Monday, May 20, 2013

21 Days

They say that it takes twenty-one dates to establish a habit. defines habit as:
An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.
Habits are funny creatures. They're easy to create and often challenging to uncreate. Some habits grow strong that they're easily confused with their cousin, addiction. Still, they're only just habits.

Although they can appear to be the same, habits vary significantly from addictions. Addiction is one of many possible responses to having developed a habit. defines addition as:
The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
 They're related but different.

The most important thing to know about habit and addiction is that neither is inherently bad or good. Most of the time, they're simply the outgrowths of repeated activity and the repeated application of specific beliefs about that activity. That is, the acquired ones are. There are others that are not developed or acquired. They're inherent to physical design, e.g., the habit of breathing are or drinking water or eating food.

This is not to say that acquired habits feel any less potent than inherent ones. It's just good to know the difference. Any habit (inherent or acquired) can become quite powerful.

Over the last twenty days, Iris has been building a new habit. The habit is to get up every morning, walk the half mile from our house down to the road and then walk the half mile back up to the house. There's a vertical difference of several hundred feet, so the walk can be a bit challenging on the way back.

The first few days of habit development, unprompted, Iris got up, got dressed and walked.

Days four and five required prompting that was met with no resistance. (In my experience of habit building, this is a common phenomenon. One can become a bit lax after a few days of success.)

Day six: no prompting.

Day seven: no prompting and we celebrated. Hurray, seven days along our way to twenty-one.

Day 8
On day eight another curious and common phenomenon occurred. Iris was a bit behind schedule. She had ample time to walk were she to focus and get it done. When I asked her whether or not she was going to walk, Iris said, "I was thinking that I'd walk after I get home. It doesn't really make any difference whether I do it before I go or after I get back."

As an accomplished creator of habits, I thought aloud, "What? Are you kidding me? It absolutely matters."

Iris looked at me for moment, and then apparently decided that she'd prefer a walk to hearing my explanation. So I'll explain to you. I'd say the most frequent cause of midterm habit abortion is the belief that certain factors such as when or how or where don't really matter. Sure, if you'd already entrenched the habit, you'd be able to discern the required from the not-required. However, on the way there, you simply don't know.

Further, the first rule in great habit development is: Don't delay! Do it right away!

The easiest way to undermine a habit is to decide to do it later. The easiest way to decide to do it later is to entertain the possibility of not doing it now. I've found the best solution is this. The moment I start wondering whether or not to do it now, I just do it now.

Day 20
Iris just walked in the door after her twentieth day of habit formation. She seems well on her way to having established a habit. I'm not sure whether it takes twenty-one, fourteen or forty days to do so, but I am sure that "daily" matters.

An oft-overlooked side-effect of habit development is free time. You wouldn't believe how much time is spent in self-debate over whether or not to do something, self-reprimand for not having done so, or the seemingly infinite loop of starting over and again.

Once entrenched, an acquired habit gains the strength of an innate one. You'd sooner miss a meal than miss the chance to exercise or practice or work math problems.

It's quite amazing.

What are your habits? What would you have them be?

Happy Monday,

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