Have you fallen into any fixed habits? I know I have. I have uttered some phrases so many times that they are often the first expressions that come to mind. Not surprisingly, I occasionally overuse them. It is also why I tend to buy the same brand of toothpaste year after year. No, I do not know which brand nine-out-of-ten dentists prefer. My brain just prefers not to think about toothpaste brands.
Do you greet customers or clients exactly as you did four years ago? Do you respond with almost the same words no matter what question your child asks? Do you welcome friends with the tired cliché you’ve always used? Do you view a sunrise with habitual jaded indifference? I began by asking if you’ve fallen into any fixed habits, but I already knew the answer. I don’t know exactly what they are, but I do know that you’ve got them.
How do I know? Well, because we all do it. Over the last decade much research has been done on human habits. For instance, a Duke University study concluded that habit rather than deliberation shapes over 40% of the decisions you and I make every day. Both Columbia University and the University of Alberta measured the vital role that habit plays in exercising. Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified how our brains convert repeated behaviors into habits thus reserving our real brain power for unpredictable circumstances.
While converting frequent activities into automatic habits is quite natural, that doesn’t mean that it is always desirable. We engage in many regular activities that should certainly not be automated. Many of us are blessed to be able to say, ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to our spouses every day. That should be personal, authentic and heartfelt every single time. Neither do we want autopilot switched on when we interact with children, friends or clients.
What about praying to God or learning Bible each day? Want that to be meaningless rote? And if you do feel that merely mouthing the words today just as you did yesterday is okay, would it be equally acceptable if God began treating you the same way?
Allowing our repeated prayers and study to become automatic routines is such a real danger that God explicitly warns against it. Regular Thought Tool readers will remember this rule of Ancient Jewish wisdom; any word repeated exactly seven times in a passage is the crucial word in that section.
Leviticus chapter 26 contains horrifying details of the consequences when God’s covenant with Israel is shattered. The word repeated exactly seven times is KERI. (Leviticus 26:21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 40, 41) It means casual, random and mindless. These verses indicate that of all the damaging results of relating to God with unthinking casualness, the worst is that He subsequently relates to us in exactly the same way. Obviously God intends us to exert effort to ensure that our relationship with Him remains forever fresh, vital, and genuine.
In exactly the same way, we should constantly struggle to relate authentically to God’s other children be they family or friends, customers or clients. It is fine to drive your regular commute on cruise control and it is fine to pick your toothpaste out of habit but it is really not so wonderful to relate to different, individual human beings in that automated way.
Instead, try to delight the people with whom you interact regularly with an unexpected activity or a novel service. Look at the world around you with renewed appreciation. While we’re at it, praying deliberately and thoughtfully would also be an improvement.
This Thought Tool was updated from February 2012