No. 48

The famous educator Horace Mann once said, "A habit is a cable. We weave a thread of it every day and at last we cannot break it." There is little question that our habits wield a tremendous influence over our lives and when the day comes that we write the final chapter, they can literally mean the difference between our success or failure. In this column I'd like to share some thoughts and ideas about "habits" and if you aren't happy with some of yours, then hopefully these suggestions will enable you to develop new and better habits that will make you a happier and more successful person.
To illustrate the power of "habits", I would like to share this story which I have had tucked away in my files for some time. It begins this way: "One day a wise old teacher was taking a stroll through a forest and a youthful companion was by his side. The teacher suddenly stopped and took the time to point out four plants that were close at hand. The first plant was a tiny sprout, just coming out of the earth. The second plant had rooted itself quite firmly in the fertile soil. The third plant was a small shrub. The fourth plant had grown into a well developed tree.
At this point, the teacher said to his youthful companion, "Pull up the first plant." The youngster pulled it up quite easily with his fingers. "Now, pull up the second." The young lad obeyed and with slight effort the plant came up, roots and all. "And now, the third." The young lad pulled with one hand and then the other, but it would not come. Then he took both hands and the plant finally yielded to all of his strength. "And now," said the wise old teacher, "try the fourth." The young lad grasped the trunk of the tree and pulled with all his might, but hardly a leaf moved to acknowledge the best he had to give. At this point, the wise old teacher said, "My son, you have just demonstrated the power that your habits will have over your life." Then the young lad understood the principle he was trying to teach him.
While I'm sure many of you already know this, for the benefit of other readers, let me define the word "habit." A habit is any action that we have preformed often enough and long enough so that we repeat the action without having to consciously think about it. When it comes to developing new and better habits, there's one element in the process that is very important to understand. As a general rule we don't break habits, we replace them. When we quit repeatedly doing one thing, something else comes along to fill the void. Psychologists and others in the behavioral sciences have determined that it takes approximately 21 days to form a new habit. Here is how to go about forming a new habit.
First, determine the new desired habit and perform the action while it's fresh on your mind, then repeat it as often as possible throughout the day. Make yourself a little note and place it where you will be sure and see it the first thing each morning. Again, repeat the desired habit when it's practical to do so and continue this process as often as possible in the coming days. Do this for 21 consecutive days and it will have become a habit and in the future you will just do it without having to consciously think about it. While it may be too obvious to mention, the key to success is to form "success habits" and it's certainly worth the effort. As the English novelist George Eliot puts it, “A habit is that beneficent harness of routine, which enables silly men to live respectably and happy men to live calmly.” (EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)