Saturday, January 05, 2013

When (good) habits make all the difference...

“Habit simplifies our movements, 
makes them accurate, and diminishes fatigue.”

- William James

Habit makes a grey, dismal-looking day...a paddle day! :)
"Habits" and habit-forming-activities often get a rather negative rap. We develop them and then we find ourselves working hard to break them. We can probably all list a personal "bad" habit or two that we might like to break and probably lots more that we'd like to see others break! (I think it was Mark Twain who said, "Nothing so needs reforming than other people's habits.") :)

Habits, however, can be very, very good and serve to enrich life deeply.

There are lots of awesome habits to nurture in our lives such as choosing nutritious food over the "empty" calories of not-so-nutritious food, ensuring adequate hydration each and every day, getting regular exercise instead of opting for the couch, getting to bed early enough to wake up the next morning feeling well rested, reducing harmful dis-stress in our lives, and living each moment with a generous helping of kindness and compassion.

Making a list of "good habits" is easy...and they are SO worth implementing.

Here's an example from one of our favourite self-propelled activities. Throughout the past month or so here on Vancouver Island, the weather has been, well, normal for this part of the world. That means grey skies, grey seas, rain and drizzle...not the kind of weather that is particularly inviting from the inside looking out! Besides, it can seem like way too much work getting immersion clothing on, kayaks on the roof racks, and sense of adventure and spirits sufficiently high in the "greyness" of the day. Unless, of course, it's become a habit to simply ignore the grey and featureless skies...and launch the boats.

A habit can be understood as a "recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition." Given that habits can dominate our lives (a humbling thought in itself!), all the more reason to ensure that our habits liberate us and not restrain us. I love what the late William James, the Harvard-based philosopher and psychologist, said in the quote above. He suggests that an excellent strategy for getting out and doing what we know is good for body, mind and spirit is to work to make those activities...practised habits.

We decided some time ago that once November arrives, if we wait for the sun to shine, we might not be paddling again until April! So we made it a habit (wind, waves, and weather forecast permitting) to launch, even if the day was going to be grey and dreary-looking. It's made all the difference.

The day didn't look the least bit promising...
but habit won out.
As with "the road less travelled", it made all the difference.
James is correct. Once an activity becomes routine, there's no drawn out (and exhausting) discussion about "should we or shouldn't we?". We simply get on with it. And it's the same thing, whether it's opting for the the rain coat instead of the remote control, or the produce section of the supermarket instead of the snack food aisle. The struggle I used to have each and every time I walked past my favourite (salty and hydrogenated fat-filled) snack is past history, since making a habit of not responding to its shrill, siren call - I don't even go near that aisle now. :) Much less struggle...fewer bad decisions...much more energy to do the right thing.

Good habits, simply - simplify.



  1. Living on the island it is a very good thing that you don't let the cloudy outlook and rains keep you indoors because you would never get out.It will take some doing for me to get into the "habit" of good habits but I must say I haven't had any of those "certain snack" items since Nov. 17th.
    Love the little running guy :)

  2. Hi Anon, I thought the little running guy had a particularly "determined" look. Also he was close enough to a mid-foot landing - so nice natural running style. :) Thanks for that. D.