There cannot, perhaps, be a better time than the advent of a New Year to indulge in a dispassionate introspection of where one stood at the start of the year; where you wished to go; and where do you really stand, at the end of the year. Most of us are thrilled by the invariable availability of a fresh year (barring interruption to life); to dabble and write down with a major sense of commitment, our New Year resolutions. Once written and thence compared with the previous year’s pledges, there is in store only regret and embarrassment. Habits not shunned and those pledged new ones not having been imbibed remain a sore point. The resolutions made are not followed through with action hence they remain a carry forward item. By a general rule of thumb, if the brought forward aspects exceed thirty percent of commitments made to own self, you are in a dismal situation. Such results upon review reflect a callous and non-serious attitude towards the well-being of oneself and also generally towards the gift of life itself. We witness so many, who pledge resolutely not to partake, say, hard drinks, or who commit to give up smoking; they year after year put their own selves to major shame and embarrassment.
Habit, as a common word of the English language, means an acquired pattern of behaviour followed rigorously until it becomes almost involuntary. Habits are formed many at times without knowledge to self; like looking both ways while crossing the street. A thought deeply seated in the mind provokes an involuntary reaction.
Habit formation begins in the very early years of life. No wonder the emphasis that is needed at the kindergarten level to impart lofty ideals and teachings of good social and civic behaviour. Habits can be good or bad; it is the bad ones that need jettisoning and in some rare situations even good habits that are bound by a timeframe need to be either given up or up-scaled to meet new challenges. A habit is considered good or bad, by the demands of the society, its religious beliefs, cultural ideology, and traditions.
Habits can be efficient and useful. In undertaking a task, much time is saved because a rightful habitual response requires no deliberation and premeditation. Everyday life has so many repeated good or bad habits – reaching for the cigarette immediately upon waking up is not a good habit and rising early in the morning is a good habit. (Generally speaking)
Sleeping late, keeping awake till the wee hours of the morning impacts upon health negatively; not meeting the standard medical requirement of a minimum of 8 hours of sleep, will be perilous in the long run, and yet most ignore this significant aspect. If less sleep is bad for health, so also is sleeping beyond 8 hours; it induces lethargy. By waking up late and shortening the daylight advantage is extremely bad, personally and professionally. Our markets open around mid-day; one can imagine the economic loss that occurs and how the cost of energy increases, due to the late closure of business. Nations that have built themselves as economic powerhouses, their people start work very early in the day. That is their habit.
Habits impact profoundly upon personality. Those who wish to achieve any success in life, have to evaluate which of their existing habits will act as facilitators and which of those inhibit and impede progress.
The commonly accepted habits of mind are sixteen; some of which are: Persisting, striving for accuracy, applying past knowledge to new situations, creating, imaging, gathering data through all senses, etc. To deploy these sixteen habits requires a strict regimen of combining skills, attitudes, and past experiences. Our usual and daily responses argue psychologists are a consequence of habitual behaviour. The pattern of our daily grind is usually sequential from showering to getting ready for work, to having usual breakfast, to driving to work using the same route, etc. We pleasingly and joyously refer to this as part of leading a well-managed life; however if such a habitual approach allows for proper allocation of time to various activities, it also has the potential to stunt your movement toward growth and success.
The need is to understand the current habits that are responsible for current status in life; and so for bettering the standards, either the existing habits would need to be sharpened or even dispensed or alternatively in conjunction with this, new and different habits will need to be adopted and nurtured, for setting a higher placement on the scale of life.
Bad habits usually give bitter fruit for a long period of time. Smoking, for example, is not a good habit by all standards, health-wise and socially, its negative impact manifests later in life in the form of lung cancer. Similarly, bad corporate habits, behaviour and attitude, give unpleasant results over a long stretch of time.
Persistence is not obstinacy; the two are in contrast and in tangent. The former relates to a continuous pursuit which is defined with the right stance and approach to one's objectives; the latter is about regular effort but without the will and intent to alter the habits – with same old habits, the idea is to achieve a better results. This is not merely obduracy but also delusional. Negative habits give rise to negative results, just as good habits yield good results.
In the corporate setting, managers like to procrastinate; they do not deliver results on time; become habitual latecomers to office and meetings; they work late hours, for reasons of having wasted productive hours. Being in a state of hurry and worry is a toxic habit.
It is a good exercise to sit down once in a while on a laptop and list all the known negative habits possessed or practiced; once listed, a specific date should be posted against each for expunging them. A similar list of good habits, currently missing, with a target date for adoption, will do more good. Bad habits must be broken and replaced with good ones. Forming new habits and breaking old, both are difficult tasks. They need unflinching resolve.
It is an opportune time today, to make vows and pledges to do away with habits that negatively impact productivity and progress, both personally and professionally, and allows for simultaneously identifying habits that will help improve oneself. Improvement will lead to a better working environment.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist