The Forces of Habit, Part 2

Habits are hard to change. There are forces at work that encourage us to form them and there are payoffs in place that reinforce their use.

As Habits Part 1 described, forming habits is one way we have learned that appears to allow us to get things done without having to pay much attention to them during the doing. For sure, certain complicated situations do require most of our attention, even our checklists (going into space, flying an airplane, opening a Broadway show, getting Valentine’s Day right) but we seem to presume, feel and then proceed to act as if the simpler stuff of life can be relegated to and handled by forming habits around them. (I’ve hinted that this may be a false and misleading presumption.)

In America, habits are bottled and sold as some sort of magical elixir. There doesn’t seem to be a month that passes without there being a new book or seminar being offered which list the habits of “successful” people for us to adopt and then, presumably…abra ca dabra…, become “successful” too. Habits are promoted as a fool proof method of duplicating someone else’s results. Well, we all know that nothing is fool proof. We fools are too ingenious. But the idea of “habits” being the key to our “success” has been firmly implanted. This is the powerful force of persuasion.

Another force at work is the perceived payoff of a habit, namely, that a habit allows us to lock into place what we consider to be a successful way of doing something. In other words, if we have found/discovered a way of doing something that ‘works’ for us, we make a habit out of it because it’s one less thing we’ll have to think about again. It doesn’t matter one bit to us if no one else does it the same way, this is the way that we’ve decided works for us and, by golly, we’re sticking to it. Our habits then become our way of exercising some control in our lives.

And we will adamantly fight to maintain this sense of control, our way of doing things, our right not to have to rethink or to pay that much attention.

Which may be fine, one could imagine, if someone lived or worked completely alone.

Everyday, in households around the world, relationships that do reasonably well when addressing bigger issues are falling apart over the refusal to reexamine or adjust some simple habits. Personal flags are planted on mole hills, battle lines are drawn and the resulting emotional carnage kills whatever goodness the relationship once shared.

The forces behind our habits are not benign.

This is the primary reason to shed some light into this area of our behavior.

If we’re going to choose to fight, we might just want to look honestly at what we’re fighting for.

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