Daily Stoic: Never Do Anything Out of Habit

“So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving.” ~ Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.5-11

Inspired by The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living

Although this is my first time reading The Daily Stoic, I have been aware of this lesson for decades, and it is one of my favorites. We need to be mindful of our actions instead of doing something mindlessly. This year will be 25 years that I’ve been working for the same software company. I still remember this advice that was given to us in orientation 25 years ago. We were encouraged to suggest changes to the way things were done. A lot of times, if somebody is performing a function that doesn’t seem right, and you ask them why they do it that way, most times the answer is, “This is how we’ve always done it.” So, if we saw something going on at work that could be done more efficiently, we were encouraged to bring it up. We need to constantly change if we want to grow and evolve instead of becoming stale.

This lesson also reminds me of a story I heard many, many years ago, and it stuck with me. It’s the story of “The Pot Roast.”
A young woman was hosting a dinner party, and the pot roast was so delicious that one of her friends asked for the recipe. The woman happily gave her the recipe. As the friend was looking it over, she saw that one of the steps was to cut off each end of the roast before putting it in the pan. She asked the woman why she cut off the ends of the roast. She answered, “I don’t know. I cut the ends off because I learned this recipe from my mom and that was the way she had always done it.”
So that got her thinking. The next day, she asked her Mom why she cut the ends of the roast off. The mother answered, “That is how your grandma always did it and I learned the recipe from her.”
Now the young woman was really curious, so she called her elderly grandma and asked her the same question: “Grandma, I often make the pot roast recipe that I learned from mom and she learned from you. Why do you cut the ends off the roast before you prepare it?” The grandmother thought for a while, since it had been years since she made the roast herself, and then replied, “I cut them off because the roast was always bigger than the pan I had back then. I had to cut the ends off to make it fit.”

This shows how we can tend to just do things without questioning why we do them. They may have been done with good reason in the past. But time and circumstances change, so we need to reevaluate why we do things. So, am important way to change for the better is to be aware of why you do the things you do. Instead of going on auto-pilot, you can freshen things up and make things more exciting.

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