Forming Habits

One would assume that everyone knows how to groom oneself.  Not necessarily so, I have observed.  Children quickly learn how to put their legs through pant legs or into skirts.  They are a little slower learning how to put on their shoes, and even longer the skill of tying them.  Remember those little balls on elastic shoe laces that could cross and get you the jump on not constantly being in trouble with Mom for having untied laces?

My grandson was asked the other day how he taught his son to clean himself after using the bathroom.  I saw the look on his face that said, “I dunno, his mother did that…” but he had presence enough to rise to the occasion and describe the process.  I was a little startled.  I didn’t know you had to teach a little boy how to “control the end of the water hose.”  I guess my husband had taught my son.

I grew up in a “natural” family.  My mother would corral us six to eight children (some were being born while some were leaving home), hand us  a bar of soap, point us to the bathtub and tell us to come out clean.  This was a luxury because in my earlier childhood we didn’t have indoor plumbing, so once a week she would fill up a big wash tub with warm water.  Daddy insisted on taking the first bath, and then two or three children would use the same water before it got changed again.  Now that made me want to puke.  I don’t actually remember doing it, so I guess I learned how to dissociate at an early age.

I learned how to shampoo my hair from listening to a classmate give a “how to do something” talk in school.  I thought it was the silliest topic she could have chosen.  Evidently, I wasn’t the only one, for snickers went around the room.  What do you mean, you wash it two times and put a conditioner on it?  Yet, there she sat with beautiful shining hair.  We decided she wasn’t so stupid, after all.

I read somewhere that we are such creatures of habit that we put our socks and shoes on the same way each day.  Being something of a free spirit I thought they were wrong.  Sure enough, I was guilty.  So now I consciously chose the opposite foot to begin with just to ruffle up my habit a bit.

Years ago, children thought a person should dress a certain way, and certain items were mandatory.  Like socks.  A friend of mine told of how his family was so poor he didn’t have socks to wear to school.  A bully was taunting him until a classmate came up and said, “You’re wrong,   He has plenty of socks.  He just doesn’t want to wear them.  I’ve seen them in his dresser drawer!”  My friend said he was grateful to the boy for the rest of his life.  Not having socks didn’t prevent him from going on into a very successful career.

Habits save us time and energy from deciding all the details of a particular ritual we repeat often.  Some can be good, and some can keep us from being our best.  Perhaps we should examine how we do make decisions and see if there is an improved way of doing it (like shampooing). We can change habits.  We can change what we eat, if we exercise, and what we do with our spare time.