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

s 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.