Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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The vacuum of life

Published: 05 Dec 2012

Children, like the Universe, descend into chaos. My children are very good kids. I love them and find them intriguing and interesting. It still amazes me how quickly our best efforts for good behavior simply wear off. The bad habits return.

My son chews with his mouth open. This bothers me so we set out to fix it. We made strands of colored beads that are put down in front of him while he eats. He has 3 strands: green, yellow and finally red. When he chews with his mouth open a strand is removed. If the red strand is removed he is not allowed to eat dessert.

It works well and quickly breaks the habit. I think only once did he actually lose his dessert. Just the constant visual reminder is enough. But it returns!

As he breaks his habit we gradually forget about the beads. Then in a few weeks his habit slowly returns. His mouth opens and we’re all in for a terrible dinner show. The beads come out and the process repeats. It’s encouraging to see the time between beads lengthens each time. Soon this habit will truly be gone.

It’s excusable that his habit returns, though. He’s six. It’s my job to help him form good habits and give him the tools to succeed.

As adults, I feel our biggest collective problem is unknowingly falling back into bad, and dangerous, habits. Our lives are vacuums which eagerly suck up habits as we go. If we do not choose our habits bad ones are chosen for us. It doesn’t quite seem fair, but that is the way it works.

I’ve figured out for my own life that simply writing my own narrative and deciding who I want to be was enough of a reminder. Deciding what actions I want to take and what traits and attributes I want to possess allowed me to then choose my habits. However, all of those decisions do nothing to either achieve those goals or to form the habits I want.

Unfortunately, the goals I have are not simple habits that will be completed by staring at colored beads for 2 weeks. My habits are life-long, as all adult habits tend to be. The worst part is that these good habits are the easiest to break. I must defend my good habits and fight away bad habits with continued vigilance.

It’s a good fight, and the tools we have are our weapons. Choose the best tools. Find new tools. Figure out your own colored strands. Don’t want for some arbitrary holiday to start forming habits you should have for the rest of your life. Do it now, even if you feel silly.

Set your goals. Define your habits. Create you.