Saturday, 2 December 2017

Creature of Habit

Habits, schmabits. Hmmphh. For me, the word “habit” is associated with negative emotions.

When the word pops up in conversation, I feel guilt. I have bad habits. I shouldn’t have bad habits. For example, I’m checking my FB and e-mail way too much. It’s wasting time. I need to change this habit. Associated with that,  a sense of doom. I know I need to get rid of my bad habits, but that’s easier said than done. I’m going to fail. I know it. But I decide: from now on, FB and email once in the morning, once at night. And then there’s frustration, because I park myself in front of the computer and before you know it, presto-bingo, there are the FB and email screens open already. Why do I do this? Bad, bad habit. This is the song that never ends – go back to the beginning of this paragraph, my friends, and you will see what I mean.

Then I do some positive self-talk (another one of my habits!) The self-talk goes something like this: “Habits are good for you. (Like cod-liver oil, replies my rebellious self.) Just think of all the good habits you already have in your life. (Right. I brush my teeth every night before I go to bed. I cook supper most nights. I do a Sudoku every morning, first thing, when I get up. Boring. Boring. Boring.) Habits keep people on track; people with good habits get way more done. Try it, you’ll like it. (Reluctantly, I buy this line of thinking. Only reluctantly. But why can’t I get good things done without resorting to a habit?)

I admit it: I have a hang-up about habits. My image of habits is one formed in my younger years. A habit is something you thoughtlessly do time after time, long after it’s no longer meaningful. (You always have tea with your breakfast; you always wear a hat to church; you always wash the kitchen floor on Saturday morning.)  And changing these lifelong habits is like setting off a bomb that rips apart the fabric of your life. Okay, I exaggerate – bad habit. But you get my drift.

I need an attitude change. Along comes a book called Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, subtitled “Mastering the habits of our everyday lives.”

My impression of Ms. Rubin is that she is one strong woman with a mittful of wonderful habits which she is eager to sell me. There’s no time like right now to begin again to create good habits, she says.  She describes 4 different tendencies in people when it comes to mastering habits: The Upholder, the Obliger, the Questioner and the Rebel. Yup, I’m the questioner with strong shades of rebel. If people tell me that a certain habit is good for me (drink 8 glasses of water every day!) I will say, “Oh, really? Everybody should be doing this? Maybe 6 would be good enough? And can I count coffee and tea as part of that, too? Wine, perhaps?” The rebel part of me mutters under her breath, “Phooey! You’re not the boss of me.”

After showing me who I am (oh, really?), she proceeds to show me that different strokes work for different folks as far as forming good habits or battling bad ones are concerned. An Upholder only needs to be reminded of the good reasons behind a good habit, and she’s off and running. Guess what personality type Ms. Rubin is? The Obliger will do it because she doesn’t want to let anyone down, she wants to make sure everyone is happy. Guess what type of personality many, many women are? And me, the questioner verging on rebel? The questioner is pretty good at meeting inner expectations, but not so good at outer ones. Apparently, I’m the one who needs to dig deep inside myself to figure out her own best techniques. There’s no point in anyone telling me what’s good for me. That dog doesn’t hunt.

This is about as far as I’ve gotten in the book. (And I’ve already renewed it once, which shows you how much I am resisting thinking about this.) I turn the page, and there’s a quiz you can take – you won’t be graded on it, but it might reveal things about yourself that will help you. I like quizzes, especially ones with no right or wrong answers, which I would question, anyway.

The RS and I discuss some of the questions, and WHOA! a light bulb goes on. I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I have hardly written anything or done any fibre art in the last three months. I have plenty of reasons to trot out about why this is so: commitment to other involvements (hello, Obliger, my old friend. Still living here, eh?), lame excuses about needing big blocks of uninterrupted  time for these pursuits, distractions that lead me down dead-end rabbit trails, blah blah blah. Oh, yes, and checking FB and e-mail a dozen times a day might contribute to my lack of productiveness just a teeny weeny bit. You think, maybe?

But now I see the real reason: I have not made a habit of doing the things that give me the most pleasure and have sustained me.

Writing and creating art are the two things that I do to maintain an even keel in life. They are like air for my spirit, water for a thirsty soul.  But instead of supplying myself with a steady dose of necessary things, I have subconsciously thought of them as personal indulgences which I treat myself to when there’s time and opportunity. I used to put these creative pursuits at the top of my list, but  – dare I say it? – I’ve gotten out of the habit.

Thanks, Ms. Rubin. This questioner is on her way to answering her own questions about habits. Writing and making art: making these part of my daily routines will leave less time for the bad habits I would like to eliminate from life.

One last thing, Ms. Rubin: the rebel in me will not call these routines a habit – that word is too mundane for such imporant work. Habit might be a good enough word for brushing your teeth, but not for art and writing. I will call them practices – the things you do to stay in tune with life.

And I’ll follow your advice: I’ll begin NOW.

And I did. First I wrote this blog, and then I pulled out the beginnings of a new piece of work that had been circulating in my imagination for the last weeks, but I was waiting for the right time to begin. NOW is the right time!

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