Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

05.29.2019

Easter 2019

 

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years.  The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science.  For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton.  The twentieth century had barely been born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas.  Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them.  Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

 

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned.  “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”  Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution.  For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was.  Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge:  “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

 

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England.  Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect.  “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.”  Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven.  “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

 

Benjamin Franklin once said:  “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.”  The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures.  Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure:  “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

 

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure.  After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.”  Other Americans have agreed.   American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

 

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would discover the secrets to success.  What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined.  We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven. 

 

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well.  We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living.  We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same.  As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

 

Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations.  Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.  The French Voltaire one said:  “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.”   The real value of philosophy, though, remains not in the supposition or superstition but it what it teaches us, the doors that open and lead us to greater understanding of ourselves, each other, our world.  That is when the real sparkle of life becomes evident – when we recognize the value of each and every being within the creation that is our world.

 

 

 

May Day – A time to Bloom

Bloom Where and When You can

05.01.2019

Easter 2019

 

Today is May Day, a day historically set aside to celebrate spring and flowers as well as being a day to recognize Labor Unions and the common worker.  It is also less than twenty-four hours after yet another school shooting, this time at the University of North Carolina, United States.

 

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Fort Worth (Texas, USA) newspaper “Star Telegram”, written by Deanna Boyd.  Names have been omitted due to the age of the individual at the center of this article.

On Oct. 4, 2012, [X] called 911, telling a dispatcher, “Uh, I just killed my mom and my sister….”I felt like they were just suffocating me, in a way,” he told the dispatcher, according to a recording of the 911 call. “Obviously, you know, I’m pretty, I guess, evil.”

Responding Parker County deputies found [a woman] and her daughter dead of multiple gunshot wounds inside the house on [XX] Lane in [subdivision and town].  The young man was arrested at the scene.  In a written statement, he told investigators that he had devised a plan to kill several family members after watching [a] remake of the movie “Halloween,” in which a boy murders relatives.

“While watching it I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward,” [X] wrote in his statement. “I was thinking to myself, it would be the same for me when I kill someone.”

Sheriff’s officials have said [X]  used a gun stolen from his grandfather, a retired Fort Worth officer, to commit the slayings.  [X]  told investigators that he had intended to later kill his grandparents and two other sisters.   But after the slayings of his mom and sister, [X]  — in a state he described as “very shocked and scared” — instead placed the gun on the kitchen counter and called 911.

“I know now though that I’m done with killing. It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

We think we know so much and especially as young adults and teenagers, we can be intensely certain that we think we know something.  Philosophy is about the “knowing” but how do we know?  Sadly, many cult leaders never give their followers the chance to reflect upon their actions.  These misguided young people searching for knowledge and truth are sacrificed for the greed and egos of others.  At a time when so many are resorting to violence as an answer, we need to stop asking when will then killing stop and start asking what are these young people thinking.  Philosophy is about the search for knowledge and it is a search conducted without a great deal of physical action, just mental.  For that reason, many disdain it and consider it, to borrow from Shakespeare, “much ado about nothing”.  Some say that about spiritual sects and religious denominations and faiths.  We study to prevent knowledge from passing us by, from slipping through the hours of our living.  The ancient philosophers saw the world moving on and asked why.  We need to question our daily actions in the same way.  Did what I do yesterday have value?  Did I connect with another, friend or stranger?  Was there a purpose for my being?

 

There is no one hard and fast rule that will be sufficient as an answer.  The religions of the world usually claim love to be the answer but how do we live a healthy love for all?  We will each have our own answers and paths of both learning and exploration.  The future is, after all, ours to construct and write.  Hopefully, we will connect with others and thrive.  Hopefully, others will look back upon their connections with us and be thankful for them.  Mostly, though I hope you never feel what this young man has felt.  “It’s the most dreadful and terrifying thing I will ever experience. And what happened last night will haunt me forever.”

 

A common meme that has been around for decades is the admonishment to “Bloom where you are planted.”   Mary Engelbreit, a children’s author and renowned illustrator and artist, is often credited with this saying but it predates her.  Some claim the phrase is Biblical and cite Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 but it never actually says we should bloom where we are.  Others claim that was the intention of Paul in his writing to the church in Corinth, the text of which is found in 1 Corinthians 7:17.

 

The advice is good but is comes more from common sense than from spiritual or religious teachings.  What about the saying thrive to survive.  Often people ask if they are merely surviving or if it possible for them to thrive.  In writing for the website The Chopra Center, Tamara Lechner suggests that “There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means, “to continue to live or exist,” while thrive can be defined as “to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish.”

 

In many countries surviving is a difficult task.  Is it possible to break out of the mindset of survival mode to thrive?  Lechner offers this advice:  “Thriving happens when you have a life of purpose, vitality, connection, and celebration. This isn’t tied to a specific salary, job title, type of car, or relationship. Material possessions are not part of the recipe to thrive. Follow these four steps to stop surviving, and start thriving.”

 

Life is not about being haunted.  Life is for living and living for the best outcomes for all of mankind.  Enjoy today.  It is the first day of the month of May and, in many areas, the true first day of spring.   Live your faith.  Exist, believe ,rejoice.  Mostly, I hope you smile – at another but also at yourself.  When we seek to thrive and help others do the same, then we have a much brighter future, one in which everyone has a chance to bloom, grow, and flourish.

 

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

Facing the Tides of Tomorrow

04.28.2019

Easter 2019

 

Leonardo da Vinci described water as “the driving force of all nature”.  The 1937 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to a Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.  He is noted for a great many things but I think his definition of water is the best.  “Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium.  There is no life without water.”

 

Water is necessary for all living things, animal or vegetable and sadly it is not as abundant as the world needs.  Water became the answer when on man sought to discover what the world was made of by rational thought.  Known as Thales of Miletus, he is considered to be the first philosopher.  Because water is essential to all living things, Thales reasoned that everything must be derived from it.  Water exists in several forms: solid when cold; a gas when heated; liquid in what most consider its natural state.  From this beginning and the reasoning of Thales of Miletus comes the modern theory that all matter can be reduced to energy.

 

The Tao philosopher Lao Tzu also considered the philosophical properties of water in the sixth century BCE.  “Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water.  Yet, when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it.  So the flexible overcome the adamant; the yielding overcome the forceful.  Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.”

 

Thales reasoned that the earth grew out of the water that surrounded the land masses.  Over seventy-one percent of the earth’s mass is water, after all.  His student Anaximander reasoned that the earth must float on air.  If water supported the earth, he asked, what supported the water?  Anaximander believed everything could be reduced to air.  While neither man was correct, their argument/counterargument form of deduction still forms the basis for philosophical thought and discussion today.

 

OF course, though, philosophy encourages questioning and someone did just that after Thales and Anaximander.  Heraclitus proposed a “theory of opposites”.  He believed that rather than everything being derived from a single element, there was an underlying principle of change.  The world to him consisted of opposing tendencies.  His argument to support this theory was the basic fact that the path that went up a mountain was the same path that went down the mountain.  Another analogy was the fact the while a river remains constant, the water within it is constantly moving and flowing.  Heraclitus proposed that the reality we see as constant is really a reality of processes and changes.

 

Later Xenophanes would suggest that the knowledge we claim to know is just a hypothesis.  Our searches for knowledge start from working hypotheses but the actual ultimate knowledge, the “truth of reality” will always be beyond our grasp to understand.  Xenophanes believed in a cosmic composition of life, based upon two extremes – wet and dry.  He combined the Milesian ideas of air and water with Heraclitus’ views of opposites and used fossils to support his theories.  This was the first evidence-based argument recorded.

 

Philosophy would not remain in this mode of thinking for long.  It would evolve into theories based upon something being everything and nothing being impossible to be something.  We’ll save that for another day, though.  What we should focus on today as we start Monday and a new week is whether or not we are one element or living in a state of contrasting opposites.

 

Night falls at different times on the earth as the planet revolves through its orbit around the sun.  Just as the timing of the night is different so does what nighttime looks like.  For the child growing up in a refugee camp, night might be a period of cooler temps but scary flashes of light indicating mortar rounds being fired.  For the child snug in their bed in Paris, the City of Lights, nighttime is a warm blanket and a calming bedtime story.

 

Today I heard a story about a school-aged child whose class went on an over-night field trip to a state camp.  The two-day excursion included nature walks and environmental lessons.  The child’s class was to be the last to experience such a visit as the camp was deemed inefficient with a delinquent revenue stream.  Sitting around the campfire, the children listened to the sounds of the night.  Two weeks later, as he closed down the program and prepared for his next job, the director of the program received an envelope of thank-you notes from that last class.

 

The drawings of the various birds, and other wildlife discussed he had expected but it was the simple handwritten note of a young girl that truly touched him.  “Thank you,” she wrote, “for showing me what creation is really about.  I liked the walking, the trees, the flowers, and learning how to reuse things.  I liked seeing the baby rabbits and although it was scary, even the snake in the grass on the trail.  My favorite, though, was learning that nighttime can be nice.  At my house I cannot see the stars.  I see the restaurant signs.  We don’t have quiet on our block.  We hear cars and sometimes, gunshots.  At camp, I got to see the stars and hear the quiet and then the call of the night animals.  What I saw at camp was creation.  Bobby next door calls it Allah and my grandma calls it God.  I am just going to call it life.  Thank you for showing me what life can be.”

 

We all see life each and every day.  Like the water Lao Tzu spoke of, life can sometimes attack us and we might feel we cannot withstand it.  With knowledge though, and thought, we can learn to be flexible and by being flexible, gain strength.  Knowledge is power when applied properly.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr summed it up:  “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control.”

 

Wallace Stevens remarked that “Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.”  The environment with which we surround ourselves influences us.  Alysha Speer compared life and water:   “You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.”

 

Many cultures use water as a type of rebirth, a cleansing of the old in preparation for the future.  Da Vinci pointed out that “in rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes.” 

 

Man does not live very long without water.  It is more than essential; it is life itself – both in birth and in destruction.  Most of us forget to really use water in our daily living.  Charlotte Eriksson offers us the best way, I believe, to face the morrow and our life.   “Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes.  Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more.  You’re doing just fine.”

Slip Through the Cracks… and Stop!

Slip Through the Cracks … and Stop

Day 40

Lent 2019

 

The note was short and written in a surprisingly strong hand.  “It is ironic that I have chosen this course of action.  I do so because I am tired of slipping through the cracks.  I offer suggestions that are never followed up.  I volunteer only to never get called.  I am, apparently, a profession al slipping through the cracks.  Emails go unanswered; phones never returned.  I thought I had something to offer.  I thought my life had value.  Apparently I was wrong.  And so, I am calling it quits.  The irony is that some will consider that choice to be “cracked”.  Perhaps that is fitting since it was caused by my slipping through the crack of life.”

 

I have written some posts in this series about the Beatitudes.  A well-known piece of scripture, the Beatitudes are about eight groups of people upon whom blessings will be given in the after-life.  One of the comforts of the Beatitudes for me is that they describe what we all experience in life – the good and the bad.  No one walks a smooth and straight path all the time.  We all encounter detours and bumps and yes, sometimes dead ends.  Marlon Wayans believes that “Success is not a destination but the road that you’re on.  Being successful means that you’re working hard and walking your walk every day.” 

 

Henry David Thoreau sought peace and personal success in his own unusual walks of life.  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

 

We cannot give control of our lives to others, even when we seem to be ignored, forgotten, or slip through the cracks.  As Gautama Buddha once said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”   More recently Jay Woodman said something similar: “The world is a wide place where we stumble like children learning to walk.”

 

We all stumble and at some point in time, feel like we have slipped through the cracks.  Maybe we have but anything that can slip though can also crawl or pull itself out.  When we forget that one basic fact, that even the negative things in life, the stumbles and falls we make on our path can offer us lessons, that is when we truly stop living.  Our life is a gift and we have much to learn and to offer.  If you feel you are being ignored or overlooked, make a turn and go down a more productive path.

 

Steve Maraboli offers this wisdom:   “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

The Basis of Belief – All Lives Matter

Days 37-38

Lent 2019

 

Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although that document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.   “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   

 

Today many people are seeking freedoms, both for religious purposes but also for just basic living.  Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.  Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War I, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.

 

Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War II.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.

 

More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.   Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. 

 

The Beatitudes offer us a reason to continue to believe, in spite of what life throws at us.  They also have, for many, provided a foundation for which to live.  With no mission board to support or guide her and less than ten dollars in her pocket, Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China.  Amy Carmichael is an Irish missionary who spent fifty-three years in South India without a break.  Both women believed that their Creator would provide for their needs.

 

Dr. Helen Roseveare graduated in medicine from University of Cambridge in the late 1940′s. A well-known missionary doctor and author, with several of her works still in print, she worked in the north-eastern province of the Belgian Congo with the Heart of Africa Mission in the 1950′s & 60′s.  Art critic John Ruskin enthusiastically proclaimed her potential as one of the best artists of the nineteenth century, but Lilias Trotter’s devotion to Christ compelled her to surrender her life of art, privilege, and leisure. Leaving the home of her wealthy parents for a humble dwelling in Algeria, Lilias defied stereotypes and taboos that should have deterred any European woman from ministering in a Muslim country. Yet she stayed for nearly forty years, befriending Algerian Muslims with her appreciation for literature and art and winning them to Christ through her life of love.

 

Khadīja Khuwaylid Even was an important figure in her own right even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, since she was a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. 

 

One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

“O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

 

Throughout history women have been prevented from participating in a great many things, including religion.  Throughout history women have lived and fought for their religious beliefs and freedoms, finding strength in the cause and effects echoed in the Beatitudes.  These named represent a small minority of the thousands of thousands of brave and spiritual women who have lived according to their beliefs.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith. 

 

A news story today chronicles a suggested answer to the high number of people illegally entering the United States was to “dump them” in various locations across the country.  It should be noted that attorneys within involved agencies rejected this offer.  Throughout history women have been prevented from attaining an education and were considered good only as slaves, much like these immigrants have become – slaves and prisoners to an inept and ineffective system.  The fact is that all lives matter and we need to address issues as if we ourselves were the victims of the problems.  After all, whyat affects one really will, at some point, affect us all.  We truly and effectively need to treat others as we would want to be treated if we are to have success in living.

 

The women mentioned here today, as well as those in education, health care, and politics, live their belief that all lives matter.  After all, why do we believe and go through our daily living if it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?

 

 

 

 

 

Caution: Life is Habit-Forming

Caution: Life is Habit-Forming

Days 33-36

Lent 2019

 

In this series entitled Lent 2019 we have been discussing self-knowledge.  Knowledge that is not used serves no purpose so what should we do with our knowledge?  The best answer I know is to use our knowledge of the world and ourselves to form good and positive habits. 

 

The American Journal of Psychology (1903) defines a habit as “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”  Yikes!  That definition doesn’t leave much room for growth of thought.

 

Habits are simply those behaviors that we do routinely, often without conscious thought.  They are not responses we necessarily were born with but they have by virtue of repetition become automatic responses to repetitive stimuli.  Habits can be either good or not helpful.  Many people automatically smoke a cigarette after eating a meal.  They certainly were not born doing that.  An example of a good habit is washing one’s hands after using the restroom or before preparing food or eating.

 

Writer Charles Duhigg published a book several years ago entitled “The Power of Habit”.  In it he explored the science of habits and how marketing specialists use the steps in acquiring a habit to advertise and convince us to make purchases of their products.

 

While I might not like the above-mentioned definition of a habit in American Journal of Psychology, one cannot deny the psychology of forming habits.   Each habit we have begins with what is called the “habit loop”.  This is a three-step process and every habit we have developed went through all three steps.

 

 

First there is the cue or trigger.  Then there is the actual behavior or habit itself.  Then there is the reward which is how our brains remember the behavior.   Habits are formed in the basal ganglia, that section of our brain that also handles and controls emotions, memories, and – no surprise – pattern recognition.  A habit is a pattern we create because of the reward we receive.

 

Decisions are from a different part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex.  Whenever a behavior becomes a habit, we no longer need a decision to make it and the prefrontal cortex decision-making section can take it easy.  “In fact, the brain starts working less and less,” says Duhigg. “The brain can almost completely shut down. … And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

 

The modern way of describing this is to say you are able to “multitask”.  In other words, because frying eggs is a habit, you can talk while cooking; you can open a door or water your garden while dialing your phone.  “You can do these complex behaviors without being mentally aware of it at all,” Duhigg writes. “And that’s because of the capacity of our basal ganglia: to take a behavior and turn it into an automatic routine.”

 

A change of scenery can change that behavior, however.  People might park a certain way every day at the office but when they go on vacation, how they park will change because their location and environment is different.

 

Even what we hear can make a difference in our habits.  Sometimes we fail to realize that improving our self-knowledge might be a phrase often heard in real estate – location, location, location.  The people with which we associate as well as the environment in which “hang out” does and will have a great impact on our habits.

 

Conor Neill, an instructor at the University of Navarre in Barcelona, Spain, developed a list of personal habits he felt were necessary for personal success.  They included Goal Setting (Dreams to Goals to Actions); Time Management; Fit Mind and Body; Personal Vision (What on Earth am I here for?); ; Integrity – build trust; Personal Finances – getting them in order; Good Social Life; Strong Relationships (with partner, family and kids); Resilience (head in the sky, feet on the ground); Self-Motivation; Self-Acceptance ; Fun; Attracting and Using Mentors and Advisors; Being Open to and Seeking Coaching; Giving with Intention; Inspiring Others – gets others to do stuff; Reflection – setting aside time for reflection.

 

Some of these are things we have spent time discussing in this blog while growing a better self, a garden of spirit and soul through past Lenten seasons.  They are worth noting and discussing again because habits help define who we are.  Most of us can remember an adult that was influential throughout our lives and probably one of the characteristics we really remember about this person was a habit of theirs. 

 

The great thing about habits is that when one becomes unsuccessful for us, we can change it.  They are not cast in stone.  Life is about adapting because no two days are going to be exactly the same.  Too often we expect perfection of ourselves and we expect in instantly.  Life is a process.  When we allow ourselves time to develop and determine what works for us and what should become a habit, then we reap the harvest and reward of a life lived with intention, a life well-lived.