In fact, our good habits can be our salvation. Putting on our seat belts, brushing our teeth, tying our shoes, chewing before swallowing — these are fine things to do automatically (as long as we’re doing them well).
In fact, just last December, in our “Last Word,” department, we featured a quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The problem, of course, is that much of what we repeatedly do hardly qualifies as excellence. We can (and often do) make habits of sloppiness, avoidance, convenience, dishonesty, overindulgence, procrastination and other things few of us would consciously select as defining patterns in our lives. These sneaky habits creep in around the edges when we’re not paying attention, and the next thing you know — ka-thunk! — we’re in a rut.
Most of us have more than a few less-than-wonderful habits — from eating doughnuts for breakfast, to watching three hours of TV every night — that do us harm. Most of us also have habits — like rushing, stressing, multi-tasking, judging and worrying — that rob us of pleasure and satisfaction. And then there are the habits (or jobs or pastimes or coping mechanisms) that served us well for a while, and then simply got boring or overly easy somewhere along the way.
In contrast to habits of excellence, which tend to be in the service of our highest choices, ruts are patterns of thought and behavior that slowly but surely lead us away from such choices, and away from consciousness in general. Which is why recognizing our ruts for what they are often requires some kind of outside influence, or a chance encounter with an alternative we prefer.
This spring, for instance, I had the pleasure of spending a few days with my friend, Cindy, who eats raw fruits and vegetables almost exclusively. Going with the “when in Rome ” approach, I enjoyed a steady diet of such foods during my visit. And I must tell you: I felt fabulous.
I must also tell you:
Even as I was enjoying lush papaya for breakfast, I knew full well that I would not be permanently giving up my coffee and cream, my baked sweet potatoes, my grilled trout, or the zillion other nonraw, nonvegan things I adore. But I really enjoyed my raw-food experience, which was both delicious and satisfying, and it made me realize how easy it could be to include a large percentage of raw foods in my daily diet.
So when I got home, I started shopping a little differently, started experimenting with some of the raw-foods cookbooks I’ve had on my shelf for years, started eating at least some raw foods at every meal. I didn’t give up all my cooked-food favorites, mind you, but I discovered many new ways to work more raw foods into my daily routine — and to truly enjoy it.
Now that I’ve been eating this way for a few months, I can’t imagine going back to my former (healthy, but also semi-boring) routine. I also still can’t imagine giving up my morning coffee, but hey, you never know. And interestingly, once I made this change, other changes started appealing to me, too. I tried a new running route; I swapped out the strings on my guitar; I decluttered a closet. And whaddaya know — things in my world suddenly felt a bit more lively!
When we make changes like these — experiments that turn out successfully — our typical reaction is: “Gosh, I should have done that ages ago.” But I think it’s important to trust the timing and process of such things. If you are feeling the desire to bust out of a particular rut now, then now is the time. Not six months or six years ago. Not “back when you had the chance.” And not “someday when you have the time.” But now, in the moment that the rut reveals itself, in the moment that inspiration happens to strike.
I hope this issue of Experience Life presents you with an opportunity to consider the patterns that are and are not working in your own life, and enough momentum to — ka-pow! — hop right back out of whatever ruts have held you in their sway.