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Definition of the word of the week (HABIT): 1) A constant often unconscious inclination to perform some act, acquired through its frequent repetition. 2) An established trend of the mind or character.

There is an old expression that says we are what we do. Our habits define, in part, who we are. It is a common human trait for us to look at habits in the negative, but almost everything we do is based on habits that have taken a lifetime to acquire. All of us have heard, at one time or another, “I’ve always done it this way.” Here’s a news flash! It is not just the stubborn or willful people who feel this way. We are all, to some degree, guilty of sticking to our habits, good or bad. Usually, the only time our habits get any attention is when we resolve to change something about ourselves so that we will become better than we were before. It has been over a month since many of us made our New Year’s resolutions. This is probably a good time to step back and look at our progress in the habit improvement department.

Common resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, being on time, getting more sleep, getting up earlier, and so on. Deciding which habit to change is an individual choice. Regardless of which habit we choose to change, there are a few insights that can help make that change a reality.

According to the experts, in order to change a habit, one must be aware of how a particular habit affects one’s life. To resolve to lose weight, one must not only realize that eating less will help to achieve that goal, but one must also try to figure out why one overeats in the first place – or if one does overeat. Maybe it’s a lack of physical exercise, or a metabolism problem or a time problem, or… and the list goes on. It could be a combination of things. The whole behavior needs to be studied and resolved before a solution can be worked out. Many times our resolutions fail because we are looking for simple solutions. It is the complexity of a behavior that leads to particular habits that needs to be examined.

Once a destructive or negative behavior has been fully identified and a plan has been formulated, the following are some suggestions that can help keep that plan on track. These tips come from Dennis Tesdell, a member of the International Coach Federation.

1. Include positive reinforcements that include frequent rewards in your plan.
2. If stress was identified as one of the reasons for the old habit, figure out a way to deal with that aspect. Some suggestions include learning yoga, meditation, or self-relaxation techniques.
3. Realize that a bad habit took a long time to develop and have patience. If a slip or back slide occurs, forgive yourself and move on.
4. Some habits require that change must be made in small steps. Easing oneself off a bad habit in small doses is more manageable. Just make sure that the goal remains firmly in place, pace yourself and be realistic about your expectations.

I have a poster in my room that contains the famous quote by Frank Outlaw. It says, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become actions. Watch your actions. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become your character. Watch your character. It becomes your destiny.” It would probably be a good idea for all of us to take a step back from time to time to mentally analyze some of our behaviors. If we don’t like what we see, we do have the ability and capacity to change.

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. Samuel Johnson

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. Mark Twain

Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow. Yiddish Proverb

The second half of a man\’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half. Feodor Dostoevski

Every grown-up man consists wholly of habits, although he is often unaware of it and even denies having any habits at all. Georges Gurdjieff

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong. Charles Kettering

MAJ Vicki Barr, GMC Prep School Faculty prepared this study guide as part of the institution’s character education program. Comments and suggestions from readers are welcome at 478-445-2710 or by email at