Saturday, May 9, 2009

It Takes 4 Weeks To Create a Habit

I read a lot of self help books.  About a year ago, I learned in one of those self-help books that it takes four weeks for a human to create a habit.  It almost seemed like a message from beyond because it was reinforced and confirmed by numerous sources all at once.  But it frightened me a bit at the time because I was in the midst of  what had been predetermined to be at least four weeks of jury duty.  

What about those things you do involuntarily for four weeks?  A habit?  So I would live the first four weeks AFTER jury duty building a habit to go back to work?

Yep . . . kinda.

Now I have been on Twitter for at least four weeks.  As I've said before, those of you who "get it" understand what fun I'm finding.  Those of you who don't, I'm not trying to exclude you - think of it more like the difference between those who enjoy hockey and those who enjoy opera.  Twitter just isn't your cup of tea.  

But after making jokes about the shorthand that people use text messaging and worrying that I wouldn't be able to understand the world because I don't text message:  I find my thought flow when I'm writing has begun stuttering and stammering.  I have created a habit of writing in the 140 character Twitter allotment!  Actually typing out the words "you" and "your" feels almost painful and I can't tell you how many times I've had to erase "@" and type in "at!"

Just the other day, my Dad said to me . . "as an English major . . "  It's true, I graduated from college as an English major, but that was long ago and far away and doesn't seem to even be an accurate descriptor for me any longer.  After creating my new 140 character habit, a monkey at a typewriter probably feels less apoplexy getting his grammar right than I do.

Four weeks and I have definitely created a 140 character habit . . . .

So why am I still reading self-help books to overcome the same old problems after years of working at it?

Recently I had an epiphany about that.  Let me explain.  

It came to me when I was up @ Amazon researching self-help books.  See that's what I do.  When I begin to struggle with sadness, anger or negative emotions, I either begin reading or listening to what I already have or go searching for more of the same.  At that point, I guess I figured I needed new inspiration and anger must have been what I was struggling with; so I searched through online page after page of books about coping with, dealing with and overcoming your anger.  Suddenly, like a cold slap across the face, all that I'd read kicked in and I understood my mistake.  

It's a question of focus and attention.  

One of my favorite things lately to allude to is the idea that Mother Theresa wouldn't attend anti-war rallies.  Rather, her position was that if you held a pro-peace rally, then you could count on her attendance.  See the difference?  It can be subtle and meaningless to those who would relegate it to simply semantics.   An anti-war rally is giving all the attention to what you DON'T WANT, but a pro-peace rally is properly addressing what you DO WANT.

So all those anger books?  Well, of course, they simply reaffirmed and underscored that I was exactly what I didn't want to be:  an unhappy, angry person.  You can't exactly build the habit that you want when you're focusing on the wrong activity.  Really, I was simply continuing a habit I already had - the habit of wanting to change what I was feeling.  

When I created that 140 character habit, I didn't read about how to Twitter.  I just tweeted and twittered & blipped & followed my way 2 finding nu ways of talking so u could get big pic in short sentence.

Habits r created by doing not planning to do.