We do the same things, in the same ways, in the same places, and with the same people. We know our routines so well that we can carry them out without thinking too hard, if at all.
We are creatures of habit.
Habits are automatic reactions to repeating situations. They are formed by our responses to stimulus that repeats with great frequency or intensity. Combine frequency and intensity and you have brainwashing: the fastest way to form the deepest habits. Whatever stimulus enters the mind with the greatest combination of frequency and intensity forms a habit out of our initial responses, whether it's for better or for worse.
The habit function of the subconscious mind is an efficiency mechanism that frees up limited working memory (i.e. conscious awareness) allowing us to learn complex mental and physical tasks. Our subconscious recognizes familiar situations, recalls our most common responses to them and initiates the response as an automatic reaction . . . all without expending much conscious mental effort. We can drive in traffic and type text messages at the same time without crashing because we’ve done both a million times. If we were doing either for the first time we probably would be in trouble.
However, the habit function is a double-edged sword. Although useful, it can also have an unfavorable impact on our lives because unfortunately it has no ability to judge a good habit from a bad one. This is where you – as in your conscious awareness – enter the picture.
A bad habit usually forms one of two ways; we either put ourselves in bad environments that offer little personal benefit, so that any response is still probably not a very good response, or we choose poor responses to benign situations and then don’t bother to learn the error of our ways.
If the eminent psychologist William James was correct and ninety-nine hundredths, or possibly nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual- from our rising in the morning to our lying down each night – then it’d be worth our while to make sure we form good ones.
So put yourself in healthy environments, expose yourself to stimuli that encourage your happiness, and try hard to choose the most positive responses to the situations you find yourself and you're guaranteeing that the habits you form will be positive ones. As go our habits, so go our lives.
Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit is a science-laden, yet readable discussion of the dominance of habit in our lives and a nice contemporary compliment to William James’ work. I recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about why your life is the way it is and how you can make it even better.
BODY – MIND – SPIRIT