You’re waiting at a red light and the woman in the car in front of you absentmindedly continues to twist and twirl strands of hair with her fingers — her therapy curl.

You’ve just filled out an order form and the guy who is waiting for someone from the warehouse to get back to him impatiently taps his pencil on the side of the desk. Was there a musical accompaniment? There didn’t have to be, he was tapping the minutes away.

You’re at work and the woman in the cubicle across from you draws tiny swirls and symbols on a piece of paper when her phone call gets placed on hold. If all her spiraling lines could eventually be connected they’d probably stretch the distance of the Great Wall of China.

What do these people have in common? Habits. They each do something automatically to help pass the time away when they have to wait for something.

Common to Us All

Not all habits, however, are nervous ones that have been designated to fill a void in time. Some are instant actions based on ongoing assumptions. For instance, ever since I switched the locations of a floor lamp and a recliner, my husband and I have been walking toward the lamp to sit and toward the chair to switch on the light. Then, later, when I replaced a wall clock with a framed painting, for days we were looking over at the painting to see what time it was. Naturally, we knew better afterward. But for a split-second interval, our thinking had taken a hike and habit had taken over (a trained response to an assumption that things were as they had been before).

All habits though, are not based on impatient time-filling or based on things you’ve done before and memorized to do again. Some have a complicated addictive quality to them (overindulgence in eating, drinking, gambling, etc.). These are habits gone awry because other psychological/physical things are involved.

Of course, we’re all aware of some of the more socially-irritating habits, such as interrupting someone when they’re talking, laughing at inappropriate times, digging ear wax out of your ear and then not knowing what to do with it, and other kinds of “nails on the chalkboard” things that people around you might do. I’m sure you can vividly recall a number of other irritations as well.

Thinking Takes a Hike

During the act of a habit, our mind is not fully engaged and, since most of us usually follow the path of least resistance, it’s quite easy to relinquish our thinking powers over to routines and habits. Habits are not to be confused for reflexes and instincts, however, although reflexes and instincts certainly play a part in developing some (and possibly most) habits.

But we’re creatures of habit. From the way we put our clothes away (or don’t put them away), to the manner in which we speak, habits sneak in and set up shop. An ever-increasing one is the appearance of 4-letter words that has taken over the English language. Language as we have known it gets taken in another direction when those “word gems” become the bulk of the sentence structure. Cussing is no different than any other form of expressing feelings in order to communicate them to others. But when that expression becomes a habit and that habit increases…well, thank goodness for the few verbs and adjectives that actually do make it into the conversation or there would be no conversation at all.

Habits heed no boundaries and play no games. They can plant themselves, take root, and dare you to get rid of them. If you’ve ever tried to break one, it quickly becomes apparent to you just how strongly they can take hold. Technically, all regular routines are habits, since, after a while, all routines by their very nature become habitual. You go to bed at eleven, get up at six and go off to work at seven-thirty so often that you don’t even think about it anymore…you just do it. It’s that repeating and not having to think about it that qualifies routines as habits.

They Have Dual Personalities

Obviously, some habits are good and some are not so good. Saying “thank you” is a good one to develop. Chewing our fingernails down to the flesh might be one to avoid. Any habit that helps us to be better human beings are habits to embrace. Any that would drive those around us up the wall might be some to reconsider. And any that would be grounds for divorce would definitely be ones to avoid altogether.

Highly Effective

The fact that habits can be good things is evidenced in the popularity of list-writings based on Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Do a search online and you’ll find everything from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” to “The 7 Highly Effective Habits of Brand Champions.” So, it’s obvious that habits can be a good thing. Let them work for you. Make them work for you! Harness the bad ones and let the good ones help you. Who knows what you can accomplish with the right habits assisting and strengthening you. Who knows!

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