Habits always form

After a recent talk I gave, a student came up to me and asked me for one bit of advice for someone’s who’s still in school but about to graduate.

I’ve always found these questions difficult to answer. For one, It’s been 25 years since I’ve been in college. I don’t remember what I wished I knew back then, and today I know even less about what would be useful to know right now.

So I backed off a specific, and shot for a general.

The advice was this: Habits are always forming. No matter what you do, you’re also forming habits too. Keep that in mind with whatever you do.

When we talk about habits, we generally talk about learning good habits. Or forming good habits. Both of these outcomes suggest we can end up with the habits we want. And technically we can! But most of the habits we have are habits we ended up with after years of unconscious behavior. They’re not intentional. They’ve been planting deep roots under the surface, sight unseen. Fertilized, watered, and well-fed by recurring behavior. Trying to pull that habit out of the ground later is going to be incredibly difficult. Your grip has to be better than its grip, and it rarely is.

So be aware of what you do, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. Every do digs deeper. Every does grips stronger.

10 thoughts on “Habits always form

  1. “Trying to pull that habit out of the ground later is going to be incredibly difficult”

    I don’t know if you wrote that out of common sense of because of personal experience, but you are right.

    Thanks for sharing this kind of stuff

  2. Is that your inner Kathy Sierra seeping through? I remember her mentioning during a couple of talks that “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

    It’s good hearing similar concepts in different words to make them stick.

  3. We make a decision based on two factors. We either look to gain pleasure or to avoid pain. In an unknown situation, every decision that we do is initially based on that. Once this becomes a routine, the decision turns into a habit.

    As you rightly said, whether we choose it or not, we are forming habits on a daily basis. It is up to us if we want ourselves to form good habits or bad ones.

  4. Thanks Jason for such tidbits. Though, when you say “most of the habits we have are habits we ended up with after years of unconscious behavior”, I assume you are referring to habits we form in the initial years of our lives and when we are NOT as mature to completely understand the ramifications of such unintentional behavior on a daily basis…But I believe at some stage of maturity, we are capable as well as accountable of what we do. All habits i believe arise according to ‘nature and nurture’. Some are ingrained characteristics of our nature/genes and then most come from the environment we live in and by the time we realize they have become habits.

    To give it a spiritual spin (and science also have accepted now) every thought creates an impression on mind and is stored deep down. Thoughts are translated (or manifested) into action given the right stimulus. If we consistently create an environment for such a behavior, those actions become habits. So, Beware what you think! More importantly, rather than getting lost in the technicality of life, we as Conscious individuals need to be Conscious and accountable of our behavior – and as you said on daily basis choose ‘good actions (& thoughts)’ against ‘bad actions (thoughts)’.

    1. “I assume you are referring to habits we form in the initial years of our lives and when we are NOT as mature to completely understand the ramifications of such unintentional behavior on a daily basis”

      That would be nice, wouldn’t it? That everyone was intimately aware of their behavior? Unfortunately we’re not. We form, and reinforce, bad habits all throughout our life. You don’t grow out of unconsciously forming bad habits just because you grow up.

  5. If you don’t like something, change it.
    If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
    Don’t complain.

    – Maya Angelou

    I like the raw power of the first line.

  6. I’d like to recommend a great book on this topic which is named, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. Habits are indeed powerful and can be used to one’s advantage if you understand how they are formed. Conversely if you have bad habits you can learn how to undo them. I found it quite fascinating to learn why the brain uses habits to minimize the amount of thinking we need to do on a daily basis.

    1. I’m whit you Jason, being aware of how habits shape our lives is one of the most helpful advice one can give to young people. I’m trying to pass these concepts to my daughters. Anyway I think, often, you can only understand these concepts later, when you are trying to figuring out how it’s possible you took certain roads in your life.. I think often having gifted whit good habits early in the life is a matter of lucky, thanks to parents you had, environment you growt in and the people you met. This not give you permission to not try to change your hard radicated habits, anyway.

    2. @DanielKnowlton. This is a topic I’m really diging into lately. “The power of habit” is one of the best book on this topic, I also suggest “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. As Derek Siver says “Feels like the definitive masterpiece on the subject of how to make good habits and break bad ones. Very focused on helping you take action. Very relatable and inspiring.”. It really opened my eyes.

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