Thursday, February 16, 2012

Breaking Habits

Habit! that skillful but slow-moving arranger who begins by letting our minds suffer for weeks on end in temporary quarters, but whom our minds are none the less only too happy to discover at last, for without it, reduced to their own devices, they would be powerless to make any room seem habitable.
M. Proust - Swann's Way

"Jay! Stop moving things around!"

I can still hear my mom. How mad she'd get when she'd find out that I had changed the positions of forks, knives, and spoons inside the kitchen drawer!
I was a kid back then. Yet, I was instinctively convinced that changing the position of kitchenware, plates, pots, pans, and whatnot from one spot in the kitchen to another adjacent spot would force me and my mom to reach for these objects not mechanically, but through an act of conscious will. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to phrase it this way. So, let's say that I believed it would keep our minds active. And so, most of the time, my mom would find herself chopping onions with a spoon and going off the deep end for that!

Habits make us lazy, don't they? They make us function mechanically according to recurrent patterns. As soon as one of these patterns is disrupted, we get lost. As an experiment, you can try repeating aloud the lyrics of a song you know by heart without actually singing and much more slowly. Difficult, isn't it? Yes, because we broke a pattern; we broke a habit, and our mind is not used to novelty!

But how really harmful are habits? I'm always reminded that I should get rid of habits because they're not good. I was never given a convincing reason for that, though.
I concur, it is necessary to be able to break habits when needed. But isn't it just as good to know that our beloved habit is awaiting us right there, and that we can go back to it whenever we want?

Habits are our haven, a shore where for once we needn't worry about the unknown.
They are the sand we tuck our head into when we need protection.
Breaking habits is a great ability. It allows us to improvise and deal with unexpected situations. But going back to our habits sometimes makes us feel safe and makes us feel good!

Do you agree?
Do you have any habits you'd never get rid of? 



  1. I can't get rid off my hoarding habit.

  2. Habits form a routine and routines have their positive side. When I taught, I, like most teachers and most kids, dreaded going back to school after a long Summer holiday. But once I was in my 'rut' I was fine. Rut, groove, routine, call it what you will, its function is to blur the unpleasant, and maximise efficiency from regular usage. I mean, don't you loathe going tot he Supermarket and finding they've changed things round!
    Even creativity benefits from routine. Bums on seats at a given hour gets you going. Bit like toilet habits.
    Burbling over : )

  3. You're right that doing things differently is good for the mind, forcing us to create new pathways in the brain, however, habits are essential too. I can't go to sleep without brushing my teeth because it's such a long-time habit, and this is a good habit I would not want to break. And for some children, such as those with autism, routine is important and can help them cope in school. So...I think that habits have their place in our lives, although breaking the bad ones or changing the way we do things is challenging and something to think about.

  4. My mom does that with our trash can every so often, and without fail someone drops trash on the floor where the can used to be. Now that our church is moving the auditorium door several feet to the right, I'm expecting to walk into quite a few walls.
    A few habits I love: reading Ella Enchanted every five months or so, singing while I wash the dishes, going straight to my Bible in the morning.

  5. Breaking a habit gives you a sense of power, accomplishment. Yes, not all habits are bad, but I think anything that makes you step outside of yourself and push yourself into doing something difficult or uncomfortable is a good thing. And you're right, they are always there for you to go back to! LOL. ;)

  6. Very hard to decide one way or the other, for once and for all. I’m typically a creature of habit, but also happily impulsive (my Gemini nature, I suppose!). Here’s my favorite argument for establishing a routine, from The Little Prince:
    "It would have been better to come back at the same hour," said the fox. "If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you... One must observe the proper rites..."

  7. I agree that some habits should be broken but we can also have good habits too, such as routine, unless it is "rearranged" in an equally functional way...or I could just be rambling :) How did rearranging the silverware work out for you?

  8. Michael,
    I know, I have that habit too, and it's a tough one to get rid of.

    Yes, I hate it when they change things on the supermarket shelves! And going back to school after the summer holidays, well, it was quite dangerous to hang around me until about the end of September ;) I concur, I too think creativity benefits from routine!
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Well, brushing teeth is a healthy habit. I can't go to bed without having brushed my teeth either! I didn't know the importance of routine for autistic children, though, thanks for mentioning it.
    You're right, habits definitely have an important place in our lives.
    Thank you for commenting :)

    I also sing while washing dishes (and nobody's around)! That's a nice trick your mom plays on you. Does she do that on purpose?
    One of my habits is reading five minutes at the light of my nightstand lamp before I turn off the light and sleep.
    Thank you Ariel!

    Hi Morgan,
    I guess you're referring to getting out of our comfort zone. I agree, it is necessary sometimes. A life made only of habits would be too lazy a life. I don't think that's how habits should be used. We also need some adventure and the thrill of improvisation, we need to feel our heart throbbing a little faster too sometimes!

    Hi Christie,
    I remember this passage from The Little Prince. I love the feeling of anticipation he describes. But I also love the surprise that stems from not knowing. For example, I never want to know the weather forecast for the next day, so I can wake up and be surprised when I look out the window ;)

    Sure, some habits are good! Pizza on Saturday night is one of my favourite! And if some friends plan to do something for the evening, I tell them, "Why not have pizza at my place?"
    I had lots of fun rearranging the silverware, but I had to stop; my mom couldn't take it anymore, LOL!

  9. I think some habits can make one lazy, but not all. Cultivating a meditation habit can make someone more aware in their daily lives, rather than just going through the motions, for example.

    As for bad habits, I think one I could never get rid of is coffee!

    Thanks for the post!

  10. Raquel,
    You're right, not all habits make us lazy. My reading habit before sleeping, I don't think that is about laziness. Maybe I meant to say that they get us too used to feeling comfortable. But is that really a bad thing? :)
    Coffee? Oh, it's not a bad habit! I don't think you should ever get rid of coffee. And if you think you drink too much of it, just reduce the quantities.
    Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Raquel :)

  11. I believe routines become habits and when you least expect it, you've become the epitome of a habit. However, good habits like writing or eating well are the exception to the rule ;)
    I wonder if that's the reason that I've moved around many times (I hate routines and habits). Food for thought ;)

  12. Certain habits I like--eating better, exercise, schehdule so things get done. Breaking habits to establish better ones isn't easy, but as Morgan said, can give you a sense of power. I do think shaking up the routine now and then is a good thing.

  13. Dear Claudia,
    I got your point: only habit and no change makes Jack a dull boy.
    You're right! Everything needs the correct balance. As long as a habit is a way to slow down a bit and resort to the realm of the safe and known every now and then, well, I see no harm in that :) I love the safe and known sometimes. Even better if it's warm too!!
    Thanks for your comment!

    Sure, Pax, like Claudia and I agreed, alternating habits with an occasion shake-up creates a perfect balance.
    One of my habits is not eating cookies from the packet, but putting them on a cute little plate with decorations, and eat them from there. It gives my breakfast more value ;)
    Thank you for commenting!

  14. It is very beneficial to be aware of conditioning. Awareness can give you the choice to change it, but people with daily routines avoid confusion and spend a lot less energy. Sometimes a lack of rituals can leave you in chaos and exhausted. Simply observing them will help you decide which are beneficial and which ones to change. If you're trying to change something embrace it and own it. It's easier to let go when you see where the difficulty or pain it has created by you trying to keep it and/or trying to deny it. It's easier than dragging it around. I'm breaking a habit right now by not trying to be funny.

  15. Dan,
    You used the perfect word: rituals. Some habits are so important we could actually term them rituals; I believe this last type of habits give value to our life, although it's important to let go of them when necessary, and take them back when the context allows us to.
    I like your perspective. So, I guess, you are trying to be as funny as possible (embrace it and own it) in order to get rid of that habit? ;)
    Thanks for your comment!

  16. Very thought-provoking! After reading this I started thinking about how sometimes we can do the same things over and over again and expect different results. I am certainly going to change things up a little.
    Thanks for a great post.

  17. Hey Jeff,
    I'm glad it got you to thinking :)
    After all, habits are not a bad thing as long as we're always aware of what we do.
    Thanks for commenting!