The Dead Tree
Several years ago, we landscaped our back yard and planted two trees in an effort to provide some much needed shade. To make a long story short, I neglected to water one of the trees enough (it’s still a sore subject in our household) and it eventually died. Although my wife didn’t fully agree with me, I tried to justify the death of the tree by saying that it was a “bad” one. The other tree; however, is still flourishing, largely due to the fact that I learned my lesson and paid much closer attention to it.
I realized the other day as I was reading the following story to a group of fourth and fifth grade students, that the method we use to change our habits should be similar to my approach with the trees.
Below is a powerful story which provides a great metaphor for the power of our habits.
A wise teacher was taking a stroll through the forest with a young pupil and stopped before a tiny tree.
“Pull that sapling,” the teacher instructed the pupil, pointing to a sprout just coming up from the earth. The youngster pulled it easily with his fingers.
“Now pull up that one,” said the teacher, indicating a more established sapling that had grown to about knee high to the boy. With little effort, the lad yanked and the tree came up, roots and all. “And now, this one,” said the teacher, nodding toward a more well-developed evergreen that was as tall as the young pupil. With great effort, throwing all his weight and strength into the task, using sticks and stone he found to pry up the stubborn roots, the boy finally got the tree loose.
“Now,” the wise man said, “I’d like you to pull this one up.” The young boy followed the teacher’s gaze, which fell upon a mighty oak so tall the boy could scarcely see the top. Knowing the great struggle he’d just had pulling up the much smaller tree, he simply told his teacher, “I am sorry, but I can’t.”
“My son, you just demonstrated the power that habits will have over your life!” the teacher exclaimed. “The older they are, the bigger they get, the deeper the roots grow, and the harder they are to uproot. Some get so big, with roots so deep, you might hesitate to even try.”
Let’s go back to my justification that the “bad” tree needed to die. Imagine that this tree was like a bad habit, which had grown deep roots. By not watering the tree, I was essentially neglecting to contribute to the roots growing even deeper. The less I watered it, the less likely the tree was to survive. The same is true for our bad habits. Simply put, we water our bad habits by continuing to do them.
Now let’s imagine that the surviving tree was a good habit. By choosing to water it and nurture it back to health, I was contributing to the growth of the root system. With regard to our habits, we want to water those habits that help us to be productive.
The moral? Instead of trying to “break” a habit, try replacing it with a new one that is more productive. That which you resist, persists. That which you feed, grows.
P.S. Even though Ruth approved of this blog, she does not approve of my justification for the tree dying. You win some, you lose some. 🙂