We continually choose what “makes” us happy or unhappy. But if we do it out of habit — or by default — we may scarcely realize that we can and do choose.
Each of our choices yields a consequence. And we learn from consequences. Unfortunately, part of what we learn perpetuates the negative — and keeps us from doing something about it.
If, for example, somebody breaks off a relationship with you, you might attribute it to your inadequacy and reinforce your habitual thinking that you’re not good enough. Discouraged, you fumble the proverbial ball, which perpetuates your negative opinion of yourself.
Your thoughts trigger feelings; your feelings inspire actions; and your actions get results that “make” you squeal with delight or scream or simply plod on. This cycle repeats itself — over and over again. And you just might find yourself in a rut or living a life based on bad habits.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” said Aristotle.
You can develop new habits — or excellence. Begin by thinking new thoughts. That’s painless. In fact, it just might come as a relief, if you let it. Don’t take on any pressure to make changes or act on the thoughts. For the moment, simply think about the positive — what you’re grateful for and what you’re capable of. Feel the infinite possibilities.
Now, you want to act on your potential.
If you’re happy with your result, repeat the action (with more proficiency). If not, be happy to profit from learning what doesn’t work so well. Now you can adjust your action to get closer to the targeted result.
In Stephen R. Covey’s bestselling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he defines a habit as the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire.
Covey says that knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do.
Even after we know what to do and why, and we have the motivation, we can get discouraged before we acquire the skill to pull it off. And when we do, we also lose our motivation!
That doesn’t stop us from forming habits, though. It only stops us from forming the habits we really want.
Let’s say: You know that theoretically you need to communicate openly with your partner in order to have a fulfilling relationship, and you want very much to do that. If you read a book and try the expert’s approach, and end up in a screaming match with your sweetheart, you might be so angry that you put up a wall — habitually — rather than continue trying to communicate openly.
You still know what to do and why!
Stay with me. I’m not asking you to do anything — not yet, anyway — so close your eyes and take a deep breath. Before you open your eyes, “Imagine [your perfect world],” as John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
Let your imagination conjure up your dream to motivate you to try again.
By maintaining positive thoughts, you can get in the habit of trying until you acquire the skill to manifest the dream.
You can also get in the habit of doing things that require no skill, only discipline. The other day my husband Sam and I sat down to dinner … and as our habit is, we kissed (only semi-skillfully) before taking the first bite.
“Thank God for tradition,” Sam said. You see, on this particular occasion, we didn’t feel like kissing each other.
Even if you try to make conscious choices, some of your choices will likely be out of habit. You can form good ones.