Saturday, April 9, 2016

Habit: What Do Our Habits Reveal about Our Lives? #AtoZChallenge Letter H

During April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a letter of the alphabet with the goal to write 26 posts.
April is National Poetry Month.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my broken garage door and my inability to use the opener for a few days. Even though I could not use the garage until my husband installed a new opener last Saturday, I still headed for the garage instead of the front driveway every day when I left the house. I still punched the opener each day when I returned home. I did both these things despite knowing that 1) my car was not in the garage, and 2) the door would not open. 

Such is the nature of habits. 

We form habits through repetitive behavior. Often our habits attach themselves to our lives much like a ganglion cyst. Changing a habit requires behavior modification for many, concerted effort and cognizance of the habit for others. 

In The Power of Habit; Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Charles Duhigg explains that habits embody processes: 

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Blogging challenges such as the A to Z challenge and The Slice of Life Story Challenge, which I participated in during March, state their purpose as forming a daily writing habit in participants. However, breaking an old habit--the not writing habit, if you will--takes longer than a month. Psychologists typically posit that it takes at least six weeks to replace an old habit with a new one. 

Six weeks sounds like a short time, but in the world of habit formation, six weeks can feel like six months, one reason why few keep New Year resolutions. 

We see habits in all cultural and social structures and 

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize--they are so strong, in fact, they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

The poet Howard Nemerov describes the habits of an ordinary man as well as the cost of those habits in a poem. 

Life Cycle of Common Man by Howard Nemerov

Roughly figured, this man of moderate habits,
This average consumer of the middle class,
Consumed in the course of his average life span
Just under half a million cigarettes,
Four thousand fifths of gin and about
A quarter as much vermouth; he drank
Maybe a hundred thousand cups of coffee,
And counting his parents’ share it cost
Something like half a million dollars
To put him through life. How many beasts
Died to provide him with meat, belt and shoes
Cannot be certainly said.
                                     But anyhow,
It is in this way that a man travels through time,
Leaving behind him a lengthening trail
Of empty bottles and bones, of broken shoes,
Frayed collars and worn out or outgrown
Diapers and dinnerjackets, silk ties and slickers.

Given the energy and security thus achieved,
He did . . . ? What? The usual things, of course,
The eating, dreaming, drinking and begetting,
And he worked for the money which was to pay
For the eating, et cetera, which were necessary
If he were to go on working for the money, et cetera,
But chiefly he talked. As the bottles and bones
Accumulated behind him, the words proceeded
Steadily from the front of his face as he
Advanced into the silence and made it verbal.
Who can tally the tale of his words? A lifetime
Would barely suffice for their repetition;
If you merely printed all his commas the result
Would be a very large volume, and the number of times
He said “thank you” or “very little sugar, please,”
Would stagger the imagination. There were also
Witticisms, platitudes, and statements beginning
“It seems to me” or “As I always say.”
Consider the courage in all that, and behold the man
Walking into deep silence, with the ectoplastic
Cartoon’s balloon of speech proceeding
Steadily out of the front of his face, the words
Borne along on the breath which is his spirit
Telling the numberless tale of his untold Word
Which makes the world his apple, and forces him to eat.


  1. Powerful poem. And very true about the habits! Maybe if I made it to the gym six weeks in a row, it would not be such a pain every time... :D

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  2. I've always heard that 21 days was the key. I need some new habits. :) Very informative post and lovely poem!

    Happy A to Z ing! Yay, the weekend's here! :)
    Ninga Minion @YolandaRenee from
    Defending The Pen
    Murderous Imaginings

  3. Habits are indeed powerful.

    Blog: QueendSheena
    2016 A to Z Participant
    Joy Brigade Minion

  4. I listened to the most interesting talk about Habits by a researcher named Braco Pobric. He says to change habits, it's good to do them very small, like day 1: go downstairs and look at the exercise bike. Day 2: sit on exercise bike but don't turn it on. Day 3: turn on exercise bike and sit on it, don't exercise. Anyhow, he says we have to train our habit very slowly and gently... Visiting from Maui Jungalow

    1. That's a fascinating approach. I know that many fail when resolving to work out because they overdo it and would be better off w/ an incremental approach.

  5. Also, your choice of poem was quite good!

  6. That's a thought provoking poem Glenda, it got me thinking about how much I talk ;)
    The six week rule is so right for habits, and it doesn't matter which one. It seems easy but it's so tough. I'm going to be talking about an app for it later on in the challenge, which I've been using to push myself to survive the six weeks. And your post will fit into it so well :)
    @freya3377 from Life as Freya -

    1. Very cool! I'll watch for the app review. Glad you like the poem.

  7. Thought-provoking poem. I enjoyed Duhigg's book, too.