What is a habit? By my definition, it is something that you do automatically – without thinking about it. This could be something like biting your fingernails, cracking your knuckles, or even brushing your teeth in a particular pattern.
I started looking at how many things I was doing without even thinking about them. It turns out that I have a LOT of habits; most people probably do. Many of these habits don’t seem to matter much one way or the other – like washing in a particular pattern in the shower, or brushing your teeth from left to right. Either way, you get clean and have a sparkling smile.
We all have habits. You may ask – “So what?”
Habits mean that we have developed patterns in our subconscious that we act on without thinking. Where did these patterns come from? Are they good for us?
Our subconscious is more powerful than we realize. We have ideas and preconceived notions, biases, and values within us that we may not even realize on a conscious level. Have you ever said something – or even thought something – that you would like to have taken back? I know I have. Why did that come out?
Think about something you don’t like – perhaps a food or a color. Why don’t you like it? I spent some time examining things I didn’t like, and couldn’t come up with an answer, so I started looking for a reason. It took my back to childhood, recalling times when someone I trusted – say a friend or family member – professed a disdain for a certain sports team or a love/dislike of a particular food, activity, or even ethnic group/demographic. As a child, these things tend to get stuck in your mind, and it’s natural to adopt these preferences as your own.
Were these my own thoughts? No, but they have become firmly ingrained within my mind and I am operating on them as if they were reliable information. Often, they come out without me thinking about them. As children, we are little sponges that trust the adults in our lives to guide us. We tend to believe those around us without even thinking about it.
Here’s one example from my own childhood:
I was 11 years old, and had a paper route. In those days, you walked the route and put the paper on the customer’s porch. It was an unusually cold day, and the temperature had plunged to well below freezing. I was shivering, and my fingertips were already beginning to numb as I started my route. Taking out a rubber band, I began to wrap a paper and – due to the extreme cold – the rubber band broke and snapped my finger HARD! I tried again and the same thing happened. My hand was throbbing with pain, I was freezing cold, and it was taking every bit of strength not to cry. There was no way I could finish the route like this.
My grandmother, an avid Christian Scientist, believed in the power of mind over matter. She taught me that our minds and thoughts are powerful and can have a physical effect on us. Remembering her teaching, I sat down and thought hard about my situation, praying that I would be able to complete the paper route. After working this over in my mind intensely for several minutes, I started to feel better. My hand stopped throbbing and – amazingly – I even began to feel warmer. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I stood up and finished the paper route.
After riding home on my bicycle, my mother greeted me in the kitchen. She touched my hand and then asked who had given me a ride home. After explaining that no one had given me a ride, she replied that my hands were too warm – therefore someone must have given me a lift. My mother would have never purposely done anything to discourage me; she just didn’t accept the same belief in mind-over-matter that grandmother had. In her worldview, the mind cannot affect physical processes in the body.
This conversation left me feeling hurt and confused. The hurt was because she didn’t believe me, but the confusion was because I was getting conflicting information from my mother and grandmother. Fueled by my grandmother’s teaching and encouragement, I *knew* that I had been able to warm myself with the power of my mind. But after that conversation with my mother, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
In this recollection, two people – both of whom I trusted completely – were telling me different things. Both of these thoughts worked their way into my subconscious. It took me years to finally realize this, but it’s a good example of the subconscious operating as true and reliable information.
Even as adults, we remain susceptible to adopting thoughts that may not be our own. In the 1950s, TV commercials often used subliminal messages, where one frame in sixty would show a particular product. This frame appeared so quickly that you wouldn’t notice it on a conscious level, but your subconscious would register it. Modern advertising is more blatant, but no less effective. How many times have you watched a TV commercial featuring piping hot pizza, ice-cold soft drinks, or colorful breakfast cereal and began craving those items? Most of us have.
If we are told that we are really good at something, or really bad at something enough times, we will eventually start to believe it. This may or may not be true, but we will internalize it and operate on it as though it were. Keep this in mind when giving feedback to others. Even if someone may not be performing up to your standards, try to coach rather than criticize. This will encourage them to continue to learn, improve, and hopefully have fun doing it.