Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Habit Forming

Maybe sheetrocking wasn't one of Sully's favorite jobs, but like most physical labor, there was a rhythm to it that you could find if you cared to look, and once you found this rhythm it'd get you through a morning. Rhythm was what Sully had counted on over the long years--that and the wisdom to understand that no job, no matter how thankless or stupid or backbreaking, could not be gotten through. The clock moved if you let it.

--Richard Russo, "Nobody's Fool"

I've been thinking about habits lately. My yoga teacher suggests that we notice our habits--which way do you cross your arms, or clasp your hands, or sit cross-legged? We fall into patterns, unthinkingly, and our bodies "grow" that way. Sometimes it's helpful to not just notice those patterns but to try to change some of them and see what happens when we do that. (I try not to set up my mat in the same place every time I take a class.)

We get into mental habits, too--ways we respond to people or situations--and I think our habits feed off of each other, in good and not-so ways. It's one of the factors in what's been happening in my head: one of my fears, since this drama really escalated, was that, even if Craw managed to change some of his more undesirable behaviors, I'd either keep looking for them, or keep seeing them. Another factor is that I know he is capable of some kinds of change, because I've seen it with my own eyes--but I've also seen the habits that have persisted. And I'm sure he could say the same about me; one of the things that's true when you spend a lot of time around another person is that, if you're paying attention, you really can say, "I know how you get." When we first got together, for example, one of the habits Craw had was to store up grievances. In his last marriage, one did not bring up issues when they occurred--oh, no; one stored grievances. Why? Because if the other person had a grievance, then you could bring out one or more of the stored grievances and brandish it/them. Whoever could pile up the most grievances in a given battle "won" the title of Most Aggrieved, and then the other person had to eat shit; it was an all-or-nothing game. I wanted absolutely no part of that particular game and not only refused to play, I denied the legitimacy of the game. To his credit, Craw gradually pretty much gave it up, too; he didn't enjoy playing it, and I think he realized that I absolutely was uninterested in playing it. He falls back into it sometimes, but I think he'd really rather not readopt it as a way of airing one's grievances. In any case, Craw and I did fall into habitual responses. We could discuss which ones were helpful and which ones not so much, but they really weren't all bad.

The other thing, though, brought to mind by the quote at the top: the creation of rhythms or patterns--which aren't so different from habits, in at least some ways--can ease the flow in ways that are ultimately useful. If you're trying to turn out a consistent product and you're doing the work with the same tools every day (and especially if you're doing a bunch of it--like shaping croissants--by hand), then you'd better find habits that enable you to do that. Just as the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, it's also the case that you can't do things differently every day and expect the same result. The trick, I suppose, is figuring out when you want to get the same result and when you need to change what you're doing so you get a different result.

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