The Power of Habits



“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” – Confucius

Habits can make or break you.   As Lucas Remmerswaal said, “First you make your habits, then your habits make you!”

Ah, the power of habits.

Habits are our reflexive thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Our behaviors are where the rubber meets the road.  And, according to B.F. Skinner, “Thoughts are behaviors we haven’t learned to observe yet.”

Who’s better off?   The person who knows more, or the person who has better habits?

Think about it.  No matter how much you know, or how smart you are, it comes down to what you actually do.  For example, you can know all the nutrition science in the world.   But, what do you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?   You can know all the positive psychology in the world, but do you think the thoughts that serve you?   Do you cultivate the emotions that lift you?

Our habits and practices turn insight into action.  Most importantly, our habits move us up the stack.  We don’t have to waste our time thinking through trivial things.  And, they help us automate or simplify complex things.  After all, would you rather have a brain surgeon finding his way through, or the seasoned brain surgeon whose habits help him glide through the job?

In the book The Bliss Experiment: 28 Days to Personal Transformation, Sean Meshorer explains the power of habits and how they can help us or hurt us.

Habits Govern What We Do and How Effectively We Do It

Our habits guide us.  Meshorer writes:

“Simply put, habits are the supervisors of the actions we take and the actions we avoid.  They help govern what we do and how effectively we do it.  Bad habits can guide us off course and keep us from unearthing our deepest layers.”

Good Habits Make Our Lives Easier

Habits make our lives easier by automating our behaviors.   Meshorer writes:

“Habits are thoughts, emotions, or actions that we’ve repeated frequently enough that they’ve become reflexive behaviors, performed without conscious thought.  They can be good bad, or neutral.  They are efficient bureaucrats of our body, mind, and spirit: they don’t enact the internal laws that govern us, they administer our choices as effectively as possible.  Habits eliminate the need to consciously think about and direct energy toward critical tasks.  Good habits make our lives easier.  Bad habits hold our minds and behaviors in a vice grip of negativity, acting as obstacles to our happiness.”

Habits are Learned Behaviors

Learning a new habit is a thoughtful process.  Repetition bakes our habits in.  Meshorer writes:

“Habits are learned behaviors.  They aren’t inherited genetically.  By watching people inside MRI scanners, scientists can actually see new habits being formed in the brain.  They’ve observed that while we are first learning a new behavior, the prefrontal cortex area of the brain lights up.  This is the most advanced part of our brain, where processes such as reasoning, decision making, setting goals, and other cognitive functions are carried out.  As we become familiar with the task through repetition, activity in the prefrontal cortex declines, but it increases in another part of the brain, the basal ganglia.  This is where our motor skills and other processes that don’t require conscious thought reside.”

The next time you find yourself doing something that starts to be repetitive, whether it’s a thought, a feeling, or an action, ask yourself whether you really want to make it a habit.

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Image by Peter Voerman.