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Rabbi Dovid Hochberg

I am a creature of habit.

As I pulled up to my house the other day, I noticed there was a car parked right in the spot where I normally park. I parked about twenty feet away and as I walked up the stairs to my house, I realized that something was bothering me. Something didn't feel right.

I immediately realized what it was. I didn't park where I always park.

Logically, it made no sense. I parked twenty feet away. I didn't have to catch a bus back to my house.

But I didn't park in that same spot where I always did. There was an action that I had become accustomed to doing and when I was unable to do it, it bothered me. For a minute or two, it didn't feel right.

Force of habit. It is one of the most powerful forces in your life and the challenging part is that it is a double-edged sword. It can help motivate you to accomplish anything and it can prevent you from achieving your dreams.

Let me explain. Most of your actions in a given day are based on habit. You get up at a certain time, you have a morning routine that you ALWAYS follow (and no one had better interrupt that routine if they know what is good for them) you have a favorite seat in the cafeteria, you have a certain writing style, there is a place where you always go to relax, etc. etc.

These are all habits. If you were to decide tomorrow to change one of your habits and do things differently, it would feel a little odd. Perhaps not much. You might barely notice it. But you will feel kind of strange.

Why are habits so powerful? Very simple. They lock you into a routine and make it extremely difficult to break out of that routine. Now, that's fine when it is a good routine. For example, if you were careful to consistently pray at a certain time every morning or visit an elderly person every Tuesday afternoon, that's great. Once you have developed that habit, it will continue to strengthen every time you do it. The first few times may be difficult, but I guarantee that by the time you have done it twenty times, it will be much easier.

In fact, you can accomplish anything you want using the power of habits. Decide what you want to achieve and begin performing the steps to accomplish what you want to do. Make them into a habit. For example, suppose you decide that you want to be careful with lashon horah (slander and gossip). First, plan on not speaking lashon horah for fifteen minutes, starting at 8:30 a.m., every single day. Be consistent. Soon it will become second nature. Now, you extend the time to a half hour, an hour. The more consistent you are, the stronger the habit develops, the easier it becomes.

However, the downside of habits is that they are also used in the wrong way. People can develop habits of doing the wrong things and it becomes almost impossible to break out of the routine. For example, have you ever cheated on a test? Do you remember the first time? It was a very difficult thing to do. You probably felt guilty and angry after the test. How about the second time? The third? You may have noticed that it became easier and easier. Soon it may (hopefully not) have become a routine for you, part of the test-taking process.

You may have found this to be true with other forbidden actions. The first time you do something wrong, you are plagued with guilt and you promise yourself it won't happen again. The second time is easier and the third time is easier still. The Talmud says it very well. "The second time a person sins, it appears to him as though it is permitted. The third time he sins, it becomes like a mitzvah." Pretty insightful. Can you apply that concept to your life?

Here's the secret to using habits. You see, there is another aspect to habits that we didn't mention yet. Habits remove the thought process from the action. It makes you do things without thinking. This is the way it is done, so I will continue to do it this way, even if it may not be logical or make sense.

That is the key to growing and accomplishing as person. Don't stop to analyze whether or not you should keep Shabbos or give charity. JUST DO IT. Make the good deeds in your life into habits. Don't stop to think about them. Just do them. Once you have developed positive habits, then you can begin to reflect on their deeper meaning. The same is true for breaking bad habits. Force yourself to change the habit and don't think about it. Don't ask yourself whether or not you should do it. Force yourself to develop positive habits to replace the negative ones.

Remember, the most powerful aspects of habits are their momentum and the strength and ease they give to your actions. Use it to your advantage.

Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Dovid Hochberg and Project Genesis. We welcome your comments.

 






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