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Habit Gravity & Escape Velocity

Georgette and I still have three daughters living at home with us – Mary (20), Christine (17), and Teresa (15).  Although Georgette has asked all three of the girls to make their beds every morning, only one has consistently complied with her request.  The other two daughters have expressed various reasons (excuses) as to why they can’t seem get the job done every day, such as, “I don’t have the time” or “I keep forgetting.”

On January 1st of last year (2011), I announced to one of the non-compliant daughters that her New Year’s resolution was to make her bed every morning immediately after she woke up.  After I told her about her resolution, she calmly said, “Um, Dad…  I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not how New Year’s resolutions are supposed to work.  Just because you think up a resolution for me doesn’t automatically make it my resolution.”

I quickly responded, “Yes I know that, but since I have a deep sense of awareness about what your true lifetime desires are, I know that you really desire to please your mother by making your bed every morning.  If it’s too difficult of a task for you, I’ll be glad to help you if you want me to.”

Unfortunately, she wasn’t impressed with my deep sense of awareness about her desires, so she said, “It’ll be interesting to see how your New Year’s resolution works out for me.”

For about a month after that, on the mornings I was still at home when she woke up, I went into her bedroom and started making her bed in front of her while telling her I was helping her keep her resolution.  Each time I did that, she insisted she didn’t need any help, and then proceeded to help me make the bed.  There were a couple of mornings when I peeked into her bedroom and she wasn’t in there, so I made the bed before she returned to her room.

Within about a month, she was making her bed without me harassing her about keeping her resolution.  What she didn’t realize at the time was that in order to successfully follow through and keep a new resolution, one or more new habits had to first be formed and put into place.

The reason it’s so difficult for people to keep their resolutions is because of their failure to develop the new habits that are necessary to follow through on the resolutions.  We underestimate the difficulty of what it takes to develop a new habit that requires us to actually change our behavior.

The development of any new behavioral habit requires us to (figuratively) defy gravity.  Like the gravitational pull of the Earth, we are pulled toward our existing habits.  Even when we’re aware of bad habits that are hindering our ability to function at full capacity, we have trouble breaking free of those habits.  It’s as if there’s a powerful magnetic force that pulls us toward our old (bad) habits every time we try to break free of them.

Not making your bed in the morning is a habit.  Eating the wrong foods at the wrong times of the day is a habit.  Failing to exercise every day is a habit.  Failing to pray every day is a habit.  Why can’t we replace our bad habits with new habits that benefit us?  The primary reason is because we’ve never been taught what we need to do to change our behavior.  In order to change our behavior, we have to start out by escaping the gravitational pull of our current beliefs and habits.

On April 12, 1981, I set my alarm and got up early to watch the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Columbia on television.  I was 24 years old at the time and was in my first year of law school.  At around 6:00 a.m., for the first time in history, the space shuttle was launched into space by NASA.  (It returned and successfully landed two days later after orbiting the Earth thirty-seven times.)

Two rockets were attached to the space shuttle along with an external fuel tank.  The fuel from the tank was used to power the three main engines of the shuttle, while the rockets were used to break free of the Earth’s gravitational pull and propel the shuttle into orbit.

In physics, there is a term that is used to describe the speed that is needed for a spacecraft to break free of a planet’s gravitational pull.  The term is: “escape velocity.”  The speed (escape velocity) that is required for a spacecraft to leave the Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 26,000 miles per hour.  The only “vehicles” capable of achieving that degree of speed are rockets.

About five years ago, I purchased and completed a twelve week online course called Wake Up Productive.  The creator of the course, Eben Pagan, taught that it takes roughly thirty days to develop a new habit.  He explained that the first ten days are the most critical, because of the difficulty in breaking free of old habits and routines (gravitational pull).

To the right is a diagram Eben used to explain the process of developing a new habit.

Phase I is the first ten days.  This is the most difficult time of the entire process, because a person must defy gravity in order to get beyond the first ten days.  The rocket that provides the escape velocity needed to break free of the gravitational pull of old habits and routines can either be made up of sheer determination and willpower, or in can be a “partner” who can help push the person through Phase I. In my daughter’s situation, I helped to provide the escape velocity needed to get her beyond the first 10 days.

Phase II consists of days eleven through twenty.  Even though a person has escaped from the gravitational pull of old habits and routines, he or she will still encounter active resistance in attempting to follow through with the new habit.  The person’s mind and body still default to the old ways of doing things, so it’s important for the person to stay focused on getting through this phase, one day at a time.

During Phase III (days twenty-one through thirty) a person finally starts to become acclimated to the new habit.  In other words, during this time period, the person is finally getting used to and adapting to the new habit.  After Phase III is complete, the person is naturally drawn to the newly developed habit.

As we begin the New Year, we should make resolutions for each of the six major areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial. Since we should only tackle one resolution at a time, we should start with the spiritual resolution which will take at least thirty days to put into place.  After we have successfully implemented our new spiritual resolution, we can go on to our next resolution.

Are you ready to start defying gravity by making some real changes in your behavior?  Don’t blow off this “new” opportunity to experience dramatic personal growth.  You are being called by God to perfection and sainthood.  Don’t you think it’s time to turbocharge your life and start moving in that direction?

Happy New Year!

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8 Responses to “Habit Gravity & Escape Velocity”

  1. Ann Confort Says:

    I write the monthly newsletter for the Secular Franciscan Order, Sacred Heart Fraternity. I would like to ask your permission to use your example and diagram for developing a new habit. We are trying to get our members to make ongoing formation as part of their daily lives instead of a once-a-month thing. I believe this example might be helpful.I will await your answer.

    Thanks

  2. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    A Blessed New Year to you and your loved ones, Harry, especially for the daughter who now makes her own bed, “out of habit”!
    Years ago, not realizing there is a chart of action which leads to a newly formed habit, I learned at a chiropractic [health] session that it is not good to cross one’s legs. I thought it a good message, so each time I started to cross – didn’t matter left or right – I would gently move the leg back down with my hand. It took me over a year… I can truly say that, since about 1980 something – I have never WANTED TO nor HAVE I crossed by legs. I like your chart, and in hind sight, can fit your pattern to what I did to succeed. Amazing! Sister Roberta

  3. Rich Flavin Says:

    I taught 7th grade CCD last year. When it was time for Lent, I asked my students what they had in mind to refrain from doing during this time. Most of them just looked back with nothing in mind. I suggested that rather than giving up something they should make a new habit, a positive one. I asked them how long it takes to develop a habit. No one knew. I told them it was 30 days. I asked them how long Lent was. A few knew it was 40 days. The light over their head went on for some of them.

    I like the idea of you helping your daughter make her bed every morning. I have a 13 year old son that I try to make suggestions to. I think this would help him to get started and possibly keep him going in the right direction.

  4. Harry Says:

    Ann,
    Yes, feel free to use my example and diagram. All I ask is that you provide a reference in your article to Adoration.com. If you publish online, please also provide a link to Adoration.com. Let me know if you get any feedback.
    Take care,
    Harry

  5. Harry Says:

    Happy New Year to you too, Sister. Most of what we do is automatic (without thinking), so it’s important to develop good, healthy, and positive habits. I hope you have a healthy and blessed year.

  6. Harry Says:

    Rich,

    Good to hear from you.

    Most parents use intimidation, force, guilt, and/or shame to try to get their teenagers to do things. I’ve learned through personal experience that those methods don’t work well and usually cause teenagers to become defiant and resentful. Most of the time, the best way to get my teenagers to change their behavior is by using humor, love, personal assistance, and, when necessary, a little bit of shame. A certain amount of teasing works well, but you have to be careful not to cross the line to the point where it becomes hurtful or offensive.

    Take care,

    Harry

  7. David Williams Says:

    This has helped me gain a new habit. I read this and decided to go to the recreation center and play basketball or otherwise workout everyday, and now I do so out of habit and enjoy it. Thanks, Uncle Harry!

  8. Harry Says:

    David, you’ll have to post some before and after pictures once you achieve fighting condition. Now that you’re following through on a physical fitness goal, how about a spiritual goal? Are you praying a rosary every day? If not, can I suggest that you make that your next goal? Let me know.

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