The Usefulness of Habits
In self development awareness is very important. Habits are what we do ‘automatically’ (without much awareness at all) so they seem to be almost the opposite of self development. How can they serve self development?
Habits assist us by allowing our awareness to be free from what we are not interested in (at the moment).
- We don’t need to think about how we walk to get up and go for a walk.
- We don’t need to be concerned about grammatical correctness while greeting a friend.
- Not having to worry about co-ordinating accelerator and clutch enables us to focus on the traffic.
Is there a number of repetitions that will establish a habit?
There are various numbers quoted about how many repetitions you need to establish a habit. None of them are particularly well founded from what I can find. But they probably help to set an achievable goal and at least get you started, so I don’t think they do any harm.
The habits we want to develop are so diverse and various that it would be very surprising if the same number of repetitions worked for every one. And my guess is that some people will find it easier to develop a habit in one area than another.
So is there any guidance on how to develop habits?
Here is my guess: As much as possible do one thing.
The more you are practising to do just one thing the easier it will be for it to become automatic. Try to make the behaviour you want to be a habit as simple as possible. Try to eliminate or make the same any other behaviour or part of the environment.
If you want to make a habit of going for a walk each day, this will mean things like:
- Doing it at the same time
- Dressing in the same kinds of clothes (if you want to be in different clothing)
- Perhaps walking the same route
- Having one or more triggers or cues as you get near the time
- Walking with the same people (or no one)
- Having an enjoyable warm up routine to do
If you wish to establish a habit to eat more healthily, a good habit might be making a shopping list to help avoid impulse buys. It would help to make this a habit if,
- You made it at the same time each week
- Sat (or stood) in the same position, in the same place to make it
- Used the same kinds of pen and paper or iphone or whatever
- Thinking about the healthy foods you like as soon as you sit down to make the list
Doing only one thing will make it easier to establish the habit.
Reminders: a way to use habits for authenticity
A habit is done without much awareness and authenticity requires awareness (of both ourselves and our situation).
The way to use habits for authenticity is to not make authenticity a habit (which can’t be done) but to have habitual reminders to check in with ourselves and our situation. For instance:
- Checking with our stomach before we eat
- The old advice of counting to ten before we give an angry answer
- Checking for understanding of each point when teaching
- Checking we have understood the other person’s point of view when having an argument
- Perhaps taking a few moments at the beginning of the day to survey what we want to do.
If we remind ourselves to check in with ourselves and our situation we will likely be able to modify what we do to fit better with who we are. We will, gradually, step by step, build a more satisfying life.
Useful links on habits:
There is also a good series of 31 posts on how to develop a habit on Stacy’s Grow with Stacy starting here.
Coming soon: an email course of forty reminders for authenticity. Just a couple of sentences or brief paragraph delivered to your email inbox each day. Introductory price $17US, stay tuned, Evan.
To find out how to live authentically you can download my manifesto.
It has exercises that will help you experience what authenticity means for you and so experience a more satisfying life.
If you would like me to write about some aspect of living an authentic life please don’t hesitate to get in touch. There is a box in the sidebar where you can leave this anonymously if you wish.