Are Habits More Than Just Motions?

The thing about the word ‘habit’ is that it is immensely overrated. Most individuals are asked simple questions and for lack of enthusiasm to put in effort to change they prefer to say, ‘oh it is a habit’, ‘that is how I am-I grew up with it so I cannot stop’, ‘she is always late, now it is a habit’… Now tell me something, what is a habit? Wikipedia tells us that a habit or wont is a routine behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously. Also, dictionary.com goes on to say that it is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Funny thing is that most people believe a habit is formed or unformed in 21 days- allow me disabuse your mind. Let me take us back a few decades into history. In 1960, Dr. Maxwell Maltz- a plastic surgeon -discovered an interesting trend in his patients. After surgery, they seemed to take about 21 days to get used to the new nose or amputated limb they would have to live with. From this, he made an inference that, ‘a MINIMUM of 21 days is needed to form a habit’. He then published a book that became a bestseller and over time people edited it and made it ‘the 21 day rule’. A pretty fancy statement right? Truth be told, this is a far cry from the amount of time it actually takes to form a habit. Researchers have discovered that, it takes from about 2 months to a year to form an actual habit; which totally disproves Dr. Maltz’ hypothesis. All this history is just to explain a little about an uncanny habit eating at the Ghanaian community.

Ghana is a beautiful and hospitable country, no doubt about that, yet generally we suffer from lateness at an extreme level. There is even a coined word that explains this habit of lateness. If an individual says 12pm, the person is asked, ‘GMT?’ Which is code for Ghana Man Time instead of Greenwich Mean Time. If the answer is, ‘yes!’, then it means the event would begin at 1pm or 2pm. A very appalling statement- if you ask me- for a country like ours.

Not to compare, but in the UK, their time consciousness is so top-notch that their trains leave 40 seconds ahead of the minute they are to leave. I.e. the 6:45am train leaves at 6:44am and 20 seconds. This means if you arrive at the train station at exactly 6:45am you are absolutely late and would have to wait for the next train. Thus you are on time if you are five minutes early and you are late if you are on time. Yet in Ghana, if you arrive at 6:45pm for a 6; 3pm program you are deemed early.

Upon careful study and observation about human life patterns I have come to realize a trait that connects habit with general behavior and attitude. This trait has long been stated for thousands of years. In a nutshell, it says, ‘he who is faithful with little is faithful in much’. The habits we form can really affect the very little details of our personality and affect us in our relationships with people, our approach to work and our reactions towards certain things.

In a culture where it is a habit to be late, even the systems do not value time. I once read of a story where a child had fallen into a well and the fire service was called to help save the life of the child. But, they ended up arriving more than three hours after while the parents of the child were helplessly wailing and bemoaning the loss of their child. Upon hearing it, I was upset and felt like they were so heartless. But upon careful consideration I came to realize that they came late out of habit. They had done it so often that they tried to make it on time but involuntarily they were late.

In these examples, I speak of time, but then these habits we form tend to cut across a very wide area of our lives. You could take a stroll about Knust campus and meet a group of 4 or 5 students busily chatting in the middle of a path and they don’t even realize that you are trying to use the path. It is very interesting because I believe research about their personal relationships would show that about 90% of them have a deficit of fellow feeling in their personal relationships or a selfish attitude.
Another example is where a group of students pass beside a lecturer who is holding an armload of books and not even one extends a helping hand. Then we could infer that the element of care and sensitivity to others and things in general for that group of people is very low. Yet, if an individual makes it a habit to be sensitive they would realize they would begin to notice small details in things. In fact they’d have the ability to detect the possible ruin of an event as they enter the world of work and other important details as they build stronger relationships. It would be a cake walk to notice things going awry as it would have become so embedded in them that they would do it involuntarily-just like sneezing.

I don’t want to bore you with too many stories, but if you learnt nothing from all I have said, please leave with this knowledge. That to rebuild our beloved country we must start putting in calculated efforts as regards building positive habits ,like punctuality and selflessness, no matter how long it takes. Be it 21 days or 500 days, all in all to get to the 500th day you have to start from day 1.

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