Why You Should Be Cautious of Which Habits You Practice
Life has a way of flying by. One minute you’re a teenager dealing with regular peer pressure and the next you’re an adult with a constant sink full of dirty dishes. There tend to be milestones of reflection ingrained in this process of time. These can be undertaken voluntarily, like daily journaling, or forced upon you through a life crisis. The mechanism that brings you from Point A to Point B in life are the things you do daily — habits, and in this article, we’re going to be breaking down why you should be very cautious of which habits you practice.
Chaos & Order
First, let’s consider the fundamentals of Taoism. For the Taos, life is divided between Chaos and Order. Chaos may sound scary, but it really means something like “the vast unknown”. It can also be interpreted as feminine energy, including creativity and openness.
Order is the opposite — it’s “the known”. It’s the masculine energy, including structure. Hence, we could say that for the Taos, life was divided between what we know and what we do not know, and meaning is found by balancing these two energies.
We can deduce from this that too much of either is the road to deep unhappiness. Consider what happens if you have too much Chaos in your life — you have no structure, and so you are very likely to drown (Chaos is often construed as the ocean due to its vast unknown). For example, if you start a new job that you have no prior experience in, you very well may fail at it because there is simply too much Chaos.
Too much Order, on the other hand, isn’t good as well, since it means that you are only doing things that you know. There’s no challenge, no fun, and no excitement. It leads to deep boredom, like working the same job for 20 years.
What Order Practically Is
The point is that we need Order in our lives. But what does that practically look like? Of course, it varies from person to person, but we can broadly say that a regular sleep schedule is a large aspect. It physiologically regulates your hormones which regulate your mood. Most people enjoy a morning routine to get their day going. Meals tend to be similar from week to week. And regular exercise has immense benefits to one’s health and happiness. Finally, stable relationships are staples for most people.
The driving force behind all of these is your habits. That is, your sleep schedule is defined by what time you make it a habit of going to bed every night. Reading a book every morning is a habit. Having fish on Fridays is a habit. Giving your spouse a kiss before bed is a habit. Hence, where the rubber meets the road in relation to Chaos and Order are one’s habits.
Be Careful Which Train You Get On
A great analogy for habits are trains. Trains transport people and things. It’s decided beforehand where it goes via the train tracks. Different trains go different places, of course, and you get to decide which train you hop on. However, once you get on a train, it isn’t easy to get off. You can get off eventually, but trains don’t easily slow down once they get going. The wheels keep turning. Sure, there are stops, where you can re-evaluate where you are and decide on whether or not you wish to remain on the train.
However, if you stay on the wrong train for too long, it can take a very long time to get back to where you actually want to go. You have to backtrack, and that takes time. The point is that we must be very careful which train we get on in life; we must be very careful which habits we adopt. It can lead us to somewhere beautiful or somewhere terrible.
If you adopt habits that are characteristic of a flourishing lifestyle — going to bed at the same time every night — then that habit will bring you somewhere beautiful: regulated hormones, efficiency in your schedule, and a good mood throughout the day. However, if you get into a poor habit — checking your phone in the middle of the night, shining a bright light into your eyes and confusing your hormones — then that habit will bring you somewhere not-so-beautiful — unregulated hormones, inefficiencies, and a poor mood throughout the day.
None of us get to choose to adopt habits or not; we merely decide which habits to adopt. That train can bring you closer to a flourishing life, or further away. And you get to make that decision every day: to fuel a good habit or a bad one. The bright side is that the more you practice a good habit, the easier it will be the next time you’re confronted with that choice. At the same time, the more you practice a bad habit, the easier it will be the next time. So where do you want your train to go?
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to similar reflections on The Strong Stoic Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.