Forming and Breaking Habits

-by John D’Silva,

(This was an address I gave to a group of youngsters sometime ago. They told me they enjoyed it so much. So I am publishing it here because other age categories may also find it useful. Thank you)

A habit is a form of behavior that occurs without conscious effort.  As an example, I am sure that in your class at school, there is someone who always sucks at their pen whenever they are working on an assignment.

Do you think he or she was born that way? Of course not! Rather, they formed that habit by sucking their pen whenever they are solving a problem. Thus, a habit is also defined as “an unconscious law of the subconscious mind.”

Suppose each day after school you take your lunch then sleep for one hour. If you do this every day for one month, can you tell me what will happen to you as soon as you take your lunch? Yes – you will fall asleep or feel sleepy. These examples show how habits are formed. By repeating an action over and over it becomes a habit.

Once you form a habit is it easy to break it? Far from it. It is very difficult. So we must be careful to form only good habits. Our habits determine what we become. I can see you all have clean faces and smooth skins. I am sure this is because you take your bath every morning and every evening.

Suppose you have the habit of taking your bath only once every week do you think your skin will be as smooth as it is now? No! Eczema, rashes (or, “craw craw”) will soon appear on the skin of such a person and he or she will look very ugly – all because of the bad habit of bathing only once every week.

Another reason why we must be careful to form only good habits is because good habits assist us to achieve our goals, whereas bad habits hinder our advancement. For example, there was a man who started a church. He had a building where he would preach every Sunday using a public address system.

Soon, neighbourhood children began to join him for Sunday worship. However, one day while he was preaching, a certain child playfully climbed on top of a seat. The man became very angry and shouted at the boy, “Come down, stupid boy. Devil baptize you!”

When the children got home and told their parents how the preacher had cursed their little brother, their parents told them never to go to that “church” to worship again since the preacher was not a true man of God. That was how he lost all his members.

Can you see how his bad habit of cursing frustrated his ambition to found a church? Somebody may pretend to be a certain kind of person but in an unguarded moment his habit will slip out and show his true character.

Now, if there is a habit that we want to stop how do we go about it? It has been found that the most effective way to break a bad habit is to form a new, good habit to replace it.

For instance, a man wanted to stop the very bad habit of smoking cigarettes but he was unable to do so until he learnt to put something like a sweet or chewing gum in his mouth whenever he felt like smoking. In this way he was able to break the dirty habit of smoking.

Finally, let us always remember this wise dictum:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;

Watch your words, they become acts;

Watch your acts, they become habits;

Watch your habits, they become character;

Watch your character, it becomes destiny.