Nothing So Needs Reforming As Our Own Habits

The easier it is to do, the harder it is to change. Such is the power of a habit. That deeply ingrained action which becomes second nature, and rarely lends itself to change because of one’s decision to do otherwise, even when the new activity is beneficial, financially responsible, or socially desirable. The principle acutely affects me as it is often made with milk, vanilla syrup, and white icing.

Should top research physicians of Johns Hopkins University publish a longitudinal study in the New England Journal of Medicine citing coffee as the primary cause of right-arm paralysis, would we become a society with fewer coffee drinkers? Unlikely. Rather, we’d soon read of another elite study citing a growing number of caffeine-addicted lefties.

It’s the second thought I form repeatedly upon leaving Starbucks after I first ask myself “I spent how much for a latte and pound cake?”

This phenomenon happens all the time to many people, but no more acutely or to more people than sometime in February, when millions of the well-intended learn–again–that the hype of making resolutions never lasts long enough to prevent the maker from reverting back to his or her old self, soon enough. Rarely does it even outlast the time required for Ryan Seacrest to gleefully say “Happy New Year!” The real surprise is the lack of greeting cards to send to Mr. No-It’s-Going-to-Be-Different-This-Year. If there was ever a holiday worthy enough to replace Sweetest Day…

When I wonder about things I no longer do, I wonder if restarting a habit that had once been practiced like it was second nature is easier replacing an old one that one no longer wants. Is it like riding a bike, swimming, or anything else one never forgets, like making good scrambled eggs? For me, writing is one of those things: I wonder if… but I am unsure. I understand the sentiment of those who say “writing is, to me, like breathing,” or something equally dramatic and artsy. To the chagrin of some, I’m less dramatic about my feelings, and when I think about such sayings, I disagree. Breathing and writing are completely different; one is involuntary and hardly a skill, whereas the becoming skillful at the other is hardly effortless. I suppose one could make a living as a Lamaze instructor teaching pregnant women and their partners to breathe properly, but constructing eloquent prose is probably the more enviable art form.

If they only mean to say that writing is to them akin to a second-nature habit, then ask whether it’s easier not to write or to hold one’s breath, indefinitely. It’s time for a new analogy.

It’s the conscious effort of it attracts me. That’s why I’m returning to it. It’s much less about doing it for fun, than it is doing with a renewed sense of purpose (which probably includes fun). The purpose? Well, literary theorist Stanley Fish stated it perfectly when describing his love for sentences:

“You wonder as you read them and after you’ve just read them ‘How can someone who uses the same language I do produce something like that, and I can’t?'”

It’s that same feeling I have when reading something great that makes me continue to love reading. I want to create that feeling in someone else.


8 Responses to “Nothing So Needs Reforming As Our Own Habits”
  1. Rachel says:

    I agree. Writing isn’t quite “natural” for me, either; it’s never, ever been a process that comes easily, or effortlessly–I feel like I usually have to fight, struggle to find the right words, the right terms of phrase, to express exactly how I feel, and to present them in a way that others will find interesting. And it really does take work; it’s important to hone those talents and perfect them, because they’re worth perfecting. You’ve got a gift, Matt. And I’m glad you’re back. Now stay!

  2. Gnetch says:

    So I wrote a really long, heartfelt comment and I lost internet connection. Dang!

    Anyway, I wouldn’t say that writing is natural for me either. I’m not artsy with words. I just write the way I talk.

    Your writing is awesome and readable. And I’m not just saying that because we’re Internet friends (I know. Awww…). I’m glad you’re back. Really, I am.

    So don’t delete this blog this time. STOP DELETING BLOGS! Okay??? :p

  3. B. says:

    Welcome back, welcome back, wel-come back!

    You definitely have a way with words and it’s refreshingly intellectual AND interesting at the same time. I’m happy you’re blogging again.

  4. amy says:

    Your writing makes me catch my breath. I can only hope that one day my words may have such a profound effect on someone.

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