The Habit Of Habits


Noah benShea

They used to call the clothing that nuns wore “habits.” Perhaps they still do. Nevertheless, all of us are certainly religious about our habits or the requirement for habits. All of us are in the habit of habits. And it got me scratching my head about this, which remarkably enough is my habit of following an idea down the rabbit hole and seeing what’s happening down there.

Habits in religious practice are often called ritual. And ritual can serve us in the same manner as any meditative staircase for the soul. For some of us it rosary or worry-beads, for others it is breathing. Repeated patterns, like the broken white line on the highway, when stared at long enough become hypnotic allowing our mind to roam in other realms while, remarkably enough, we don’t crack up the car. Prayer is a path where there is none, and ritual is prayer’s vehicle. Habits – honk, honk – can be transporting.

While habits, such as prayer, may raise us to spiritual heights, other habits might just as easily drag us down. Way down. Some of us have a habit of having a cocktail. Some of us just don’t have a habit of stopping. And make a habit of being out of control.

All of us have habits, for some of us it overeating, or lying, or cheating on others or ourselves. All of us embrace habits because our brains have seldom met a habit they do not like. Our brain likes to run information down the same canal it sailed before. This is the basis of all neurotic behavior which is premised on choosing to do something negative but familiar over something which is positive but new. Habits shudder at losing habits. So, since we are addicted to habits, the only way to lose a habit is by taking a new habit.

Yes, yes some of us have personalities, for lack of a better work, or neuro-chemistry, if you prefer, that make us more habituated than others. I’m one of those folks. And what’s curious is that while I don’t like to be restrained or confined by work or environment, I am very habitual about my exercise, and my diet, and when I work, and so habits become my balancing act for a life that might otherwise be teetering due to no walls or restraint. And this absence of balance – make no mistake about it – hurts…hurts the individual and the people in your life.

Habits then can be a sign of health or the first sign of something that isn’t working. People with Obsessive Compulsion Disorder feel that some part of their life is out of control and feel that by repeated – often crippling – behavior patterns they may find relief. But don’t.

Habits can take you out at the knees and convince you that you’re speed walking.

A few paragraphs above I mentioned that the only way to lose a habit is to gain a habit. If you were in the woods and got a thorn in your hand, the best way to take the thorn out is with another thorn. Some people who make a habit of drinking to excess find that that the very patterned habits of the 12 step program is just the habit they need. Because they need a habit.  Some people who have a habit of a wanton life need the habit of attending church. Some people who have habitually felt alone make finding themselves in the company of God their new habit. Some people who are habitually observant in their prayer become so obsessed with the prayer that they never make the leap of faith and need to make faith their new habit. In each of us there is a huge closet with a wide array of habits which we should not hesitate to take down and try on or hang up and set aside.

Habit options aren’t restrained by habits we currently have. For example, if overeating is your habit, you could make a habit of doing push-ups or push-backs, from the table. If adultery is your habit you could make a habit of loving your mate or loving yourself by honoring your pledge to your mate. We can’t run away from our need for habits or run out of habit options.

At the end of the day, the challenge for all of us is to make our habits our friends. If our habits don’t serve us we serve them. Habits are self imposed servitude. Be your own master and liberate your habits.

The first step to all transformation is self-witnessing. Step back for a moment and take a look at you. See what habits are in your life and who’s running who. Make feeling good, and being good, and doing good the greatest habit in your life.

Noah benShea, Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved