Our health, wealth, and happiness are the result of our habits. The word “habit” originally meant an article of clothing and we still use it that way when referring to a nun’s costume or the attire worn while riding horses.
Like our clothing, our habits tend to identify, express and cover every aspect of our lives.
The importance of good habits is recognized and stressed in many occupations – but especially in fields like military combat, fire-fighting, and emergency medical care, where good habits could literally save your life.
This is also in true in somewhat hazardous hobbies that I have enjoyed such as rock climbing, SCUBA, and skydiving, where a habit of alert anticipation is required to react and recover from potentially dangerous situations.
Researchers claim that as much as 80%-90% of what we think, say and do in our daily lives is unconscious, ingrained, and automatic. Consequently, success or failure in any area of your life will be the product of the kind of habits you either already have or develop along the way.
A “habit” may be defined as any pattern of behavior that through frequent repetition has become nearly – or even completely – involuntary. In other words, once we’ve “been there, done that” enough times, we’ve probably got a habit rather than one option out of many. This is especially true for addictive behavior. After a while our lives and our futures may be determined as much (if not more) by our habits than by our conscious choices.
Our habits affect more people than we think. As a parent, I became acutely aware of how easily habits can be picked-up and passed-on. What we habitually say and do affects not only our own lives and future, but those of our children and other people around us as well.
Our health is our wealth, and if nurtured, will pay dividends for life. When, where and how much we eat, sleep and exercise will affect not only our physical health (including our weight and energy level), but also our mental, emotional, and perhaps even spiritual well-being. That’s why almost as soon as each of my children took their first steps, I began taking them for a short walk around the neighborhood each morning. In a society of increasingly sedentary and passive living, I wanted to firmly establish the habits of exercise and active physical and mental exploration of their world at an early age. As time passed, so did this habit – but I hope the early “foundation” provided a frame of reference to guide them now that they no longer live with me.
Wealth (as in financial abundance) is, quite simply, the yield of earning, spending, saving, and investing habits over time. Striving to improve habits in this area of our lives is obviously one of the best investments we can make – worth far more than any material rewards we may desire. Fiscal responsibility is an habit that too many of our politicians and other government “leaders” have yet to have learn or master.
Happiness is more a matter of values, attitudes, and beliefs than anything else. What we habitually say to ourselves (about ourselves and our lives) may well determine the quality (and even the length) of our lives. I regularly let my children know that they are having a happy childhood. Because what we expect (and accept) in life is generally what we get. So if you’re not getting what you want, raise your expectations, raise your standards, raise your consciousness – and if you’ve still got time and energy, raise my children. Chances are you’ll be a better influence and role model than I’ve been – especially for the two that are now adults.
Habits play such a large part in our lives that it would seem to serve us best to rid ourselves of poor, limiting or destructive habits and acquire, nurture and develop “good habits” that support and empower us by contributing to our progress, growth and success. The “good news” (and the “bad”) is that new habits can (and do) form at any time; all it takes is repetition!
To quote Charles Reade:
Sow an act and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit and you reap a character;
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.
We can use this knowledge to our advantage and apply it to any area in of our lives that we desire to improve. An obvious first step in any effort to improve is becoming aware of our current habits and deciding what to change. In the beginning, it is usually both easier and more practical to add new behaviors and over-compensate rather than attempt to suppress or abruptly halt well established patterns that have already become part of us.
Clearly defined goals for what you want to BE, DO, or HAVE can give you both the reasons and motivation to overcome old habits and consciously choose and practice new ones. Looking back from a projected future perspective is often helpful in deciding what to do. Hindsight is said to be “20/20“!
I’ve noticed that the most successful, satisfied and sought after people in life tend to continually choose and improve their habits. So, my first suggestion is to find Role Models – and adopt the habits that made them successful. Next, I recommend employing both “the carrot and the stick” by making not changing painful and rewarding yourself for even the smallest desired changes. Other popular and effective methods of self-transformation you may want to consider are the use of affirmations, creative visualization, and self-hypnosis.
The more we think, speak, and act according to our desired outcome, the more readily success will become a habit! You can begin creating some good habits right now simply by “acting as if” you already have them, or as my ex-wife was fond of saying, “fake it till you make it“. Confidence, competence and compliments increase with repetition. And each time gets easier than the last.
Nike’s got the right idea: Just do it! Start now and change your whole life – for the better…. Twenty-one days is generally agreed as the minimum time to firmly establish a new habit; and around 18 months to make it a lifelong practice. That is why it’s so important to “practice, practice, practice” anything we wish to improve. Want to feel happier? Make it a practice – until it becomes a habit.
One of the basic Laws of Life is what we use develops, and what we neglect atrophies (or more simply: Use it or Lose it). We are either “growing” and getting “better” or “dying” and getting “worse”.
Many of today’s social, economic, and environmental problems stem from the combined habits of our society as a whole. I am convinced that one of the most effective and enduring ways to improve the quality of both our own lives and the world in which we live is to consciously change our habits.
For things to change, WE must change. BE the change you wish to see in the world (and your life).
Sometimes just changing one habit can begin to improve the whole world around us. After all, prejudice, polluting, and deficit-spending are just habits. What YOU and I do makes a difference. Even reading, writing, or responding to a blog post provides an opportunity to learn, develop, and support good habits: most notably, clarity of thought, organization, and expression in written communication, and evaluation of what is “important” and/or “true” for us (at the time).
I urge, challenge, and encourage you to “Act as if” your health, wealth, and happiness depend upon your habits – because they do!
One appreciated habit to get into is to leave a comment or two if you like what you read. Feel free to start right now.
© 2009 – 2011, Oren Pardes. All rights reserved.