You Are the Sum of Your Habits

Habits are behaviors that we repeat on a regular basis. Think of the different habits that you have and how they affect your life. What kinds of habits do you have in the areas of:

  • NUTRITION? What do you normally eat? How much? How often? Do you eat to live or live to eat? Is your daily diet based on nutrition science or just what you like?
  • EXERCISE? What kinds? How often? What intensity? Are you strong enough to do all of your daily tasks? Are you happy with the way you look and how you feel?
  • MENTAL OUTLOOK? Are you usually positive? Do you customarily focus on the good in your life or do you routinely see the bad? Are you thankful for what you have or do you dwell on what you don’t have?
  • GOAL SETTING? Do you have the habit of setting goals which you can clearly identify? Are you constantly moving toward those goals or are you usually too busy chasing some less important sidelight? Do you periodically take the time to think about where you are going and why you are going there?
  • YOUR APPROACH TO HEALTH? Are your health habits based on accepting responsibility for your own health or do you just do whatever feels good and leave your health to your doctors? Do you know how your body works?
  • YOUR APPROACH TO LIFE IN GENERAL? Are you a participator in life or are you primarily a spectator? Do you play or do you watch? Are you a problem-solver or a whiner/griper? Are you in control of your life or do events and others control you?
  • INFORMATION? Do you have habits of asking questions and seeking information that can make your life better or do you spend most of your time watching television to forget about that part of your life that isn’t as good as you would like it to be? Is your free time spent mostly entertaining yourself? Do you set aside time to learn about your body, mind, vocation, skill development, our environment and other realities that impact your life?
  • ENTERTAINMENT? What are you learning from the kinds of entertainment you usually choose? For example, what kinds of values are taught by the television programs you usually watch or the music to which you listen? Do you ever read non-fiction or watch television or movies that give information that you can use to improve your life?
  • OUTLOOK ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE? How do you think about other people? Do you see and label people as generally good, bad, to be trusted, devious, worthy, lazy, ambitious or do you tend to see them as combinations of characteristics? How does this influence how you treat other people and how they perceive you?
  • HOW DO YOU TALK TO YOURSELF? How do you usually talk to yourself (think to yourself) when something goes wrong? What do you think to yourself when you look in a mirror? What do you think to yourself when someone criticizes something about you, pays you a compliment?
  • GETTING JOBS DONE? Do you normally start on a task at the first chance you get? Do you usually finish tasks on time? Do you wait until the last minute to start a task? Would you ever describe yourself as a procrastinator?

    There are many other categories of habits. The point here is that you have many different behaviors which you repeat with enough regularity to call them your personal habits. These personal habits, if added together, are a major portion of who you are.

    It might be interesting to list and evaluate the kinds of habits you have. You could start with the list of categories above and write down the habit patterns that you see in you self under each. It might be illuminating for you to have others help you do this as they may be aware of some habits that you are not even aware that you have. Be open-minded, honest, and thorough in developing your list.

    When you have finished your list, it will represent you or at least a substantial part of your innate personality. You will find habits of which you will be proud and that are helping you to reach your full potential. These comprise the valuable, competent, desirable aspects of who you are. However, since none of us are perfect (except maybe this author), you will also find some habits of which you are not so proud. These are habits that are probably keeping you from reaching your full potential. They could be threatening your future. However, these undesirable habits also represent your opportunity for positive change and to gain more control over your life. What can you do about eliminating these undesirable habits?

  • DO NOT TRY TO QUIT A BAD HABIT. If you found some habits that you determine could be working against your best interests, the first thing that you are likely to say to yourself is that you have to quit or stop that bad habit. The very fact that you use the negative term “to quit” may doom your attempt to change. For example, many people want to quit smoking cigarettes, stop eating non-nutritious and fattening foods, quit watching mindless television programs, quit procrastinating, quit being negative about their lives, stop being a couch potato, or stop looking for the worst in other people. So why shouldn’t you try to quit a bad habit? Here are 3 reasons why.

    First, you think in pictures. Your mind processes information best when you have the clearest mental pictures. Secondly, your mind cannot picture the negative of something. For example, if you close your eyes and say to yourself “I do not see a red beach ball floating in the middle of a swimming pool,” you will instantly visualize the red ball floating in the swimming pool. You do not, however, visualize the “not” in the sentence. The most vivid image in your mind is that or the clearest picture in the thought: in this case, the red ball and the swimming pool.

    This leads to the third reason why we don’t want to think about quitting a bad habit. What we think about tends to come about. What you think about is a good predictor of how you will behave. It will directly influence the kind of person you are now and who you will be in the future. If you tend to think of yourself as a stupid person, you will tend to act like a stupid person. If you think of yourself as a bright, energetic person who is capable of doing just about anything, you will be much more likely to have a productive and satisfying life. So, how do these three reasons add up?

    If (a) your mind thinks best in pictures, (b) it cannot picture negatives, and (c) what you think about is what is most likely to happen; you don’t want to think in terms of “quitting” bad habits. “I will not eat cherry pie with ice cream on top,” is an example of a “quitting-a-habit” approach you don’t want to use. As your mind processes this sentence, it records “eat cherry pie with ice cream on top”. It does not record the “not.” As you read “I will not eat cherry pie with ice cream on top”, didn’t you visualize a gorgeous piece of pie with ice cream on top? Was the ice cream vanilla or chocolate? Maybe you even felt your mouth begin to salivate as you anticipated the slightly bitter taste of the cherries in contrast to the sweet, creamy taste of the ice cream. Maybe you felt the warmth of the pie mingling with the coolness of the ice cream (probably vanilla, right?). So it should now be easy to see the paradoxical manner in which this works. You tell yourself you are not going to eat pie and ice cream and yet since your mind cannot visualize not, you visualize pie and ice cream and since what you visualize tends to come true, you will probably really crave the pie and ice cream and end up eating some. Therefore, we must be very careful about how we think about things!

  • PICTURE IN YOUR MIND THE HABIT THAT YOU WANT TO DEVELOP. Instead of the negative example above, you need to start thinking in positive terms of the new habit that you want to develop. Instead of thinking about not eating the pie and ice cream you would think “I will eat some delicious fresh fruit for dessert.” You wouldn’t “quit smoking,” but would “put the purest air available in my lungs.” You wouldn’t think, “stop watching football on television,” but would think, “get outdoors and play some football with friends.” Always concentrate your thinking on the habit you want to make – not on the habit you want to break.

    We can have good habits and we can have bad habits. We can keep habits and we can change habits. Whatever our age, we are the sum of our habits.

QUESTIONS

  • Do you believe that you have more “good” habits than “bad” habits?
  • Do you believe that who you are is determined in a large part by your habits?
  • What three habits do you have of which you are the most proud?
  • What three habits do you have that you would most like not to have?
  • Would you like to change these undesirable habits? If so, why haven’t you changed them and what could you do to change them?
  • Why does the author caution you not to try to quit a bad habit?
  • What habits are there in the world that you believe we would be better off not having? For example, the habit of settling disagreements through violence is a habit that most people think we would be better off not having.
  • What are some habits in the world that you believe should be practiced more widely? For example, the habit of doing physical exercise on a regular basis is a habit that most people who understand health would agree should be practiced more widely.
  • If someone had a habit that was harmful to them, would you tell the person about it?
  • If someone saw that you had a habit that was harmful to you, would you want the person to tell you about it?

ACTIVITIES

  1. Take time to write down some of your habits under each of the categories listed in the first part of the chapter. For example, what habits do you have under the categories of nutrition, safety and getting jobs done? Which habits are good for you? Which ones do you think you might be better off replacing? Do you notice any patterns in your habits?
  2. Choose one of the habits that you feel is not good for you and picture in your mind the behavior you will use to replace it.
  3. With a partner or in a small group, share the habit that you do not want to continue and share your mental pictures of the behavior you want to exhibit. Help each other clarify the images to enhance the exercise.

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