Thursday, 22 April 2021

Get into a habit of stopping to think

MY grand-father-in-law used to say, “When you get to my age, it’s your habits that keep you sane.”

Although at 63 I am only just over two-thirds of his age, I am beginning to see what he meant.

Without some fairly fixed patterns in life, without habits which mean you are not having to re-invent yourself and your way of facing the world anew every day, it is hard to hold on to your sanity in the swirl of events.

So, for me, breakfast always has the same ingredients, the most vital of which is coffee. I don’t throw a tantrum if the makings of breakfast are not available, but normally it is good not to have to think too hard about that meal amid the bustle of family departing for work and school.

The way as a nation we have all been learning new habits over the last few months, courtesy of covid-19, has been impressive.

Making sure you have a mask before you leave the house, and hand-sanitiser, leaving room for people on the pavement, technophobes tackling Zoom meetings as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Good habits in their place and that’s what we human beings do, isn’t it? However hairy the situation, we adapt and we do it more cleverly than any virus. Eventually.

The great thing about habits is that they reduce the need for thinking, unnecessary thinking about trivia when there are more important matters to consider. With a dayful of meetings ahead, I don’t want to spend time agonising over the choice between toast or porridge, especially when only semi-conscious.

The danger of habits is that they can stop us thinking when we really should. Look at some of the hot-button issues of our time. What is “systemic racism” if not a habit of thinking about certain people in a certain way because of their race or colour.

Why climate change? Is it not that we have slipped into the habit of not considering the effects of some of our actions and the waste they produce? We pollute and poison without a thought, not because we are evil, we are just doing what we always do.

Old habits die hard, but sometimes die they must.

St Paul had this to say about unthinking conformity and habit: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

He had a point. We need to watch out for the “con” in conformity, we need to watch our habits and routines for dealing with life and people and, every now and again, we need to stop and think.

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