There’s a famous picture of Sigmund Freud holding a cigar, illustrating his love of smoking. When asked about the psychological significance of his attachment to cigars, he answered, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
I thought of that quote when I read Robert Hruzek’s recent post, Comfort Zones, and Other Impediments. It’s a fun piece… Robert asks us to close our eyes and fold our hands together, with our fingers interlaced as in the picture on the left. Then open your eyes and see which thumb is on top, the right or the left. The next step is to interlace them the other way. If your right thumb was originally on top, this time make it your left thumb. Notice how strange that feels. Robert points out that strange feeling is a simple example of getting out of our comfort zone. It’s a natural reaction to changing a habit.
Habits are powerful tools, and we couldn’t function without them. We would be worse than a centipede trying to walk by consciously moving each of its legs. And if we want to be effective in life, we need to keep upgrading our tools.
The ability to change our habits is one of the most powerful life skills we can develop. I learned that when I was 16 years old and cured myself of a dental phobia. It was one of the most empowering experiences of my life, and since that time I’ve never felt stuck, never felt I was a helpless victim. It might take me a while to figure out what to do, but I had the tools to do it.
There’s a wealth of information available to us now on the subject of habit modification. Just today I came across Three Steps to Changing a Habit at FallingAwake.com, Leo Babauta’s method at LifeClever.com and Gretchen Rubin’s method at The Happiness Project. And there are plenty more ideas out there. Pick a method that works for you and try it. The method isn’t as important as deciding you really want to take charge of your life. And that step is a lot easier if you don’t take habits too seriously. They’re not a moral matter. Don’t waste emotional energy on judging them. Just get curious and see how they work. Don’t be afraid to start small, to develop your skills on habits that are easy to change. Have fun with the process… you’ll learn faster that way. Again, don’t make a big deal of it. After all, a habit is just a habit.