Old Habits

26 Jul 2023

I have a confession. I am that mother who cooks breakfast for her family in the morning. The reason is very simple: If I didn’t, they would go off to school or work with only a bowl of cereal or even nothing at all. Also, I like to do it: it’s my way of showing I love them.

My daughter came down to her breakfast the other day to find me sitting by it and waiting for her, even though I had a number of other jobs to do.

“Why are you sitting here keeping watch over my breakfast?” she asked. “Is it because you’re guarding it from the cat we no longer have?”

She was quite right. While Sparty was alive, you couldn’t leave even a morsel of food unattended, as he was a great thief. Now we are a (temporarily) catless household, there is no need to guard the food, yet I was still doing it.

It made me think of other habits we get into, originally for very good reasons, and which we continue long after those reasons no longer exist.

Another habit of mine which certainly no longer serves me is that of avoiding conflict and confrontation at all costs. I grew up with an austere and autocratic grandfather who had been born in 1900. In his view children were to be seen and not heard, and the idea of crossing him in anything was terrifying. Sadly, that habit of keeping quiet in the face of authority rather than ever challenging it no longer serves me. In fact, it hasn’t served me for the past fifty years. Like many old habits, however, it is very hard to break.

That particular habit is so ingrained I’m not sure I will ever completely break it, although I do try to catch myself in retreat and try to stand up for myself. But it’s never easy.

It’s difficult to identify those habits in the first place. Most of them are so familiar we never even notice we’re doing them. We need to be challenged by another person: someone who can say, “Why do you always do that thing?” 

Another habit of mine, again identified by my daughters, was that I never put my seatbelt on until I have finished manoeuvring and am ready to drive on. Sometimes I am still putting it on as I reach the end of our drive. This, of course, can be dangerous and it’s all because my driving instructor, forty-five years ago, taught me that way, albeit unintentionally. Having identified it as a dangerous habit, I am now trying to adopt the new habit on fastening my seatbelt as soon as I get in the car. It’s still not happening every time, but I’m learning.

Can you think of any old habits that no longer serve you? As I say, they’re hard to spot, but try to be vigilant for a day or so. Watch yourself and observe. I hope your habits are as amusing as my guarding food from a cat that is no longer there.


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