"Hard Habit to Break” was a Billboard No. 3 song for the group Chicago way back in 1984. With Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin on vocals, the song follows a common trope of remembering an old relationship and blaming oneself (quite some time later, because being oblivious at the time was the cause of the breakup) and canonizing the former significant other as “the one who got away.”
The lines, “I’m addicted to you, baby. You’re a hard habit to break.” Sort of sums up the song, and all of those in the same vein.
The spirit of the song (and perhaps the spirits consumed while listening to the song) is about feeling guilt and pain later for simply going through the motions in a relationship and not paying much attention to the relationship itself.
The singer, of course, made a “habit” of his relationship, and when the relationship ended, the effects of his habit linger.
“After all these years, I’m still trying to shake it…” is a testament to the difficulty in moving beyond that habit. In this case (also common in somewhat angsty love songs) the “habit” has moved on to more fertile fields and left the singer to bemoan the loss of something he did not appreciate while he had it.
Now while the song might not accurately describe breakups and lost love — you really have to wonder if the singer would be waxing so poetic if he had found another relationship, but that is a different column — it is a fairly good description of how the mechanics of “habit” operate. Habits don’t always or even usually involve love, but they do involve a degree of desire or at least interest.
We begin doing something and receive a benefit from it, and the desire for the benefit leads to repetition until it becomes part of our routine. And if the cycle is repeated enough, this locks us in and becomes something we do without question or hesitation. It becomes a habit, and just like Peter sang, it’s hard to break.
Of course, not all habits are what we would call bad. In fact, some habits like good personal hygiene, are considered quite good on a nearly universal basis. And there is a continually growing list of “good” habits as opposed to “bad” habits which are updated regularly depending upon past and current social norms or new information just like the software on a smart phone.
The trouble is, just like the change in operating system, the “new” habits can necessitate an undesired or inconvenient change to the way we have always done things. We resist changing our current habits oftentimes simply because we developed that habit to fill a certain need. And if we still have the same need, and the same habit, why change?
Well, for one thing, habits have a shelf life and a tendency to lose their effectiveness over time. We might want to keep up with the whole personal hygiene thing (pretty much indefinitely), but color-coding our track suits from the 1970s might be something we can change up a bit. I have no philosophical issue with polyester, but the trend and usefulness of a large amount of it in our wardrobes has passed and they are just taking up space that we need for something else. And this applies to pretty much every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, habits can make necessary changes difficult.
Both making and breaking habits can be quite difficult regardless of whether or not a former significant other is involved. According to Healthline.com, “It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.” Similar research shows that the time frame of breaking a habit runs closely along the same lines as making one. Some even say that the most effective way to break a habit is to replace that habit with a new one. Maybe along the lines of replacing donuts with apples. Perhaps someone should tell Peter and Bill they should start dating again.
This is just the basic mechanics of habit, however, and it goes far beyond that. There are a host of factors involved beyond wanting or needing to make or change a habit. Certain habits many would consider “bad,” for instance, can be continued for months or even years before any negative effects are noticed; and by that time the habit is comfortably ensconced in our daily routines and would leave a void if removed. And we become quite defensive about our habits as well, to the tune of, “No, Doc, it can’t be the caffeine making me nervous. I change it up every other day with diet soda, so it’s all good.”
But good, bad, or indifferent — even wonderful or weird — our habits are part of the way we live our lives. Given that, it’s a good idea to at least once in a while reexamine what habits we have and why we have them. Are those habits benefiting us in some way? Are they hurting us? The answers, if we examine them honestly, might surprise us; and those answers directly impact our health on both a mental and physical level. And balancing those two aspects of our health is crucial to living the best life we are able to live. Getting rid of some habits and adding others might be the solution we need, even if the changes are only small.