Good habits formed at youth make all the difference. – Aristotle
What does that mean?
Like anything that travels, setting a proper course at the beginning is critical. If the airplane you are in is off course by 30 degrees, and stays that way for an hour or two, you are going to end up hundreds of miles off course. Similarly, if you develop good habits as a youth, your course is closer to “correct” and you will arrive at your destination with less effort and fewer corrections.
Why are good habits important?
Good habits are kind of hard to define. Some are fairly easy to agree on, but are not always universal. This comes down to your society and what it values. Habits that promote the values of your culture, religion or society are, by definition, good, and those that do not promote them are going to be deemed bad (or something other than good).
However, once we get past the flexibility of the word ‘good’ in this situation, we can discuss them in a generic sense. Habits are simply actions repeated until they are a reflex action, taken without active thought to start them. For most of us, walking is one of them. Unfortunately, talking is also a habit for a few people out there (and the sad thing is they don’t know who they are).
Being able to open doors without having to really think about it is handy, until you get to a door that has to be pulled, but some idiot put a push bar on both sides, to make it look prettier. Then your habit gives others a laugh. Habits can also help you look both ways before crossing the street, which can be really handy if you have a lot of one-way streets in your town, or ever visit a country where the people drive on the other side of the road.
So good habits allow you to execute good behavior without having to think about it. Saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ would be an example that most people would agree constitute good habits. Depending on what your culture, religion or society value, your “good habits” will make doing the ‘right thing’ automatic, and that makes for a smooth running machine.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Unless you are young, forming “good habits in your youth” going to be a little difficult. However, we can build on existing habits and attempt to minimize the less desirable habits. As noted above, the definition of ‘good’ is rather flexible, and changes with respect to different cultures, religions or societies. This means that most of what I talk about below will be self-directed. You cannot get more out of this than you put into it, so let’s get pencil and paper, and get started.
Make a list of the six habits you learned in your youth that you still practice to some extent and qualify as ‘good’. For each item in your list, write down a number from 1 to 10 indicating how well you still practice it (frequency and/or execution), with a 1 being very rarely or very poorly and a 10 being every single time or very well. Most of these numbers should be pretty high (over 5).
Now order the habits according to their impact on the quality of life of yourself and others, with the first one being the one that provides the most good to society. Look at the list and determine what it would take to move each of the items from where they are to a ten and write it down. Look at the first item, the one you thought would give the greatest impact. What are the things you would have to do to make this into a habit?
If it were saying “Thank You”, think of the things you would have to do to make it a habit. I used a mental pattern to help me be more appreciative. I try to think of what the other person did, the effort, time, expense or whatever that went into it.
Even something as simple as holding a door for me on a rainy day gets a ‘Thank You’, as even though it didn’t take a whole lot of effort, the time and the thought are what I appreciate, and I let them know. Come up with some similar plan for each of the items you listed. Yeah, it’s not a lot of fun, but improvement has to overcome inertia – objects at rest and all that.
Next, write down the four habits you learned in your youth that you no longer practice, but would be considered to be ‘good’. For each item in your list, write down a number from 1 to 10 indicating how well you still practice it (frequency and/or execution), with a 1 being very rarely or very poorly and a 10 being every single time or very well. Most of these numbers should probably be pretty low (below 5).
Now order the habits according to their impact on the quality of life of yourself and others, with the first one being the one that will provide the most good to society. Look at the list and determine what it would take to move each of the items from where they are to at least a seven and write it down. Look at the first item, the one you thought would give the greatest impact. What are the things you would have to do to make this into a habit?
Similarly to the discussion of ‘Thank You’ a few paragraphs above, what if you rarely said ‘Thank You’ and thought this was a really good thing to pick up (or never learned it as a youth and want to make it a habit)? It will probably be similar to what I wrote above, but you may have to take a few preliminary steps to help you recognize that someone has done something nice to (or for) you.
As your awareness increases, you can start being proactive about saying thanks. This is moving from unconscious incompetence (neither noticing or acting) to conscious incompetence (noticing, but not acting) to conscious competence (noticing and acting). The final step is to repeat until you reach unconscious competence (acting without really noticing). At that stage, it is a habit. As with the other portion of the exercise, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it, so get busy.
Now that you have a bit of a pattern down, let’s do this one more time. Write down four habits you never learned, but think would be considered ‘good’ and useful to you and society. Continuing with the prior example, perhaps your whole family was crass and self centered, never saying thanks to anyone for any reason.
You are going to be starting from true zero, and have to start with a list of things you can think of that other people do that you should say thanks for. If you’re having trouble thinking of more than a few, observe what other people do, and write down what led up to someone saying thanks.
As you compile this list, try to notice when it happens around you, even to others, and say ‘Thank You’ (out loud if it happened to you, in your head if it happened to someone else). Again, forming a habit is just a matter of repetition, so keep at it.
This pattern should also be used for identifying habits you have, but that might be considered less than good (bad even!). Examine your life, and your habits. Adjust your course from time to time. Improve that which is good, and remove that which is not. And be sure to have fun as you get better at being ‘good’.
A closing thought: if you have kids or influence over kids, help them help themselves, and start them off in the right direction.
From: Twitter, undocumented feed (my bad)
confirmed at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/aristotle400385.html
Photo by clogozm