Habits: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Habits, habits, habits. You have lots of them. If you’re like most people, some of your habits are good. Some are probably bad. And some may be downright ugly.

A habit is something you do more or less automatically. You do it without thinking – often without even noticing that you’re doing it. It’s something you do when you’re not trying to do anything at all. So, for example, whether you have a good habit of sitting up straight or a bad habit of slouching, the habit is it’s its own boss. It doesn’t wait to take orders from you. 

Good habits, of course, are great. They allow you to automate much of the business of behaving the way you intend to behave. They make room on the front burner of your mind for things that truly require your attention, effort, and intelligence.  

Bad habits suck. They make you automatically act in ways you don’t intend to act. What’s more, bad habits can be extremely tough to get rid of.

So, what’s in your habit pool?

If you’ve never actually taken inventory of the habits you have in your habit pool, consider giving it a try. Don’t just look at those habits related to your overt behavior. Consider your mental and emotional habits as well – how you automatically react to things — how you think and feel.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I automatically do that I’m glad I do?
  • What do I automatically do that I wish I didn’t do?
  • What don’t I automatically do that I wish I automatically did?  

The habits in your habit pool are analogous to the bits of programming for a self-driving car. They determine how you’ll behave when you take your hands off the wheel and your feet off the pedals. But unlike the bits of programming for a self-driving car, many of the habits in your habit pool weren’t put there on purpose. You didn’t choose them. The little buggers just snuck in there on their own when you weren’t looking.

Yes, unfortunately, the habit pool has no lifeguard!  

Creating good habits and getting rid of bad ones

So, what can you do if you’re not happy with how your self-driving self is driving? How can you deliberately add good habits to the habit pool to improve the ride? And how can you get rid of the bad habits that are making the ride uncomfortable or maybe even dangerous?  

You need three ingredients to create a good habit or remove a bad one.

ATTENTION: The first ingredient is Attention. You must be actively aware of what you’re doing. In other words, you must find a way to keep the behavior in question in the spotlight. (If you’re enrolled in the Follow Through Master Program, you may have already learned how to do this using the follow through strategy I call Spotlighting.)

DO IT ON PURPOSE: The second ingredient is the ability to do the right thing on purpose. To add a good habit, you must be able to make yourself do the thing you’ve decided you should do or refrain from doing the thing you’ve decided you shouldn’t do. If you can’t consistently do the right thing on purpose, then you need to use a follow through strategy such as Willpower Leveraging or Creating Compelling Reasons that will give you the extra motivational horsepower you need to do it. (You can read about these and other follow through strategies in the Follow Through Strategies course available to enrollees in the Follow Through Master Program.)

REPETITION: The third ingredient is Repetition. You need to deliberately do the right thing over and over again until it becomes automatic to do it.

The bottom line

Habits matter a lot. The right ones can make life easier and more satisfying. The wrong ones can make life a royal pain. So, it’s worth keeping tabs on the habits in your habit pool. Make a point of deliberately creating good habits whenever you can. And work on getting rid of the bad ones that are preventing you from doing what you intend to do and being who you intend to be.