So, what is the power of habits ?
If you visit the circus, you may see an elephant tied with a grass rope to a wooden stake. You might think how is this possible? This elephant can lifts tones of logs of wood with its trunk only.
Then, what is preventing this mighty one?
This is the power of conditioning.
When this elephant was a baby, it was tied with the ropes to a stake. Initially, it was not used to pull that stake with its trunk. After many trials a day comes when the baby elephant gave the effort and from that moment it’s brain was conditioned which lasted for life time. It affects its power of habits.
We humans too act from our conditioning. Rarely do we rethink our available alternatives consciously before responding. Our brain is under that force of conditioning. For example, some people need a morning cup before getting off the bed. Those who are habituated to play tennis after office feel uneasy on rainy days.
First, we mould our habits, and later habits mould us.
So what are those 5 ways to develop good habits?
1. Using Neuroplasticity
Let’s say you live in that part of Canada for example St. John’s, where it receives most of the snowfall. Now to go somewhere with car you need a rut. You have to follow that rut (as your way).
Similarly our brain creates channels (rut in brain) when we repeatedly think in a particular way to develop a small system of response.
When we use a particular channel of thought for long time then unused channels get inactive and we develop a certain way of thought process. And it affects power of habits
So let’s be straight…
Repeated positive thought process will make ways for positive habits and repeated negative thoughts will make negative habits.
2. Realising the Need for good habits
We have a natural tendency for goodness. We want to live in a positive ecosystem and expect positive behaviour from everyone.
Every positive habit enriches the ecosystem and negative habit does the opposite.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) said :
Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
In early twentieth century a British explorer came across a wild cannibals community. There he met the leader of cannibals. He was surprised to know that the leader of cannibals was graduated from Cambridge University. He asked him, “Why do you eat human flesh after receiving such good education?”
The leader said, “Of course I did, don’t you see? Earlier I used to eat flesh with my hand, now I’m eating with knife and fork.”
Thus to change habits and realise true power of habits, only individual thought will not help. We will need to realize the importance of good habits.
3. Breaking the Gravitational force of bad habits
It is very difficult to get rid of bad habits realise power of habits. Bad habits are always like undo-it-yourself projects. They are cables made from iron strings.
These strings can be easily snapped with a little effort, but when you tie it together, they form a strong cable that can lift many tonnes of weight. Similarly, we can correct stray actions but once they become habits by the force of repetition, they are like the strong cable which is very difficult to break.
As a result, It is not an easy task to change old habits. It becomes like launching a rocket in space. During launch, first few minutes of the rocket requires maximum fuel, when the rocket is going against the downward pull of gravity.
Once it acquires the necessary speed, the requirement for fuel is reduced, and the rocket is propelled by its own momentum.
Similarly, bad habits apply a great force upon us that must be broken with the help of patience, commitment, and understanding. The “lift off” takes the maximum effort, but once we break out of the gravitational force of bad habits and realise power of habits, our freedom gets a completely new realm.
So, how we can achieve the “lift off” and work against the gravity of bad habits ? There is a small story to understand power of habits.
India has popular tales of Akabar and Birbal (The Mughal emperor and his minister). It is said that once Akbar asked Birbal that if there was anyone in his ruling kingdom who could train goats to resist green grass. Birbal requested that it is a small matter and he needed one month to do it. So Birbal then took a goat and kept it in his home.
He would give green grass to that goat and when goat tried to eat, Birbal would whack the goat severely on the mouth with a stick. For one month he kept on doing this. Finally he took that goat to Akbar’s court.
He announced the king that it will not eat even the most succulent grass. Akbar asked servants to bring fresh grass. When goat looked at the grass then Birbal twirled the stick in his hand. The goat looked at the grass then looked at the stick, and turned its head away. It has learned to resist eating grass by grasping its dreadful penalty.
4. Convince ourself
We all have the basic nature to avoid pain. We generally avoid painful consequences, even the unintelligent goat when given grass refused to eat. Similarly, we must also become aware of the miserable consequences of developed bad habits.
If we can determine ourselves of the harmful consequences of bad habits and the pain they inflict upon us, we can renounce it more easily.
According to Vedic science, apart from avoiding pain, we all seek happiness in everything we feel and do. We have different perceptions regarding where happiness lies. One person thinks only if she could get a nice home she would feel happiness. Someone else believes that money will make him happy, while yet another feels that if I were a movie star, I would be happy.
Everybody’s goal is happiness, 24/7, all our actions are directed towards fulfilling this only goal.
Let’s stop and try to reflect for a moment. We think that we will be happy after buying a two bedroom apartment and yet when we have it, we are not. So after that we again think that if I had a three bedroom apartment, I would be happy. After getting it also, after some time, we feel distressed.
The point here is that when we decide that a two, three bedroom apartment will give us happiness, all our actions will be directed towards that goal. Thus 24 hours a day, we are driven by the desire to achieve that goal.
So, how this understanding will help to develop good habits?
We will find it much easier to develop good habits when we realise that they will increase our happiness.
5. Understanding Two Types of Happiness
The Vedic science speaks about two kinds of pleasure, Śhreya and preya.
Śhreya (Delayed Gratification) : The pleasure which seems bitter in the beginning and becomes very sweet in the long run.
Preya (Immediate Gratification): The pleasure which seems pleasant in the beginning and causes great pain later.
We may take an example of śhreya is the Indian gooseberrry (āmlā). It is a super-food and is very beneficial for health. Āmlā contains vitamin C of ten oranges. Usually, children dislike it since it has a bitter taste. Parents in India convince children to eat it because when it is eaten, it tastes bitter in the mouth and after some time, it tastes sweet.
Śhreya happiness is of the same nature- it seems bitter in the short-run, but like nectar in the end. And preya is exactly the reverse.
There are two paths- one is the ‘beneficial’ which is enjoyable in the beginning but it ends in pain. Second is bitter in the beginning but ends in lasting happiness.
With the help of this knowledge we can get a great chance to modify our bad habits and improve positive power of habits. To change unwanted old habits we should again and again convince ourselves of the benefits that will be there after changing to good habits. We must also think deeply about the pain that will cause us by not changing our bad habits.