There’s a difference between calling someone a liar and saying that someone has a habit of lying. Or that someone is generous, as opposed to “she has a habit of doing generous deeds.”
The first parts of those phrases are defining statements (someone IS so associated with the trait that it defines him or her); the second are more fluid, still to be developed before reaching full maturity.
Habits can make or break us, but the good news is that we can change the ones that threaten to break us. And what I have found is that the best way to change isn’t to “stop” a particular habit, but to replace it with a contrary one. Over time, the new habit can so overwhelm the old one that it simply fades from view without my having consciously tried to get rid of it.
That’s a key part of Bill Hawkins’ story. Along with his wife, Sandy, Bill was quite a party animal in his 20s. When he wasn’t teaching high school English, he was fond of playing softball and hitting the bars.
Then, about 35 years ago, he saw the Amway business opportunity…and a way to replace Sandy’s income as a legal secretary and his income as a teacher. As Bill has related at conferences hosted by World Wide DreamBuilders (WWDB), he didn’t exactly resolve to cut out his drinking. Instead, he got so busy with pursuing his goals and dreams.
Along with Sandy, Bill read self-improvements books, listened to audio of other successful distributors (now known as Independent Business Owners), attended business seminars, and pursued the “core habits” necessary to succeed.
Within two years, he retired from teaching high school and ever since he has become one of the most respected teachers among Amway leaders. He is a member, and former chairman, of the Independent Business Owners Association International (IBOAI) Board, which is the primary advocacy organization for North American IBOs affiliated with Amway.
In my own life, especially as a mother the past 10 years, this approach has been helpful—this recognition that I can separate a habit from a person.
For example, it has meant the difference between telling my son, “Stop being so critical of your sister” and working on an intentional plan for him to point out some of her positive attributes on a regular basis.
Rather than use language like “that’s bad…don’t do that,” I’ve let him know that “You have a habit of being critical. Let’s work on creating a habit of being encouraging.”
As I have told both my children frequently, who I am and where I am in life didn’t just happen—it’s the product of millions of choices, some good that have served me well and some not-so-good that have done the opposite.
The empowering truth, however, is that I’m not predestined to be stuck with my bad habits. Change isn’t easy, but the consequences of not changing are even harder.
Here’s an insightful synposis, author unknown, of the power of habit:
Who am I?
I am your constant companion. I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden. I will push you onward or drag you down to failure. I am completely at your command. Half of the things you do you might just as well turn over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed – you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically. I am the servant of all great individuals and, alas, of all failures, as well. Those who are great, I have made great. Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a human. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin – it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?
I am Habit.