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The Connotation of Habits

01/02/2013 09:30

Have you noticed the tendency of the word “bad” being often placed in front of the word habit?  What if we turned that idea upside down even a wee bit?

In 12 days, I will be entering into my 9th year of either giving something up or taking something on for six weeks.  Over the years, in preparing for that timeframe, I have looked at the giving up & taking on in many different ways.   That feels “exactly right” that our mindsets change & expand & grow as the years progress.

Nine years ago, honestly, I looked at the six weeks beginning in mid-February as a burden.  Do any of us really want to give something up that we enjoy even if it is for a relatively short period of time?  That first year of doing without something enjoyable was the beginning of the building of the foundation for years to come.

For the first few years during the six week time frame, diligently, I gave something that I really liked up.  Incidentally, it did not take too many cycles of giving something up to realize that there also had to be a positive mindset around that action.  Here’s an example.  A friend decided one year to give up coffee for six weeks.  The friend openly admitted a couple weeks into the six weeks that he would not choose to give up coffee again.  He explained that he was not really being “his best self” attitudinally to those around him especially during the “coffee  detoxing” initial phase.  He admitted that the spirit of the six weeks had been lost since he had complained so much about lack of coffee to everyone that he encountered.  From that friend, I learned that the thing that I would not give up is tea since well, there is something about it that I am convinced gives gentleness to my soul.  It is really cool when we can learn through others what may or may not work for us as well.

From the fourth to the 8th years of giving up something for six weeks, I turned my mindset upside down.  It occurred to me that instead of giving something up that perhaps taking something additional on would be a better plan.  Each year, there was preparation & reflection to determine what would be the “taking on” for that six weeks.  It became something that was enriching & incredible to experience.  It was tiring too.  Some years, the “taking on” was physically tiring & other years, emotionally tiring.  It was a great kind of “tiring” though & the point was to not complain even once during that time frame.

This year, the “aha moment” hit me in early January.  This is the year to “kick it up a notch” as Emeril Legasse loves to say.  Instead of simply giving something up or taking something on, this is the year that I am ready to both give something up & take something on for six weeks. 

That got me thinking about this word that we all use, “habits.”  The connotation in society largely seems to be that habits need to be broken & that by definition, habits are bad.   What if we do not give habits labels at all?  What if we choose instead to say to ourselves that there are times when we will replace some habits that are not serving us well with habits that will provide us with either physical strength or spiritual or emotional or relational growth? 

Last March, we decided as a family that we would replace driving the car to school with walking.  It took almost two weeks to get into a morning routine that resembled anything short of chaos.  The easy thing to do would be to abandon “mission” & just take the car again.  That’s where a commitment comes in.  The day before we were going to implement the morning routine change, we promised to one another as a family that for 21 days, rain or shine, we would walk to the school.  After that, we would reassess we agreed.  The 21 days did not come out of the “ether”.  A mentor had shared with me years ago that it takes 21 days to replace a habit.  When we tell our minds that we are giving something up, the natural place for our thoughts to go to it seems is to scarcity thinking.  We tend to concentrate on what we cannot have.  With replacing a habit, we are concentrating on what we are doing or having in the present moment instead of what we are giving up.  That kind of takes the labels off of the word, “habit.”

One of the quotes that is taped up in our kitchen is entitled, “A List of Give-Ups.”  The quote is on a small piece of paper & has moved along with us from 2 previous homes.  It has weathered puppyhood by our goldie who decided that paper was delicious so there are a couple of bites out of the paper too.    The title of “Give-Ups” though does not do it justice since it not only speaks to give up s but rather too, what to take on.  The author of the list is unknown.  Let’s share the list together:

“Give up bitterness;  turn to forgiveness, give up negativism;  be positive, give up pessimism;  be an optimist, give up worry;  trust Divine Providence, give up anger;  be more patient, give up gloom;  enjoy the beauty around you, give up gossiping;  control your thoughts, give up hatred;  return good for evil, give up complaining;  be grateful, give up harsh judgements;  think kindly thoughts, give up discouragement;  be full of hope, give up pettiness;  be more mature, give up jealousy;  be more trusting, give up hurting ourselves & others;  turn to virtue.”

For sure, the reason that this list has travelled along with us over the years is because we are a “work in progress.”  The replacing of habits whether they are of a physical or cerebral or spiritual nature takes dedication that goes beyond devotion, steadfastness, energy, accountability, and most of all, a reason that means everything to us.

If we have diabetes or another 365 challenge, we probably share that there are many times throughout each year that we take stock of the habits that are working for us & the ones that need to be replaced.

An author that I respect profoundly is Mathew Kelly.  We have most of his books & they are “dog-eared” & read over by family & friends.  Books are meant to be shared my heart says.  One of the ways that Matthew Kelly describes each one of us at our best is “becoming the best versions of ourselves.”  That is awesome!  We are all originals & working towards being the best “versions of ourselves” each & every day.

My hearts hope for each of us is that we give ourselves the gift of discerning which habits need replacing & then going ahead & doing just that. 

Smiles, Saundie :)