Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Driving Out Bad Nails

A teacher who was lecturing on habits told his class, “Anything you repeat twenty times is yours forever.” From the back of the classroom came a whispered voice, “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah....” Of course, what the teacher was trying to say is that any behavior, often repeated, becomes habit.

The Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus once said, “A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.” And if I understand him right, he suggests that saying no to a bad habit is not enough. Instead, we should try to replace it with a good one. Repeat the new behavior twenty time ... and it is yours.

If any behavior, good or bad, is often repeated, it becomes stronger and more powerful. “Since habits become power, make them work for you and not against you,” said E. Stanley Jones. In other words, drive out the undesirable nail, the behavior you’d like to change, with a better one.

One woman did just that after lamenting to her friend, “I hate being late. It has been a problem for me all of my life.”

“Do you really want to change that habit?” her friend asked. The woman said that she did and her friend responded, “All right. Every time you’re late for work or anywhere else, then give me $25.”

“I’d go broke!” she said. “But I’ll do $10.”

“It’s got to hurt,” said the friend.

“Believe me, that will hurt,” the woman replied. They agreed that the money should be deposited in a jar and used for charity.

In the first week, the habitually tardy woman made a concerted effort to plan ahead and she only paid $10 to her friend. The next week, $20. The third week, none at all. By week five, she had built a strong habit of leaving early, and her new behavior replaced the old pattern of tardiness that had hindered her for so long. She drove out one nail with another one. And she found freedom.

If you’re like me, there is a bad nail you want to remove. Today is a good day to pick up a better nail and start using it.

-- Steve Goodier

Image: flickr.com/Wayne Stadler

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