According to statistics, 40 to 95 % of daily human behavior is unconscious and repetitive. In other words, human behavior is primarily habit. This includes waking up in the morning, washing your face, brushing your teeth, going to school or work, and even watching TV. Whether good or bad, such repetitive actions or habits greatly affect our daily lives. It is just like drops of rain falling off a roof eave that eventually erodes holes in the stones underneath. It appears to be minor at the beginning, but gradually as it is constantly repeated, it results in a noticeable outcome.
Many educational institutions and spiritual communities offer training programs that promote good habits and correct bad habits. The most fundamental approach to promote a good habit and correct a bad habit is to look deeply into your mind and become aware of what habits and mindsets you have. In order to know whether or not we are going in the right direction, while we are driving, we need to slow down or stop the car. Without bringing our mind to rest in our daily life, it is difficult to be aware of our habits or mind sets.
Zengji (505-435 B.C.) was a well-known Chinese philosopher and disciple of Confucius. As a method of self-cultivation, he never failed to conduct self-reflection three times a day. Like Zenji, we should stop and think about our own habits and behaviors. Without self-reflection how can we possibly break our bad habits and improve our lives? Regardless of our culture or academic background, this self-examination and reflection is a key and necessary practice to live our lives successfully.
We are normally aware of many things, such as when we drive, or when we handle sharp knives or make a fire. But, we are not so aware when fulfilling what we promise to do, for example, our New Year’s resolutions.
In Won Buddhism, ministers retire at the age of 68. A few years ago, there was a Won Buddhist minister who arrived late at his retirement ceremony. Another Buddhist minister who was his classmate many years before in seminary, told him, “You used to be tardy when you were at school, and you are late again for your retirement ceremony.” Although this was a joke, it shows how powerful and tenacious our habits can be. In fact they shape our destiny.
There is a Korean saying that “a habit at 3-years of age lasts until 80-years of age.” But, the reality is that our habits continue for eternal life.
There is another common Korean expression that “habits become as strong as ‘iron and stone.’”
When I was a student in a technical class in high school, the teacher explained the reason rebar successfully reinforces cement when building a column. He explained that the cement and rebar shrink and expand in the same way depending on heat or cold and therefore adhere very well. In the same way, our habits adhere to our lives and are not easily detached. Habit forming is not a problem if all of our habits are wholesome, such as being diligent or trustworthy.
However, unwholesome habits affect our lives greatly, and we need to seriously contemplate this.
A wise storekeeper always checks the earnings and expenses before closing the store at the end of day, as well as at the end of each year. Likewise, we should have quiet time before retiring after dinner each day to reflect on whether or not we carried out what we intended to do that day. This is a practice which is simple but powerful, and requires only a minimum investment of time or energy.