Going The Extra Mile

Dec 30, 2015

The power of habits is such that they may pull us through difficult times, just by making us do what we're used to doing, without listening to the temptations of the world around us. The power of habits is a force that we can and should use to our advantage, propelling us through the hard parts of our lives.

I've successfully participated in Winnie Kao's YourTurnChallenge. Seven days, seven blog posts. I'm grateful for letting her inspire me and highly satisfied with the results, so I'm letting the momentum carry me on. Here's day 8, where I think about the force of habits.

Man is a creature of habit.

Habits are wonderful things. They take the complexity away from many aspects of our lives. We're doing so many of our daily tasks in automatic mode, without thinking much about it, without pondering whether we should, without having to overcome internal resistance - just by force of habit.

Habits control our society. Human interactions are controlled by the things we've learned as a child and internalized so much that they're part of our core personality, our very existence. When habits take over, we don't even realize, and just let ourselves be carried by the momentum of usualness.

That can be a good thing - and a very bad one.

Of course, habits can also have a detrimental effect on us. How many so-called "bad habits" do we have? Smoking, eating unhealthy, being caught in ever-recurring negative patterns of interaction - many of these things are results of repetition and habituation. Neuroscientists have even found that habitual behavior can limit our creative thinking abilities. So there's no question that we should continually try to identify our habits and break them if necessary.

However, we should also use them to our advantage. We can deliberately build habits, and it works much faster than you might imagine. A study found that building a new habit takes, on average, about two months. It might take as little as a third of that time, but also up to a year.

Steve Pavlina's famous blog post "30 Days to Success" suggests the concept of a 30 day challenge - change your behavior for a duration of 30 days in order to make positive changes in your life, then evaluate and see if you want to continue or abandon the new behavior.

The YourTurnChallenge lasted seven days. But no matter whether it takes a year, two months, thirty days or seven days to change - the important thing is to start, to overcome initial resistance. The first step is the hardest, and from there it's all downhill.