Next Week: On Habits

 "The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."
-Samuel Johnson
I was once in a class called Great Books Tutorials. As one might expect, the class revolved around great books and literature (except for one time, when our reading assignment was to look at a painting. We enjoyed that assignment.) At the end of each lesson, our teacher would finish up by saying, "Next week, we'll be looking at [book and idea that it covers]. You are dismissed." We learned this rather well, and it began to affect us.
After we'd already taken the class for a few years, I and a classmate were sitting in our Sunday School class. Our teacher went over the lesson for a bit, and then said something familiar. "Next week, we'll be looking at [section of the Bible and topic that it covers]." I and my classmate put in our bookmarks, closed our books, gathered our things, and stood up. I think I even went so far as to push my chair in. We stood there for a few minutes, listening to our teacher continue the lesson. Eventually, he looked at us and said, "We're not finished yet." We sat back down and opened our Bibles and notebooks again.
What happened, of course, was that we heard the words, "next week." Those words, particularly in a classroom setting, told us that it was time to gather our things and prepare for the words, "you are dismissed."

This was an amusing little situation that happened once. Over the course of a few years, we had formed a mild habit. The habit wasn't anything important. It wasn't anything big or monumental or damaging. But it was still a habit. I think that people often confuse the idea of habits with addictions and/or routines. While the three are, of course, related, they aren't the same thing.
An addiction is something that you go to, whether literally or figuratively. You may seek it out intentionally, or hate yourself for it, but it's something that you choose, and have trouble deciding not to choose it.
A routine is something that happens on a regular basis. You have a set schedule for this particular action. It may be relative to something else, such as brushing your teeth after dinner, whenever that may be, or it may be at a particular time. It may even be on a specific day of the week, or month, or year. In any case, there's some form of scheduling and planning involved, even if you go through that schedule without dwelling on it.
A habit differs from these in that it's an unconscious action or reaction with no set time frame. You don't choose to do it. You don't schedule it. It just sort of... happens. Maybe it happens constantly. Maybe it happens as a reaction to something. But you don't even think about it.

Take, for example, a glass of wine. An addiction is somebody who finds themselves drawn to the glass. They keep staring at it. They want to drink it. They can't stop thinking about it. They have to force themselves not to drink it because they want it so much.
A routine is somebody who drinks a glass of wine every night with his dinner. He doesn't really think about it in general, but that's when he does it. He doesn't tend to drink wine outside of that time period; dinner is when he has a glass of wine.
A habit is somebody who is constantly drinking wine, and doesn't even realize it. He sees a bottle of wine on the table, pours himself a glass, and drinks it, but he doesn't choose the action consciously. If somebody told him that he shouldn't drink so much, he would realize suddenly how much he was drinking and set the glass down, and not look back. He doesn't care about the wine. But later on, he would pick it up again- not because he's drawn to it or desires it, but because he just isn't thinking about it, and that's his habit.

While addictions are seen as bad and routines are typically seen as good, habits can be either way. For example, when I would go to Speech&Debate tournaments, I would carry around a bottle of water with me and drink from it regularly. I didn't think about drinking from my water bottle. I would at one point notice that my bottle was empty and fill it up at the nearest drinking fountain. It was a habit for me to drink water. However, I also bounce my leg. It helps me think. I don't wiggle and squirm and fidget because I have decided that I want to do so, I do it without realizing it. I can stop if I think about it and focus on it. I just don't think about it.

While addictions are issues because we do think about them, and while routines have been set in place at some point, habits are more dangerous because we don't analyze how we behave when we're not thinking about anything. It just sort of happens. We can habitually perform a certain action, or think a certain way, or any number of things, but we ought to seek out our habits to learn what they are and whether or not they should be removed.
"We become what we repeatedly do."
-Sean Covey

1 comment:

  1. You have a routine of posting to your blog every Tuesday. I have a habit of writing blog posts that get deleted, lost, or destroyed. :-(