“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” ~Confucius
Choosing how to live doesn’t happen in what we esteem to be the big decisions in life, rather it is the small collection of habits we develop that define our thinking, our actions and ultimately our character. One of the great challenges of living a quality human life is that it is both easier to develop bad habits than good ones and give up good habits rather than the bad ones.
For many people their chosen habits are their primary source of comfort and oddly, even habits that don’t particularly make us feel well such as smoking or excessive drinking become unpleasant to do without because we become accustomed to the behavior. We don’t recognize that we become what we repeatedly do, so a curiosity about smoking can and does often lead to becoming a smoker. In short order, the choices we make become habits that end up making us.
What this year has taught me most is that to change one’s life is usually just a matter of changing one’s habits. Being deliberate about how you live is not just about giving up a bad habit, it is the vigilant attention and will to replace old, useless behaviors with new ones of our choosing. I have read that this process can happen in 21 days. I found that really embedding a new habit took more like three months, rather than three weeks. And research now shows that it actually takes more around 66 days to create a habit.
Within three weeks, doing something new, say adding exercise to your daily routine starts to feel familiar. Creating and building a relationship to a new routine happens on many levels before it is really a habit. Many times in the first three weeks, the discomfort of the new activity makes you question it and yourself. For the exercise routine to become a habit you have to make peace with the wide range of feelings that the practice will create.
For me during this year I chose new habits that would strengthen my body and my mind. Developing my meditation practice has been a great teacher about how habits take hold. Doug Henning the magician understands the power of creating worthwhile habits- he said: “The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.” You know you have made a new and lasting habit when the new behavior isn’t just easy to do anymore, but the desire to do it as well as you can is what calls to you. I meditate twice a day now because I find myself more deeply and truly in silence than anywhere else.
I am a walking testimonial to the power of changing one’s mind.