Are We Really Creatures of Habit?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “You are a creature of habit.” Maybe you’ve said it yourself. Another common phrase is, “That’s the way I’ve always done it!” 

What makes us do the things we do? Why do we react to situations the way we do? Sometimes we use the excuses listed above. Sometimes we try to pin our reactions on our heredity or on our environment—that age old paradigm. 

My contention is that all these ideas are merely excuses that we use to defend our mediocrity and shortcomings. Certainly, we have a genetic make-up. We were brought up with certain value systems. It seems that these value systems make us think we can’t change. It is our tendency to react to situations the way we have reacted in the past. 

Let me suggest to you that there is another way to look at this. We experience a circumstance (a stimulus) and we react to that circumstance either in thought or deed (a response). Our life is a series of stimuli and responses. Often there is no thought at all given to the situation. There is no gap between the stimulus and the response. Something happens and we react. Often we react the way we always have because we are creatures of habit. We give absolutely no thought whatsoever to our response. We just react. 

As with so many things in our life, there is another way of doing things, another way to look at things. We can, if we intend to do so, notice the stimulus as it happens. As we notice the stimulus happening, a small gap occurs. That gap allows a space for us to react differently from the way we always have reacted. That small gap gives us a chance to consider our choices in dealing with the stimulus. We can consider how we want to react to that circumstance. Our response can now come from a place of heightened consciousness, not experienced when we simply react as creatures of habit. We may still offer the same response we have in the past, but now we realize that it is a conscious choice rather than an uncontrolled act. As we deal with the feelings that result from our chosen response, we have the opportunity to notice how we feel. We then have another choice to make. Am I happy with the way I responded? Or could I have handled the situation better and felt better about myself? That consciousness is an awareness of what is happening as it happens. Some would say it is living in the moment. This consciousness gives us the opportunity to choose a response. 

Developing this consciousness requires the intention to do so. It does require practice. That practice involves the effort to notice ourselves as we respond to stimulus after stimulus throughout our day. 

You can choose peace in your responses. You can choose to be kind. You can choose to be compassionate. The point is: you get to choose. You are a creature of habit either because you want to be or because you don’t know any better. Now you know better!