The title of this blog is an excerpt from a quote by American philosopher and writer, Will Durant. The full quote is, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence ,then, is not an act, it is a habit." Durant who wrote several books on topics ranging from civilization to education to religion, was reinterpreting a quote by Aristotle who said, "These virtues are formed in a man by his doing the actions."
As somebody who spends a great deal of time in meditation practice, I am often contemplating my habits: both good and bad. I know that some of you might take offense to my use of the judgmental words of "good" and "bad" but they are part of our vernacular for..."better" or "worse".
We all know the habits that are good for us such as: regular exercise, a balanced diet, stimulating our minds, and managing emotional or mental stress effectively. We are also very aware of the bad habits: smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating foods that do not have enough nutrients. In many cases we cannot even remember when or why the bad habits started. When examining the literature on addiction, which is very much related to bad habits, there is often a chemical profile that predisposes a person to the addiction. Alcohol triggers the dopamine rush and nicotine attaches the prodigious nicotinic receptors in the body. Either way, the result is a chemical feeling of relaxation. Sounds pretty harmless until a person engages in the practice long enough so that it makes it an automatic habit that becomes not only harmful to the body but really hard to break.
When I went to school, the prevailing theory was that it only took 21 days to break a bad habit or start a good one. More recent studies have caused that theory to be re-considered. It turns out that if a person wants to break a bad habit like watching too much television, that might fit into the 21 day rule but if a person has a chemical sensitivity or the habit is just more challenging or complex, it takes longer. In fact, a recent study out University College London, asked participants to choose a habit they wanted to make and then try everyday to make that change for 84 days. The participants would log their feelings on how automatic it felt. It turns out for the wide range of habits, it took 66 days on average to make most changes.
So if you have been challenged by trying to break a bad habit or make a good one, it might be that you are stopping before it becomes habitual. We cannot rely on our conscious minds to break or form habits for 66 days. We need to make this part of the subconscious programming. You can see why most New Year's resolutions fail! Sixty-six days is no small challenge but when weighed against the often deleterious effects of the bad habit, in most cases, it should be enough leverage.