I drove the ol’ Camry into the garage, switched off the engine, and thanked the car for a safe, pleasant journey. These mundane actions are what I do without much awareness after arriving home from an out-of-town trip.
Yesterday, my friend Jorge had been along for the ride. He asked why I thanked the car. I answered that I had developed the habit many, many years ago when I used to drive less dependable autos. Thanking the car is just something I do.
Jorge smiled and said that he doubts that Toyotas can hear nor acknowledge their owners’ gratitude towards them. My short answer was that even though cars certainly are not conscious, the attitude of gratitude is helpful, because it makes me more mindful of the responsibility to have regular maintenance performed on the car and to wash it periodically–good habits. If a person is thankful for something, we give it proper respect.
The word “habit”, as it’s used to describe what we do or think, can also mean a custom, practice, or usage implying doing something compulsively and almost unconsciously. A habit is an action performed with regularity and oftentimes through choice.
A habit can be part of an individual’s or a group’s behavioral pattern. One example is the habit of sending greeting cards to loved ones to honor their birthdays. This habit contributes to feelings of happiness for the recipient and sender. It’s reinforced by the common practice of retail displays in supermarkets, drug stores, and department stores.
Jorge and I have observed that breaking bad habits is much more difficult than breaking good habits. We both remember the difficulty of halting the cigarette habit. It turned out that we ended up substituting one habit for another. In both Jorge’s and my cases it was chewing gum. When the time was right, breaking the Wrigley’s habit was relatively easy. Neither one of us has any craving for tobacco or gum.
To quit smoking, I decided to put my foot down and visit my physician, then do exactly what he recommended. The good doctor advised that I pay attention to my attitude and that of the people around me. Was I serious about becoming a non-smoker? Did I foster a cynical attitude and hang out with the smokers during coffee breaks? Best of all, he suggested that I simply give non-smoking a trial period of 30 days.
Aside from finally becoming dead serious about quitting, I had to find a way to diplomatically distance myself from the smokers. I decided to remain on friendly terms with them, but completely avoid them whenever it was time for my friends to light up. When they noticed my absence, I said something to the effect that I’m quitting cigarettes and I don’t want any “contact high” by being around smoke. For the most part, my coworkers were okay with that.
The 30 day trial period was the main hurdle. Each day and each hour I was tempted to give up. Due to the fact that I had publicly announced my intention to never smoke again, my pride kicked in. I didn’t want to look like an undisciplined loser. I gritted my teeth and suffered through the first two weeks. After that, the effort seemed easier. Before the month was finished, so was my desire for tobacco. After four weeks and several packages of chewing gum, the practice of smoking had become repulsive.
A few decades have passed since the cigarette habit vanished. It’s hard to believe I used to compulsively chainsmoke for years.
Whenever someone mentions that they cannot imagine quitting cigarettes or some other habit, I say, “If even someone like me can do it, so can you.”