I’m pretty good at cutting onions. The way I do it is perfectly fine. Not great, but fine. It’s fast enough, dices neat enough – and every time I do it, I wonder what I would do if my hand slipped slightly and I sliced off my finger and had to somehow drive with half a finger (and three kids) to the doctor to get it stitched back on. It might be a perfectly fine way to cut onions, but it’s not particularly safe.
There’s a better way. I’ve seen it on cooking shows. It’s the proper way to cut onions. Not only is it fast, even and precise, but it doesn’t come with the risk of cutting off any fingers (Well, not many!).
I’ve tried it a few times, and been frustrated with how uncoordinated it feels. So I go back to my usual way and hope for the best.
I should do it properly – especially since I really don’t want to have to figure out how to get three kids in car seats and drive with half a finger – but it’ll take time. And I’m not that patient.
Silly thing is, I’ve been through this situation before, when I was learning to touch type.
I was good at typing before. Well, good enough. Okay, so I was fast but had to look at the keys to type and only used four fingers. Which is fine if you’re only typing things every now and then but limiting in the long run. There’s only so fast you can go with four fingers, and the need to look down at the keyboard to figure out where all the letters are.
I wanted to learn to type properly but knew it’d take time. And patience. And a whole heap of frustration. And I’d be really, really slow for a while. But I also knew that, despite those things, it’d be worth it. One of those skills that would be useful to have for the rest of my life – and that was before I knew I’d be typing out whole novels.
So I spent a few lunch hours a week for a whole term in Grade 11 learning to type. Unlearning the bad habits I’d picked up and going right back to the start. A-S-D-F, A-S-D-F…
I will forever be thankful that I did that typing class at school. While I’m not game enough to say it was the most important thing I learnt at school, it’s definitely very high on the list. These days, I can type an average of 77 words per minute with 99% accuracy – basically, fast enough to keep up with my thoughts while writing or just under the speed most people talk. I never would have been able to do that had I not gone back to the start and learnt to type properly.
There’s no way changing the way I cut onions could possibly take as long to master as typing did. It’d probably only take me a week of practice. But for that week, I’ll be slow. I’ll probably even cry (not just out of frustration but because, after all, they are onions!). But will it be worth it? No doubt.
There are lots of bad habits we pick up along the way through life. Some of them are trivial, like the right or wrong way to cut vegetables, but a lot aren’t. What we eat, the way we talk, the way we think about ourselves and others.
It’s hard to go back to the start and change them. It takes time, effort, frustration, patience and bucket-loads of courage. Maybe even pain. You not only have to learn to do things the right way, but you have to un-learn all the bad habits, which is often the most difficult part of the whole process.
Partway through, you’ll probably feel like giving up altogether. The old way was easier. Less effort. More natural.
But then will come the day when suddenly the new way, the better way, feels natural and you realise it was worth every bit of time and effort it took to learn. Every bit of frustration. As my fingers fly across the keyboard faster than I can speak, I marvel at how close I came to giving up on that typing class because it was too hard. I’m so glad I didn’t.
Replacing bad habits or practises with good ones can be ridiculously painful and take every bit of self-control you have.
But is it worth it?