I have only successfully broken one dependence-level bad habit—sucking my thumb. When I finally decided to quit (at an age that I won’t mention because it’s too embarrassingly late), I had to sleep with a glove on my right hand for weeks. I’m sure Freud would have had his theories on my oral fixation, but all I know is that breaking the habit was traumatic for me. The self-soothing sensation proved to be irreplaceable. Once the habit was successfully broken, the desire for the comfort it brought remained, but I could find nothing that made me feel the same way. And trying to return to it no longer produced the same effect. The shape of my thumb had changed. It no longer fit into my mouth like the right key. The emotional ache was there, but the means to sate it had been rendered ineffective. Falling asleep became and remained harder. It took a while before I again felt moored within myself—years before the interior disquiet faded.
As an adult, I have a number of bad habits that I’d like to break—chewing at the inside of my mouth being at the forefront. It’s a habit I’ve had for as long as I can remember, and one that became worse once I stopped sucking my thumb. (Go figure.) I also have a patch of hair that I can’t stop pulling at. It’s the shorter, weaker hair that grew in the wake of a chemical burn I suffered years ago. Probably because of some mild nerve damage, playing with that hair produces a unique sensation, and I can’t leave it alone—which is probably why those hairs are still shorter and weaker than their neighbors are.
Some of my bad habits are actually the absence of a good habit. I don’t floss daily. Some nights I don’t brush my teeth at all. I don’t always eat fresh food—I buy and consume things that are processed, dyed, or deep-fried. Every now and again I turn the burner on the stovetop to “lo” instead of “off.” That would bother me less if my apartment building hadn’t burned down a few years ago. (Please note: I was not the cause of the inferno.) I take a lot of good things (and people) for granted. I sometimes forget to be grateful for the blessings in my life—not to mention the many hardships God has helped me to avoid.
Some of my bad habits are emotional. I have a short temper. I can go from content to irritated in the blink of an eye—be it due to a driver cutting me off or a loud conversation I can’t ignore on the subway. I’m easily frustrated when situations don’t go the way I want them to, when people don’t act as they should (or promised they would), or when someone else ignores, dismisses, or derides my point of view. Not surprisingly, I can be very judgmental and critical of others. Sometimes I turn that inward and berate myself for perceived errors.
It matters too much to me when people get away with doing something wrong—especially if it’s something I’ve gotten into trouble for doing—or been tempted to do, but refrained. I spend too much time worrying about what others think of me—as a Christian, writer, woman, athlete, friend, relative, or stranger. I care more than I should when I fail.
There are some bad habits that I’ve been fighting for years—the subjugation of which I imagine will last the full length of my life. Hand in hand, my attempts to be (or compare myself to) someone I’m not or be flawless hold me back in every facet of my life. I know perfection is an illusion, but I still spend a lot of time pursuing it (sometimes consciously, sometimes thoughtlessly out of blind habit). I know that I can’t live anyone’s life but mine, but I still find myself comparing my talents, accomplishments, experiences, relationships, et cetera to those of someone else. And when I spend too much time comparing, I’m opening the door to let jealously in.
While I don’t make formal New Year’s Resolutions, I do pause to think about what I want to invest in and any bad habits I want to break. This year, I will try to be less judgmental of others. I want to remember that not everyone remains an angel in hellish situations. I want to be inquisitive before I’m critical—to seek understanding instead of making assumptions. Because even though it’s easy to forget, we’re all human and flawed. Each one of us is endeavoring to endure or enjoy the day-to-day experiences of our existence. Regardless of whether a person appears to be mastering or damaging his or her life, no one is trying to fail. Everyone is doing the best he or she can—and has a unique combination of internal and external resources and restrictions to navigate.
Just a few days ago I went though my box of cards and letters—those I’ve received and saved over the years. They ranged from birthday and Christmas greetings to congratulations on my engagement/marriage to notes of thanks to letters of encouragement. Some had accompanied gifts; some were expressions of sympathy. A few were written by friends; others were penned by members of my family. Some of the authors are still a part of my life; some, sadly, are no longer living. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support, and generosity those missives represented. I was reminded of the faithfulness of my family and friends. They have shared my joy, celebrated my accomplishments, encouraged my dreams, and supported me through my losses and disappointments.
After reading those cards and letters, I had to admit to myself that I had failed some of my friendships. I had let seasons pass and kept things too superficial—allowing the majority of our connection to remain in the shallows of Facebook. I had gotten distracted and busy. I hadn’t made time. I had forgotten to visit, call, or write. I felt convicted by my neglect, and became determined to remedy it.
It’s easy for me to get so caught up in the routines of life and trying to earn a living that I forget to carve out time to nurture friendships, especially those that will diminish without intentionality—the friends I won’t run into at church, volleyball games, or writer’s group, or the ones who have moved away to other states, cities, or neighborhoods.
I want to do better this year. I want to go broader and deeper. I want to spend more time—and time of quality—with those people who are important to me. I am determined to let more than nostalgia and good intentions support the friendships that have sustained, matured, and blessed me.
This year (and every year going forward) I want to see my best as good enough—and to see the best of others the same way. I want to pursue my goals with hope and grounded motivation rather than resentment or hysteric desperation. I want to criticize less and ask more questions. I want to champion rather than covet others’ successes and blessings. I want to put more of myself (and my time) into my friendships. I want to waste less energy attempting to be perfect or someone else. After all, why should I try so hard to be someone I’m not when it’s hard enough just being myself?
If I had a penny for every time some guy looked at me with lecherous eyes, or called me “shorty,” or took liberties with my personal space on a crowded train—If I had a penny for every time some man’s unwanted attention made me want to disappear or at least shrink down, I could open a bank.
If I had a thread for every man walking around with his pants riding underneath the crest of his butt so that I can see boxers or briefs where his back pockets should be; or for every woman insisting that her leggings are pants, and then pairing them with a particularly bold patterned pair of striped or polka-dotted underwear; or for every thong’s triangle living in plain sight—If I had a thread for every time my eyes had to see under posing as outer wear, what a tapestry I could weave.
If my IQ increased every time the futile complaints of a car alarm disturbed my peace, or, with my arms heavy laden, no one held the door open for me, or a driver treated a stop sign like a yield, or a yield sign like an optional amenity—If my IQ increased one point for every inconsiderate or impatient act of incivility, I could solve the world’s problems in a week.
If I had a drop of water for every time I let the pursuit of perfection keep me inactive, clipped the wings of my dreams to keep them grounded, let a hope wilt for lack of attention, or starved a heartfelt desire—If I had a drop of water for every time I let the fear of failure defeat my motivation, I could make Noah’s flood look like an amusement park ride.
If I were to plant a seed every time I look in the mirror and don’t love what I see reflected back at me, or feel uncomfortable in my own skin, or for every criticism and doubt, for every urge to give up, self thrown pity party, or for every panic-stricken bout of insecurity—If I planted a seed every time I was too hard on myself, I could feed the world from my garden’s bounty.
If I became more myself every time my confidence wavered, I dwelt too long on a misstep or mistake, was tempted to conform, blend in, or otherwise abandon the truer version of me, or compared myself to someone else (and found myself wanting)—If I became more myself despite myself, who would I be?