Monday, July 8, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Creating Habits

Have you ever watched someone play an instrument? I mean really play it. With every note, every key, every pluck, you hear the beautiful, powerful melody of practice. The sound of habit. The tune of dedication, perseverance, persistence. 

I've played piano since childhood, but I don't practice very often anymore. In my mind I remember almost nothing, but through my hands I can recollect one song. It's a great one, my favorite piece from high school, a difficult piece, and one I wasn't sure I would ever master. But I did, and since then it's a piece I have played over and over again throughout the years. And it's the one I play every time I sit down at the keys to this day. It's the only piece that gives me that sense of fulfillment and excellence, that reminds me of how – through time and work – anything can be accomplished. Of course, on many occasions, it's more likely that I'm tickling the ivories to the tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider or my girls' latest Disney favorite. But when it's my turn, I always come back to Passacaglia.

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

Lately I've been putting a lot of effort into creating new habits. It's a tough thing to do, to change the inertia of one's life, pulling away from the comfort of the familiar and tracking off course into the unknown. My habits are – for better or worse – the bricks that build the foundation of my life. To grow and evolve, I have to continue to create new habits, find new ways to challenge myself, learn new things. Wishing for the ability to play guitar, or become an author, or compete in a triathlon, wishing won't do anything to make those things happen. The only thing I can do to achieve my dreams is to create habits that guide me toward them. To reach my mountainous goals, I have to take little steps each day toward the summit. It won't be quick. When I start, I might feel like I felt when I first heard my favorite piano piece – like I would never get there. But each day brings the chance to keep the promises I make to myself. To do the things I said I'd do. To follow through creating new habits and leave behind destructive ones.

Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.
Mary Martin

We could go through our whole lives never realizing that our habits, those little seemingly insignificant things we do each day, make up the whole of who we are. We are the sum of the things we do each day, the things we fill our time with, good or bad, mundane or meaningful. Our habits become our future. Whether we want them to or not.

People do not decide their futures, 
they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.
FM Alexander

If I look back on my life a year from now, will I be content with the way I filled my days? Will I live a life of regret, wishing I'd taken the time to practice music, play legos, eat healthy, meditate, get close to those I love? Will I find the strength today to reach the next summit, or will I stay in the hopeless land of wishful wondering? How will my life look a decade from now? If I don't change my habits, it'll look just like it does today. Am I okay with that?

Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.
Horace Mann

So what do we do if we know we want radical change? If we want to embark on something brand new, something we know nothing about, something scary, something life-altering? All we have to do is start. That sounds so simple, and it is. But that's how life works. You see your goal. You set out to reach it. You find small, achievable steps toward that goal. And then you take those steps. Every. Single. Day. To redirect your path when necessary, going around obstacles you didn't see when you set out. But no matter what, you keep moving forward until one day, one day, you see the summit. You made it. You built the steps to your goal, and you climbed them until you reached the top. You didn't settle for wishing and waiting. You didn't let the momentum of life hold you down, but you used it to propel you forward on your journey of self-discovery. And when you look back on your life, and all you've done, all the promises you kept to yourself, you'll stand at the top of that mountain, basking in the glorious sunlight, arms held up high with the thrill of accomplishment spreading across your face. Don't wait until tomorrow to start living the life you want to live. Your summit is waiting for you.

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