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HabitCraft: the Art of Behavior (Part 1)

July 16, 2010

Everybody likes to tell you how bad your habits are. They think you should change them in order to be better at life. Lets be honest; habitually getting up at 4pm every day is no good for getting a job, habitually eating is bad for your waistline, and habitually drinking is bad for your social life.

Good habits seem to be rare, and when they do pop up they tend to get in the way when you least want them there, like habitually checking the time.

The problem is that while the universe wants to tell you how to get rid of your bad habits, no one wants to help you make good ones. No one talks about what a habit really is, or how it really affects you. No one is an expert in HabitCraft.

HabitCraft: A series

This post is the first in a series that will explain the mechanics of habits, along with some suggestions on how to control them. Hopefully together we can take all the bad habits we’ve gathered over time and mold them to our advantage.

First, lets get some background info.

How habits work.

Most of the time when you do a thing (whatever that thing might be) you preform a tiny little self-assessment of it. That’s the voice in your head that tells you spilling ketchup on your new dress is dumb or going for a walk at 4am might be a little strange. Your brain does this in order to facilitate self-awareness, which helps keeps you on top of the consequence for everything you do.

A habit is simply a thing you do over and over that you don’t assess every time you do it. This is very useful because it means you don’t have to run your brain a ba-gillion times a second just to keep on top of everything. There are almost infinite examples of habits you have that are not “good” or “bad” but simply exist.

Habits, like all behaviors, form over time based on the reaction you get from doing it the first time. Generally speaking if it’s a good reaction you run with it and if not you cut that shit out. The difference between habits and normal behaviors is that you do habits all the time instead of just when you need to be doing them. Most habits you want to change have stem from a behavior that you started doing a whole lot for one reason or another.

Behaviors are brought on by fairly obvious stuff.

Your mom calls you for dinner and you sit at the table. Everyday, garden variety behaviors are the direct result of you noticing x happening in the world and you and your brain coming to the conclusion that you should do y about it. Normally this decision is based on previous experience.

Habits are brought on by fairly unobvious stuff.

You sit still for too long and start to fidget. Whenever you display your habit, x goes ahead and bypasses the whole ‘discussion’ faze of the operation and heads straight to making you do y.

The problem with habits.

In general, habits are not half bad. Because they allow you to do something without having to decide to do it, they save you and your brain a lot of effort and time that would otherwise be wasted.

The catch of course is that by completely disregarding the decision half of the deal it can make it complicated to create or destroy them.

Until next time

In Part 2 we’ll talk about the effect habits have on us and our lives, and ways we strive to control them.

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