Good habits. Bad habits. Language habits. Study habits. Annoying habits. Drug habits. Broken habits. Hygiene habits. Can’t-seem-to-break-it habits. What are they really? Why do we pick up habits? Better still, how can we choose to pick up better habits?
Habits are repeated, learned behavior. Everyone has them. Yes, you are Pavlov’s dog. Do not think of it as a bad thing. There are loads of habits you have which you do not even know are habits.
An instinct is a natural reflex. Habits are different from instinct because we learn habits from others and through trial and error. Habits, especially bad habits, can hamper our instincts. Often we will do things which are completely contrary to our instincts.
As we make our way through the world, we find ways of accomplishing tasks. As we repeat the tasks, we refine the processes. Once we have done a task enough times, we know to do it as a response.
Our instinct to pick something up is to use the fewest muscles possible: lean and reach with the hand. As we learn the long term ramifications of leaning and lifting, we forgo our instinct and use more muscles to protect our bodies.
What begins as a voluntary action requiring effort becomes an automatic response through repetition… a habit. We associate an event, sound or sensation with our reaction. In time, we stop thinking about the association and merely react.
The majority of our habits form from repeating actions which positively stimulate us. It feels good. We want to do it again. This is a two-edged sword. For many habits, it is a good thing. We brush our hair because it stimulates the scalp, makes us look good and feel better about our appearance.
Bad habits form in the same way. Drug addiction is the most recognized example of a feel good bad habit.
Eating habits begin with the instinct to feed ourselves when we are hungry. We develop habits based on the feel good principle and on more stringent learning. While a meal of double-stuffed chocolate cookies dipped in ice cream and slathered with caramel sauce may feel good at the time, the struggle to put on pants teaches us better eating habits.
Our bodies warn us when habits are bad. Overindulgence and overexertion are habits which our bodies reject in many ways:
- Type II Diabetes
- Muscle Aches
- Weight Gain
- Torn Soft Tissue
- Broken Bones
Even habits which are good for us, like exercise, can be unhealthy when overdone. If you have ever eaten too many (prunes, pears, beans), you can endorse:
Eventually, we forget the things we do are actually habits. They no longer require any cognitive effort on our part. (The dinner bell rings, and we salivate.) We continue habits when they are no longer useful or have become bad. Our conditioned responses are no longer meaningful.
Who is the person you go to for advice? You go to Quaint because you have gotten good advice in the past. What happens when you want advice about something out of Quaint’s realm? You still ask Quaint. Why? It is a habit.
While you can still talk to Quaint about your new pursuit in theoretical terms, you cannot get the advice you need. What you are trying to accomplish is figuring out on your own using Quaint as a sounding board. Overall, not a bad habit, but one you can easily replace with a better habit.
No typos there. Habilitation is forming the habits which create the largest independence. Rehabilitation is restoring habits through treatment or training. Before you can rehabilitate you must first habilitate.
Before you do anything, ask yourself:
If you answer is one of the following…
- Because this is always the way I did it.
- Because I don’t know another way.
- Because everyone else does it this way.
- Because I have to do it this way.
…chances are good this may be a habit you can break or change. If your answer is, …
Because this is the (fastest, easiest, best) way to do it.”
…this is a habit which does not need to be broken and may not need to be changed. Periodically, we need to look at our habits to see if there is a better way.
Think about the many inventions you have seen emerge in your lifetime. If someone had not been trying to habilitate themselves and you, we would still be listening to vinyl record albums, cooking without microwaves and only sending letters by snail mail.
Good habits keep us healthy, entertained and independent. Good habits save time and help us live better lives.
What is one of your habits which you thought was an instinct? Which habit would you like to change? Do you have one you need to break? Can you name an invention which has changed your habits?
If you tweet or +1 this post, please use the hashtag #AtoZChallenge!