OPINION

The sure way to break a bad pandemic habit

JUST DO IT: If your new normal is worse than your old, there's a straightforward way to get back on track. Picture: Shutterstock
JUST DO IT: If your new normal is worse than your old, there's a straightforward way to get back on track. Picture: Shutterstock

A usually mild and respectable woman - in public, at least - is walking down the street, arguing with and eventually shouting at her husband for nothing too serious.

They both look up and see their parish priest walking towards them with a shocked look on his face.

The husband laughs: "There goes your hiding behind a curtain confessing your sins all these years! Now let Father see with his own eyes just how difficult you can be!"

As the priest gets close, the woman turns to her husband and shouts: "Harold! For the last time! Are you going to start coming back to church?"

As I've walked down the street or been out at a restaurant over the past year, I haven't even needed to open my mouth, except to eat, before someone I know says: "I know we haven't been to Mass for a while Father, but you know, with the pandemic and everything."

I don't know how to break to them that the pandemic restrictions for religious ceremonies were eased some time ago.

And I don't know if I should. They always look like they're having such a good time now.

But more than that, this new "but you know, with the pandemic and everything...." excuse is one I quite like. And it's an excuse I've been using a bit myself.

It's a great excuse, and you don't even need to finish the sentence.

Every time I've used the "but you know, with the pandemic and everything..." line, people just start nodding in agreement mid-sentence.

And yet, strangely, during a lockdown is when this best excuse is at its weakest: "Sorry I'm out at night with no mask on and clearly not exercising officer, but you know, with the pandemic and everything..."

Could it be that some of us have used the pandemic as the perfect excuse for bad behaviour? If the pandemic has been changing us for the worse, how do we escape our new normal?

A few years back, Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a talk here in Australia.

For a man well known for his teachings about the power of mind over muscle, he said something I found confusing.

Arnie said that we should wake up in the morning, put on our gym clothes and start exercising without thinking. "Don't think" he said.

His claim was that we want to get to a point where we start exercising without thinking. He left me thinking ... wait, that doesn't sound right. But surely he would know, even if it doesn't sound right.

Still, if I ever told people to start going to church without thinking - told them "don't think" - I would receive a lot of criticism and be accused of starting a cult.

If our new normal is worse than our old, how can we get back on track? The same way we got off track.

The seemingly dreamy cliché of "do what you want to do, be what you want to be" has more power than we ever give it credit.

The poet Emerson's quote "you become what you think about all day long" has tremendous merit, but only to a point. If it were true I'd be a Big Mac.

What we do, we become. This is what Schwarzenegger was getting at.

If we keep doing something again and again, it becomes easier to do it. It also becomes harder not to do. If you've ever played video games, this is abundantly clear.

How do you tidy your house, even though it's such a mess? You tidy your house, even though it's such a mess.

How do you get back to the gym? You get back to the gym.

How do you go back to church? You go back to church.

Don't think of having to do something difficult for the rest of your life. Think of having to do something difficult for the next few weeks. After that, you won't have to think about it as it will become a habit.

As Confucius said: "All men are the same. Only their habits differ." He actually did say that, by the way.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

This story Father Brendan Lee | The sure way to break a bad pandemic habit first appeared on The Canberra Times.