December 11. “Habit is stronger than reason.” (George Santayana)
I remember when I was in Catholic grade school, one of the nuns who taught us described the difference between virtue and vice. In her description, a virtue was a good and healthy habit, while a vice was a bad, or sinful habit. Both, she explained to us, were habits and that we had to choose which kinds of habit we wanted to build in our lives.
Habits are routines. They are the set and pattern of repeated behaviors that run through my life. Some of them are quite benign, like how I put on my socks, how I drive to work, how and when I read my emails, and so on. Some have more profound consequences, like my eating habits or my exercise habits.
Since March 1 of this year I have been on a Journey toward better health. During these past nine months I have been working to break old habits and establish new ones in my life. Some of those old habits, like eating fast foods were quite destructive. The fact that I would slip out of work on an almost daily basis to grab something from Wendy’s or McDonald’s was having a very negative effect on my weight, and my increasing problem with pre-diabetes. Others, like choosing not to exercise on a daily basis, looked more passive, but also were contributing to my problems. In the months before I started down this journey, I was taking the elevator to my office at work – my office was on the second floor.
Since that time I have had to dedicate a lot of effort to changing those old habits and re-establishing new, more virtuous ones. I have heard that it can take anywhere from 21 days to 21 weeks to form new habits. After years on my old habits I can tell you that the adage is true, they do die hard.
This past week I have been ill. It’s nothing serious, just a head cold. I am still feeling the effects of it today, and am working to kick it before the holidays get revved up again. During this time I have been unable to get to the gym to do any exercise, and I have been seeking some comfort in food. On my health blog I’ll be sharing my weigh-in information tomorrow morning, and there is a very real chance I will show a weight gain. But that doesn’t mean I have broken my new habits. It just means that I will redouble my efforts next week.
When I was deep in the ruts of my bad habits, there was no reasoning with me. I knew that what I was doing was destructive, but the force of momentum in my life outweighed the forces of reason. I was entrenched and there was no easy way out. It took me having to make a commitment to radically change my lifestyle to get myself out of those ruts and turn the wheel of my life to a new direction.
Today my reflection is on habits. I like to believe that I have new, healthy habits in my life that will stand the test of time, but I also worry. I have to remain ever vigilant that the comfort of my past, bad habits will not grab me by the ankle and pull me back down.