Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Don't Be A Slave to Habit Part I

by Miriam B. Medina

In part, 1 of this two-part series, we will examine how all of us are slaves to habit. In some cases, this can be a dreadful thing, especially if the habit is terrible for you or bad for those around you. In part, 2, we'll discuss ways to break these habits, to improve your quality of life by improving your behavior and controlling your compulsions.

After all, in one way or another, we're all slaves to habit. Take me, for example. It's 4am again, my usual wake-up time. The dogs, the other two creatures of habit who share my abode, are whining and scratching my bedroom door ready to do their business. If I don't hurry up, there will be a mess to clean up, and I certainly don't want that. Their habit dictates my actions. So I routinely get up and take them for their walk, hoping I don't run into anyone at that hour. Upon seeing me, both dogs go in circles of pleasure, running toward the door. Thank God, a few minutes later, the deed is finally done. Maybe I can sit down now and go on Facebook to see what's going on in the world while the coffee is brewing. I always have an irresistible addiction of checking my Facebook whenever I am on the computer, even before I drink my coffee for the morning. I immediately log in, but don't see any messages or notifications, not even a single post from anyone. What? No Good Morning for me today? My self-esteem takes a dive. I'm so used to getting a Good Morning from one of my friends on Facebook, as I'm in the habit of saying Good Night to everyone when I sign off of Facebook. Today, there were no responses.

I'm devastated.

Is it time to unfriend a few people? Doesn't that sound like someone who has an addiction? For some reason, I don't feel loved, and I thought I was Miss Popularity. Boo Hoo. Oh well, there's a lot of sadness in this world. I'll just have to deal with it. I'm wondering where my keyboard is. I'm sure it was here on my desk before I went to bed. AH! There it is, hanging off the desk, and the mouse too. My dog Buddy must have knocked it off my desk while sniffing for crumbs from the crackers I ate last night. He does that a lot. It's 5am now. All the same I have two more hours to go on Facebook. Oh goody, maybe I'll still get one Good Morning from someone who values me as a friend before I start preparing to go to work.
My neighbor who lives above me has a grandfather clock. The gong can be heard every hour on the hour. Amazing how this clock is a creature of exact mechanical habit. To be habitual is to be at best an efficient machine, utterly unable to do anything except make the wheel go around, running one's life pattern along its own course of action, eventually leading to a loss of richness in experience, making life a mere repeated monotony. After so many years, I am now used to the gong. At the moment I hear my neighbor moving about, to and from, zigzagging back and forth along the squeaking floors like the swinging pendulum in her clock. I find it very distracting. I am concentrating more on her habitual pattern than on what I am doing on Facebook.

It's precisely 5:45am now, there she goes, right on time, rushing down the wooden stairs in her high- heeled shoes, slamming the door as usual as she hurries through the five blocks between here and the 6:00am bus that goes to the Port Authority in Manhattan. I say to myself, what if one of her heels should break (not that I am wishing it), then what? This lady is definitely a creature of habit. This would bring her day to a halt, temporarily shocking her pre-programmed mind. After a short break to readjust, after going back to her apartment to find another pair of shoes, the ignition will spark, the wheels start whirling, and once again, she'll find herself moving along more quickly in an effort to catch the next bus. She's a slave to habit as we all are, in bondage to that acquired behavioral pattern that we follow to the point of involuntary servitude. These habituations are mechanical and routine, and many of us do not wish to change them.

First and foremost, let me identify the word "habituations" which is the "reduction of psychological or behavioral response occurring when a specific stimulus occurs repeatedly."

To be honest, most of the life is habitual. Habit is simply a thoughtless routine that we abide by on a daily basis. This includes the same things we did yesterday and the day before and the day before that and so forth, we continue these things today automatically. For example, here are some routine habits many people share: getting ready to go to work, getting ready to go to bed at night or getting the kids off to school. When the kids come home from school, they might have a habit of throwing their jacket wherever it lands or leaving their shoes where others can fall over them. Even many adults take their clothes off and drop them on the floor or on the sofa, leaving them there until the next day or when laundry day comes around. After taking a shower the wet towel gets tossed onto the bathroom counter, to become a decorative accent to the room until you clean the house because company is coming.

We are also creatures of habit at work, from the time we arrive we are in the habit of looking at the clock. We watch it and we are governed by it. We watch the clock for waiting for our coffee break to arrive, then we hurry back from our break, staring at the clock again, counting the minutes until lunch time. We hurry off to lunch only to watch the clock to make sure that we get back in time Finally, after staring at the clock all day, the end of the day arrives and we rush to our cars so we can be the first one to get out of the parking lot. Of course we need to chat on our cell phones on the way out, free at last, no longer slave to work habits, now we are simply slaves to our own personal routine.

If these routines become a customary practice, it forms part of our character. Sometimes those habits may identify us as being neurotic. Most of us are not even aware we are doing certain things because we do it in a natural, consistent way. Some people suffer from germaphobia, which is an irrational fear that overestimates the risk of being exposed to dangerous germs. Germaphobics are obsessed with cleanliness, forever washing their hands for fear of contamination. Cleanliness is a good thing. Hand washing practices, if improved, would significantly reduce the possibility of infection. It's a sanitary practice, especially after using the bathroom and before handling food. But the Germaphobe will wash his or her hands until raw, still feeling as though they are not clean enough. They develop a cleaning ritual. Individuals who follow this regimen are labeled OCD, which means they have obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD makes that individual's brain get stuck on a particular thought or urge. Just like taking a bath every day is a deeply ingrained American habit. A practice often blessed by public transportation riders during rush hour, especially when everyone is packed together like a can of sardines with no room to breathe. Some individuals are in the habit of checking things before they leave the house. They repeatedly check anything connected with harm or danger. For example: they check the oven to make sure it's off, check the alarm to make sure it's working or check to make sure that the door is locked. Then you have the individual who is so negative, they have developed a habit of always looking at the dark side of life. They easily cry when they are criticized or they are forever drowning in their sorrows, carrying a "woe is me" attitude, which can potentially damage any relationship they might have over a period of time. Whereas the person with a positive mental attitude is always in the habit of looking at the bright side of life, distributing positive energies wherever they go. In part 2 of this 2 part series, we'll explore positive ways to break bad habits to improve your quality of life!

Read Part II

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