Consider the following riddle:
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command. Half the things you do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed—you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of all great men; and alas, of all failures, as well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a man. You may run me for a profit or run me for ruin—it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you. Who am I? I am habit. —Anonymous
An established pattern that is automatic is called a habit. You can create a habit in a few weeks and you can break a habit in one day. Some habits are so powerful that they become addictions, and they are not easily broken. There are good habits and bad habits. They become your disposition or natural inclination of behavior. Seek to maintain good habits and seek to eliminate bad habits. It is through the momentum of righteous habits that our inclination to choose the right is reinforced and confirmed.
“First, I would suggest that we teach youth by our own example the importance of acquiring good habits. Bad habits can be such fatal pitfalls. First we could break them if we would, then we would break them if we could. ‘Ill habits,’ said John Dryden, ‘gather by unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, and rivers run to seas.’ Good habits, on the other hand, are the soul’s muscles; the more you use them, the stronger they grow” (Thomas S. Monson, Be Your Best Self [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 93).
“We become what we think and do. Habits mold our character. Good habits are not acquired from good intentions only; they are developed in the workshop of our daily lives. They are fashioned in the often uneventful, commonplace routines of life and strengthened by practice” (L. Tom Perry, Living with Enthusiasm [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 74).
“It is just as easy to form good habits as it is to form bad ones; just as easy to think good thoughts as to think evil ones, and in the words of Paul: ‘Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’ and Jesus said to the Jews: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin’” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Restoration of All Things [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945], 260–261).
Here are four ideas that can help form a good habit or break a bad one:
1. Rise above your behavior and take mental control.
- Try to understand and appreciate the “why” of the behavior—how it can lead to positive outcomes, or (in the case of a bad habit) how it contributes to discomfort or pain.
- Focus on the benefits. There are natural blessings that come from good habits. Be sure to recognize them and make them part of your internal motivation. If a bad habit is causing you to come up short in your quest for advantages and benefits, then let that fact resonate as part of your resolution to improve.
2. Become strategic with respect to your habits.
- Set a goal with a target date.
- Commit to change. Make a commitment to yourself, your friends, and your family. Write it down! Talk about it!
3. Use effective day-by-day tactics to control and guide your habits.
- Use reminders: a list, a note, a sign, music, or some external reminder that acts as motivation to maintain a good habit or avoid a bad one.
- Seek strength through friendship. Tell a friend and enlist his or her support.
- Maintain a chronicle of excellent patterns of behavior and triumphs over debilitating habits. Keeping a journal will often help you become more objective.
- Be patient. Recognize that sometimes it takes time to break a bad habit, especially if addictive behavior is involved. Recognize that good habits are formed step-by-step with focus and resolve.
- If you stumble in the process, don’t give up; start again! Never give up!
- Pray for strength. The Lord will bless you in your persistence and performance.
4. Remember to include the “little” things—There are many habits that can bless your life. Here is a small list of some of the “little” things to consider that can lead to great outcomes and blessings:
- Have courtesy in all things.
- Express gratitude daily.
- Genuinely compliment others.
- Do random acts of kindness at every opportunity.
- Focus on regular exercise and good eating habits.
- Make family togetherness a priority. Eat together, play together, and pray together.
“We are the sum of our actions, therefore our habits make all the difference.” —Aristotle
“Habits are chains that are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” —Samuel Johnson
“Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” —Aristotle
Habits make up the true character of the person. You become what you do. You are a result of your choices in all facets of life. Habits take time to establish themselves in our lives. With proper planning we truly have the power to create good habits that will bless our lives in every situation because we will simply do the natural and right thing. In athletics good habits with respect to skills simply become “you” in the heat of competition. Likewise, in life, in the moment of trial, our real self will naturally have the disposition to do good to the extent we have cultivated habits that are noble and uplifting. It is simply our habit. Habits often become traditions within a family. Start good traditions such as family scripture time, family prayer, and family home evenings. Righteous habits such as these will leave a lasting legacy for your family. They will contribute to the cultivation of a pattern of righteous thoughts and actions that will ensure faithfulness over time.
This article has been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.