Let’s leave theory behind for a moment and look at examples, shall we?
Imagine you have three colanders in your kitchen. They fit nicely into each other and do not take up more space than the largest of them, really. However, you only ever use the largest one, and whenever you use it, you have to take out the lot and place the two smaller ones back in the cupboard and out of the way. Now ask yourself: why do you keep the smaller two?
Neither of these addresses the real question: if you don’t use them and haven’t ever done so, why keep them at all? Is it because you are used to having them? If so: that’s a habit!
Now imagine your own kitchen: how much stuff is in there that you are not actually using at all? And how much stuff does it hold that you only use very sporadically. How much stuff do you have that could easily be replaced by something you use regularly for other purposes already? You’ll probably find that it takes no time at all to identify a couple of items that you don’t really use or need. Now ask yourself for each of them: why are you keeping this?
Physical items like the colanders are not really the main issue when discussing habits, but they serve as good examples to clarify the issue. Let’s move on to something more mind-oriented, then:
When you come home, you probably empty your mailbox, take things into the house and put it down somewhere. In most cases, this ‘somewhere’ is NOT the place these things really should go! In an ideal world, you would actually deal with incoming papers straight away, throw out the rubbish there and then, and place the important papers where you don’t forget about them and where you would usually deal with your paperwork. Since you have done none of this, you’ll likely end up with piles of untreated mail around the house, lost paperwork and probably delayed or missed payments of your bills. Now ask yourself: why don’t you do that right in the first place?
See? That last one: there’s your habit. And it’s pretty certain that this is your main reason to start with, the other two are really just symptoms of the habit.
Don’t get me wrong: not all habits are bad, far from it. But some are not helpful, or detrimental to your overall experience of life. The trick is to identify habits and evaluate if they serve you – if they REALLY serve you – or if you do things that way simply because you never thought about the benefits of doing it otherwise, or because you never thought about them at all.
It pays to revisit sporadically and find out which regular things you do because you have made a conscious decision to do them that way, based on consideration of the pros and cons and how it affects your life, or if you just do them out of sheer habit. Making that distinction will help you identify behaviour that does not serve you, even though it might have done so at some point in the past. What counts is not what was, but how it affects you right now.
Not paying your bills in time, losing time and effort over moving those colanders around, … those are things that affect you right now, and will keep affecting you if you don’t consider if this is right for you or not. Of course, these are just two simple examples, but there are many more, like rethinking which telephone provider you use, or if there are more efficient ways of dealing with your utilities suppliers, if the way you cavalierly brush off comments about your behaviour is thoughtless, if your possessiveness over your car is normal or excessive. The list goes on.
Any and all things we do happen out of either thoughtful consideration or sheer habit. Both have their place, but it pays to consider them on occasion and maybe change tack for some of them.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.