It is quite difficult to get clothes onto new-born babies. They are just not used to the arm and leg movements required to put on tops or pants. But they soon learn and it becomes a habit. Indeed, after a few months it is easier to dress a baby that is protesting and fighting than it was dressing a quiet new-born totally unaccustomed to clothes. So ingrained has the habit become that even when they resist it, children automatically help in the process. I had forgotten how much babies learn in those first few months until I tried to dress a new-born again. It is quite remarkable how quickly those habits form and once they are there, how they even are not overcome by will power.
I wonder whether our habits often have such an influence on us that it becomes next to impossible fighting them. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes, we know that we need to change but cannot. Habits normally form through repetition. I think it is therefore important that we need to be careful about repeated behaviour for soon it can become a habit—whether for good or bad.
In the Christian tradition there has been some emphasis on the formation of good habits. They stand us in good stead even in difficult times and even if our minds are failing. I have seen people pray who otherwise could hardly comprehend the world anymore and had forgotten much of their former lives. But praying had become such a habit that it stayed with them even at those times.
On the other hand, if life is just a habit, then we may not appreciate the new and may not be mindful of the importance of some of our actions. It is good, for example, to have the habit of prayer, but it should not be “just a habit”. It needs to be more than that. We need to focus on it, to value it and experience its freshness at least occasionally. Similarly, the words of liturgy during our services may just have become a habit. That’s good if they carry us through tough times. But we also need to rediscover them, to occasionally use new words to understand their significance.