Traditions and Habits

I was in a sorority in college. It was the newest sorority at the school, only four years old when I joined my freshman year. The year it was founded, the first members rented a house for a weekend about an hour away and spent the weekend creating the bylaws, rules and guidelines by which the sorority would function. The next year they met at the same house to revise them and to discuss plans for the following year. They met at the same place again the year after that. By the time I joined the sorority, the weekend administrative retreat had become a tradition.

My senior year roommate was the sorority vice president and it was her responsibility to organize and run the retreat. The group had grown over the years from less than twenty women to almost one hundred. My roommate did not think that crowding that many college-age women in a house together would result in any meaningful decisions, but she did not want to break tradition, so we went back to the same house yet again.

The weekend resulted in a lot of tired and grumpy women, but accomplished very little else. My roommate suggested that that the officers the following year create a new tradition and do something entirely different.

Very often, when beginning something new, procedures and practices are created out of necessity. They are not meant to become set in stone; they are just created to get everything started. The hope is that processes and procedures will evolve with time. The tendency however, is to get stuck and to do things in a certain way because that is the way they have always been done.

Our minds and bodies tend to get stuck in their own habits. We often travel down the same mental paths, getting stuck in worries about the past or in anticipation of the future even when it is not productive. We tend to have physical habits like sitting with the same leg crossed over the other or crossing our arms with the same arm in front each time. These actions may have begun because they were comfortable or because this is what we saw our parents do. Over time, these actions became habits as we repeated them.

Actually, we have thousands of thoughts a day and our bodies change constantly. Think about how you feel when you roll out of bed in the morning. Your body is likely to be stiff and tight. By the end of the day, your body is very different. You are probably more flexible than you were first thing in the morning and your body reflects your actions of the day. If you have sat or stood for long periods of time or have exercised, you probably feel the effects.

To change an unnecessary or unproductive habit, we first must become aware of it. An odd wrist ache may prompt us to examine how we hold our hands and shoulders when we use our computer. A recurring back ache may encourage us to sit or stand differently. If we find we are constantly worried because our thoughts are mired in a persistent concern, this may be a sign that something in our lives should change.

Some structure is necessary to function. A group does not operate well without rules and procedures, and we cannot relearn how to walk every morning. However, there is something to be said for thinking outside of the box when our normal routine becomes counterproductive. By studying our habits and traditions, we may enjoy the freedom that a breath of fresh air provides.