How and Why We Form the Habits We Have
Have you ever wondered why you do some of the things you do? Why you celebrate some holidays but ignore others? Why you celebrate a particular holiday in a particular way? Why you always wear a particular type of outfit to certain events even when other people attending are wearing more casual comfortable clothes? Why you must cook a particular food a certain way even though the way you cook it does not really make any difference in the taste of the food and may even be more time consuming and difficult?
You may say it is a family tradition to always do a particular thing in a particular way. Or you may say you do something a particular way simply because you have always done it that way.
Here is a story of a young married couple I heard about a long time ago. I think this story embodies the way some people do things in their lives. Not everyone, but a lot of people do things a certain way without even knowing why, or if the way they are doing something makes any sense. It may even be something they hate doing, but feel they must do because “that’s the way I’ve always done it.”
Let’s call the young recently married couple John and Mary. Mary wanted to prepare a special meal for her new husband. She wanted to impress him with her culinary skills. So she planned a meal that would include a delicious pork roast flavored just right the way her grandmother who raised her had always done.
Mary divided the pork roast in half and put each half in a separate pan. Then she seasoned each half just the way her grandmother’s recipe directed. That evening when the pork roast was done baking and Mary had created some delicious side dishes to go with it, she and John sat down to a candlelight dinner together. The roast was indeed perfectly seasoned and John made sure to compliment his wife’s cooking several times as he tasted all the different dishes. He knew Mary had put a lot of time and effort into making this special meal just for him.
When they had finished their meal and were clearing things away, John said to Mary, “I’m curious. Everything was superb and I loved the roast you made with your grandmother’s recipe, but why do you divide the roast in half and bake it in two separate pans?”
Mary answered without hesitation, “ That’s the way Grandma told me she always baked it when she and Grandpa were first married.”
“But what does baking it in two separate pans do to enhance the flavor? Or is there some other advantage in baking it in two separate pans?” John pressed.
Mary admitted she didn’t know the answer to why her grandmother divided the pork roast into two sections and then baked each section in separate pans, and so it remained a mystery until one weekend when they were going to visit Mary’s grandmother.
John waited until after a delicious meal Mary’s grandmother had made was finished and they were having coffee and desert. “Grandma,” he said, “Mary makes the most wonderful pork roast and she uses a recipe she got from you. I don’t want to pry if it’s a family secret, but Mary always divides the pork roast in half and cooks each half in a separate pan. Could you tell me why you do that?”
Mary’s grandmother smiled. “Oh, I haven’t divided it like that in years, but I did tell Mary a long time ago that I used to do that when her grandfather and I were first married. You see, we didn’t have a lot of money when we first started out, and I didn’t have a pan that was big enough to put the entire roast in to bake it. So I divided it up and baked it in two separate pans.”
Rethinking Old Habits
There are lots of traditions that have been in our families for generations. We want to keep a connection between generations in our families and so continuing certain traditions to do that makes sense. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves doing things the same way and not even knowing why. It could be the fear of learning a new method or technology, or it could be that we just haven’t taken stock of exactly why we are doing something a certain way.
Doing something a particular way because we have always done it that way, even when it no longer makes sense to do it that way, or continuing to believe a certain thing that has been discovered to be incorrect long ago, can often be remedied by simply thinking it through. If the old way is no longer practical, or no longer necessary, then think about doing it differently – if you must continue to do it at all.
It never hurts to ask ourselves from time to time exactly why we are doing certain things, or thinking a certain way, just to make sure whatever we are doing/thinking still makes sense for ourselves and our families. There may be good reasons why we want to continue a particular tradition, or it may be that we need to bring ourselves up to date with a newer, easier, more convenient method of doing something, or it may be that we need to eliminate a particular habit entirely because it no longer makes sense.