Updated: Apr 8
Somewhere along the line, someone sold a falsehood about habits. Since then, the subject of habits has been popular among goal-oriented people, and is often linked with conversations about success, self-improvement, and productivity. The interest in habits is its association with the notion that greater success simply involves developing the right habits. This notion has appeal and is one that we would like to prove true. Ultimately, however, it is a false notion. If you’ve tried to develop a habit and failed, there’s a simple explanation: we cannot force the development of habituation.
The actual definition of “habit” may surprise you:
Habit: a behavior pattern or mode of being that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
Many people have set themselves up to be discouraged, disillusioned, and fail to succeed, due to their being unaware of two truths about habits:
(1) We form habits from behaviors that support our beliefs and interests. Habits may develop as a means to gain something or avoid some consequence; and
(2) We cannot—ever—develop habits artificially (by willpower). That is, we cannot develop habits that we really do not want to develop and/or that do not somehow benefit us (allow us to gain or avoid something).
If you believe that waking up at 5:00 a.m. to start your day is a worthwhile habit but you’re “not a morning person,” then your effort to get up at 5:00 a.m. will always require effort from you, and, therefore, by definition, cannot become a habit. Starting your day at 5:00 a.m. can only ever be a practice that you’ve adopted.
The problem with habits comes down to a misnomer. Often, people mistakenly refer to habits when what they mean is practices. The difference between a habit and practice is critical to the point here: habits are natural behaviors; practices are conscious actions. If you think that you’re going to automate your success simply by adopting the “right” habits, you will likely be disappointed. What you can do, however, is develop the practices essential to your ability to succeed.
Success: Habits and Practices
The idea of building “good,” “right,” or “healthy” habits has been a problematic misnomer that has left many frustrated and discouraged. Somehow “habits” became confused with practices, which is about conscious self-control and stick-to-itiveness. Those who seek to improve by making change in habits are actually faced with development of discipline—self-control.
Again, the difference between a practice and a habit is this:
Habits become or are virtually involuntary practices;
Practices that are not habits are conscious (not automatic or reflexive) actions.
The reason people often fail to replace or develop habits is simple: habits—“good” or “bad”—have an intrinsic quality of being virtually automatic. While habits are practices, not all practices are habits. The point here is an unpopular message: the success of your endeavor and self-improvement may require work, effort, and sacrifice from you; success cannot be achieved automatically. Accept this truth to save yourself some frustration, and get back on-track to the discovery of useful solutions by which to ensure progress toward your goal.
Insofar as self-improvement is of interest to you, with regard to habits, eliminating “bad” habits should be your only concern. Put differently, forget about building habits but break “bad” habits. You cannot force habituation. Your smart decisions should be viewed as practices, disciplines that you’ve adopted.
The course to success is best supported with good practices, the conscious, deliberate resolve to engage certain behaviors for the value they offer. While you cannot force habits, you can develop good practices, although they may always involve some effort from you. Remember: you pursue your goals for their value to you, not because they come effortlessly. Learn which practices support your endeavor, commit yourself to them, and work toward your potential.
More information on this subject is available in my ebook “Achieve.” Learn more at my website: StevenRobertYoung.com/Support.
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