Many books have been written about habits, starting with authors like Stephen R. Covey with his book “The seven habits of highly effective people” or Charles Duhigg with his book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change”. They all tell the story about the importance of creating the right habits for your life if you want to be successful.
To understand habits, you need to understand what they are. In the book “BrainChains: Discover your brain, to unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected, multitasking world”, Theo Compernolle describes the physical aspect of creating habits very well and reading between the lines, makes it very clear how dangerous habits can be.
Habits are action and thinking models which, when repeated often enough become natural to you. It’s like driving a car. At the beginning it is difficult. You have to think of everything at the same time consciously. Things like pushing the clutch pedal, moving the gear stick to the first gear position, slowly releasing the clutch pedal while softly pushing the accelerator pedal. At the same time looking into the mirror and scanning your surrounding area to see if it is save to move. This is a lot to think about, but after repeating this over and over again all these actions become part of you and you start doing them naturally. Habits are created by repeating a process over and over again.
The whole thing is a very clever part of our evolution. Our thinking brain cannot manage too many things at the same time. It, therefore, stores the learned information as connected procedures in our storage brain from where we can retrieve these procedures without too much effort within a very short period. All the things like talking and walking are stored procedures we’ve learned at one stage and repeated over and over again. This is also called a habit.
But it goes further. Even the things you think, the things you say or the way you see the world are stored procedures based on repeatedly thinking or speaking in a certain way until it becomes natural to you.
The thing with these procedures is once they are habits, you are no more aware of them because you don’t think about them any longer. That means if you’ve created a bad habit, you will keep doing it unless something significant either forces you to change it or you decide to change it. But how do you become aware of bad habits?
Over 60% of all drivers believe that they are excellent drivers, and maybe at an early stage, they were quite good. However, over time, our procedures are influenced by all the other things around in our life. If we are late every day getting up and we have to compensate by driving that bit faster to get to work on time, it will influence our way of driving. If we do this often enough, it will change our driving procedure, probably making us a much riskier driver without us even being aware of it. We still think we’re a great driver.
If you stop for a moment and think about all the things you do automatically throughout the day without actually thinking about them, you will probably come up with a very long list of actions. These are all the habits you’ve created for yourself during your lifetime. If you consider that your thinking brain can only manage to think about one thing at the time you understand the power habits have on your life.
We don’t have a reset button to start all over again. The only way to change your life is by influencing your current habits. Selecting one habit, you’ve found holding you back in your life and working on that single one will automatically influence other habits as well. Reviewing your habits and procedures from time to time is certainly a wise thing to do.
To find out which habit is more destructive than productive, you need to set yourself a standard you want to measure against. Doing so will allow you to see the bad and good habits. You can view this as a constitution of your life, the things you want to stand for, and what defines you. This can be your point of reference. If any of your habits go against your constitution, you know what to do. It also helps in creating new procedures you want to integrate into your life as a habit.
This isn’t an easy process. You will need to push the selected procedure into your thinking brain, revise its actions and consciously repeat it until it overrides the existing habit. This requires some effort, and because of all the other things going on in your life, you often don’t want to take the time. But if you don’t do that all the new things you’re going to learn will be tainted by the bad habits you’ve created for yourself in the past. It’s like building a house on a bad foundation.
My advice is to start by writing your constitution, outlining the things you want to be important in your life. What you want to stand for and what you want, your family and friends to think about you. Have a look at the habits you execute every day which are not in line with it and pick one. I would start with the easiest one. Have a look at it and physically rewrite the procedure to fit your desired process. Put it on a list you view every day and actively work on it. It’s like starting to drive a car again, and it will take some time to become natural. But after a while, you don’t need to think about it anymore.
Sometimes creating another habit like meditation or sport will have a significant impact on your current habits and might influence them in a good way.
Whatever you decide to do, your willingness to do something in the first place will already impact your behaviour, your thinking and your actions.
Have you written your constitution yet?