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Habit Is A Conserver Of Effort

It is always easier to follow a beaten path than to break one's way
through untrodden forests. It is easier to walk after we "learn how,"
and learning how is simply doing it over and over until the legs and
feet have acquired habits of motion and accommodation to distances and
to what is underfoot. It is easy to do anything after we have done it
again and again, so that it has become second-nature, and
"second-nature" is habit. The wise man early forms certain habits of
personal care, of eating, sleeping, exercising; of study, of meeting the
usual occurrences of life. The first day he spent at anything new was a
hard one. Nothing was done naturally. Active attention had to be keenly
held to each detail. He had to learn where things belonged, how to do
this and that for the first time, how to work with his associates.

Do you remember the first hospital bed you ever made, the first bed-bath
you gave, the first massage? You had to be taught bit by bit, detail by
detail. You did not look upon the finished whole, but gave almost
painful attention to each step that led to the made bed, the completed
bath, or the given massage. Your fingers were probably all thumbs unless
you had experience in such things before you came to the hospital. Your
mind was tired from the strain of trying to remember each suggestion of
your instructor. The second time, or certainly the third or fourth time,
it went better. After a week of daily experience you gave the bath or
massage or made the bed with much less effort. A month later the work
was practically automatic and accomplished in a fraction of the time you
spent on it that first day. Now you can do it quickly and well with
little conscious thought; and at the same time carry on a brisk
conversation with your patient or think out your work for the day. Your
mind is free for other thoughts while you perform the task easily and
perfectly. Your method of doing the work has finally become a habit
which saves the effort of conscious attention. The details of your
routine work are directed by the subconscious. The habit will be energy
and time saving in proportion to the accuracy of your first conscious
efforts spent on the new undertaking. Thus, useful habit is the result
of active effort.

We can acquire habits of thinking and habits of feeling as well as
habits of doing.

But the other habits, the bad ones, are not acquired with effort. We
fall into them. Hazy thinking is easier than clear thinking. Suppose you
are by nature rather oversanguine or overdespondent, and you make no
genuine attempt to evolve that nature into poise. Directing will to do
what desire opposes is too difficult, and you go the way of least
resistance. So easily are the bad habits formed; but only with
tremendous effort of will and persistence in refusing their insistent
demands can they be broken or replaced by helpful ones.

But habits can be learned; and bad habits can be broken when an
overpowering emotion is aroused against them, possesses the mind, and
controls the will; or when reason weighs them in the balance and
judgment finds them wanting, and volition directs the mind to displace
them by others.

The nurse meets in her patients numberless habits which retard recovery
of body and make for an unwholesome mental attitude. Some patients have
the complaint habit, some the irritation habit, some the self-protection
habit, some the habit of impatience, some of reckless expression of
despair, some of loss of control, some of incessant self-attention. The
nurse who can arouse an incentive to habits of cheer expression when the
least cause of cheer appears, who can by reason, or if that is not
possible, by suggestion; by holding out incentives, or by making some
privilege depend upon control--this nurse can help her patient to
displace habits of an illness-accepting mind by habits of a
health-accepting one. Above all, let her beware of opening the way to
habits of invalidism. Some people acquire the "hospital habit" because
it is easier to give way to ill-feeling, however slight, and to be cared
for with comfort, than to encourage themselves to build up endurance by
giving little attention to minor ailments.

Next: The Saving Power Of Will

Previous: One Thought Can Be Replaced By Another

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