence is there)]
Force of repetition
No action can become a habit unless repeated for a few days. We discussed in the definition of habits that habits are actions that we daily do without conscious effort. And for some actions to get into our subconscious to become habits, only one thing helps: repetition. I will use the classic analogy of an iron nail. You position the nail on the wall, and strike it with a hammer. It goes a bit inside. You hit it again, and it goes deeper. You give it a one more blow, and it goes deeper still. Slowly, with repeated blows, the nail is more and more securely fit in the wall. You give it a few final, decisive blows, and now the nail is safely inside with no probability of coming out.
Now, what would happen if you hit the nail with the hammer just once? Sure, the nail would go inside. But after some time, the nail would fall out, because it wasn't firmly embedded in the wall. Also suppose that you hit the nail for a few times just so that it remains there. Now, probably the nail would remain there for a considerable time, but it would be kind of loosely inserted. Over time, the nail would fall out.
Now, we can draw a direct comparison between habits and the analogy of nail used above. Compare the nail to the habit, wall to the subconscious, and the repeated blows to your conscious efforts. To get the nail inside the wall, you need to give repeated blows on it. So now, to get the habit ( i.e, the nail) into your subconscious (i.e., the wall), you need to make conscious efforts. You need to give it repeated blows. Repeated is the important word here.
So as you see, most of the habits that you didn’t like in your childhood, and now have become an integral part of your life, were ingrained in your subconscious by this force of repetition.
And now, let’s have a look at the final force: Force of understanding.
Force of understanding
This is kind of internal force that propelled you to form habits. Let me start with a personal example. Initially, I didn’t use to brush at night before going to sleep. It didn’t run in the family. But then, I read some articles on net related to oral health. Of course all our textbooks have also been saying that one should brush twice a day since ages. But they just say, they don’t convince. They tell us what to do, and not why to do what we should do. But those articles were pretty convincing. So I started brushing at night also. But here, there was no influence on me. Instead, there was a trigger that sparked off the internal force of understanding.
I understood that it was important to brush at night. I was driven by an internal force. Of course, for the first few days, I didn’t feel like doing it, because it was just not set in my subconscious program. It wasn’t a part of my routine. My routine was pretty simple: I used to disappear in the study room in the evening, came out around midnight, then went straight and collapsed on the bed. (trying to make the least noise possible...) So I faced some internal reluctance during the first few days of my new habit. But I kept on, knowing that slowly, this habit will become a part of my subconscious program. I kept on giving the blows till the nail was firmly inside.
Now, brushing at night comes to me as naturally as brushing in the morning. I used the force of repetition, you always have to. But here, rather than a person’s direct influence, I was driven by an inner force of understanding. I understood the importance of brushing before night sleep. So it was kind of self-motivation. No one else pushed me; I pushed myself because I understood.
So now, I think you would have got a clear idea about the nature of habits. Now, armed with this understanding, you can destroy your old habits and form fresh ones.
Here is how.
Let’s start with destroying the bad ones.
Problem: I want to stop watching television because it’s gobbling up my precious time. But I just don’t seem to be able to do it. The serials are just so very interesting. I know I should be doing something more constructive, something that would increase my knowledge or something that would help me grow as a human being. But I am just unable to do so.
Solution: Very simple. Use the last two forces. Start in reverse order, and begin with the force of understanding. Convince yourself that watching T.V is a complete time-waste. IT’S NOT IMPORTANT TO WATCH THAT IDIOT BOX EVERY DAY, say to yourself. IT’S TIRING MY EYES; IT’S SUCKING UP MY TIME. IT IS MAKING ME AN ADDICT. I HAVE TO STOP IT.
So the first step is to make yourself understand that you just cannot go on squandering your most important resource-time- like that. Commit yourself on paper (Whatever you write becomes 10 times powerful.) Write something powerful that would motivate you and add the fuel to your fire. Don’t be afraid to use heavy words; heavy words are most inspiring (If one understands them........!)
So go ahead, first convince yourself.
Now use the force of repetition. Stop watching T.V. for a few days. Your subconscious is programmed to that useless junky entertainment, so in the first few days, it will try to pull you back to your old ways. But don’t budge, be determined. Stay firm. Read your own commitment. Just stick to your vow.
You need to consciously kick the habit out of your subconscious.
(Read that line thrice.)
After just a week, you will observe that you are becoming less and less attached to those junky things on television. They are slipping out of your subconscious. There is no more of those internal irresistible urges. But don't think, "Now I have removed the habit, and now I can watch T.V. without getting addicted." The final blows are still left, and keep up the effort until the habit is completely out of your subconscious programming.
Let's now form awesome habits.
1. First of all, utilize the force of understanding. Convince yourself thoroughly that you must form your decided upon habit. Have an internal drive. Motivate your own self. Remember, you are not going to form any new habit unless you have a very good reason to do so. So find out that reason. If you want to wake up an hour early in the morning, find out a reason to do so. Use your imagination to think how great it would be to have those extra 60 minutes in the morning. How nice it would be to wake up before the world does, to have some time to plan your day out to put a sense of rhythm and balance in your day. Understand that it's important to form the habit. That's step number one.
2. Now, the force of repetition. Do that thing everyday at the same time. The habit will be programmed into your subconscious faster if you do the thing at the same time. You will feel internal resistance, but then, no growth occurs without a bit of discomfort. You are braking the chains, so it is bound to hurt. But stick to your commitment. Your efforts will bear fruit very soon.
So, my friends, the article ends with that. I hope my humble tips help you to tear apart your restricting chains of old habits and help you form healthy ones.