I recently read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business because I wanted to find out why I sometimes do what I do. I’m a fairly smart person and yet I still make unwise choices way more often than I would like to admit.
The book explains that “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. … One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”
In Duhigg’s book, habits are technically defined as “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.” Our brains convert a sequence of actions that we do regularly into an automatic routine and a habit is eventually formed. Our brains form these habits to be more efficient by not wasting energy on “thinking constantly about basic behaviors” of everyday life.
This is pretty cool for the most part. It’s why we can breathe and drive and watch out for dangers all at the same time without all our focus having to go into only one of these activities at a time. The downside is that sometimes we get into habits that are not so good for us and we don’t even realize it.
With nearly half of what we do every day based on habits and not on conscious decisions of what is the best choice at that moment, we are pretty much operating on automatic pilot nearly half of the time. We could be functioning on habits that were formed years ago and may no longer be in our best interest. No wonder we sometimes look back at our behaviour and question why we did that, said that, ate or drank or smoked that.
Fortunately, habits can be changed. The first step is to recognize what our habits are and which ones we would like to change. But sometimes it is not easy to see our habits, especially our emotional habits.
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?'” the writer David Foster Wallace told a class of graduating college students in 2005. “And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?'”
According to Duhigg, “The water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day – and which, just by looking at them, become visible again.”
Next month’s post will be about how to change our habits. However, in the meantime let’s look at the “water” that surrounds each of us. What have you stopped seeing that it may be in your best interest to change?
Lisa Ivaldi is a Writer and Virtual Assistant in Guelph, ON. Click here to download a free copy of her Wake Up to What You Love workbook.