Every grown-up man consists wholly of habits, although he is often unaware of it and even denies having any habits at all. ~Georges Gurdjieff
I’ve been thinking a lot about habits the past three days and I think I’ve come up with a great way to look at them…
We are not merely creatures of habit, we are also riding our creatures of habit bareback, fingers wrapped in their hairy manes, holding on for dear life. We are both jungle and wild thing, kings and beasts.
Culture, genes, instinct, and chance wire our brains to trigger behaviors that we repeat. We need habits to survive and function in society. Take food. We are born with the habit of suckling, we learn the habit of eating, then get used to making food for ourselves, then buying food for ourselves…If we are conscious about our health, we learn to make shopping lists and buy healthy food. If we aren’t, we get into the habit of buying Big Macs.
The difference between a good and bad habit can sometimes be slim, but when you tame the wild ones by “staring into their yellow eyes without blinking once” like Max in Where the Wild Things Are you climb onto the back of the habit creature and regain control. Of course, staring into those yellow eyes is scary. And while your trying to tame one habit, another one is gnashing its terrible teeth and rolling its terrible eyes, holding back its terrible roars so it can jump you and kick your ass.
Here is one great way to not blink when trying to tame a habit:
- Don’t do it. Don’t try to get rid of an old habit. Create a new one. We aren’t going to dismantle any neural pathways, they are built to last. What we can do is create new pathways. For example, this month, I am getting into the habit of not drinking. And the cool thing about creating new habits is that it creates new pathways in the brain. The ability of the brain to grow new pathways is called neuroplasticity and it is yet another example of science catching up to “mystical” or spiritual traditions that have been around for ages. Here is a NY Times article about it.
…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.
If you are into neuroplasticity, check out this great episode of The Infinite Mind radio program.
Here are 18 other tips on creating good habits. In the past three weeks I think I’ve used at least 10.
Just for fun, here are some of my favorite habits:
- GTD – Getting Things Done is a productivity system that was created by David Allen. It has reached cult status on the internet, so google it. It actually requires a few habits such as: collecting every piece of “stuff” or thing that needs doing/putting/fixing in one place (I use a stack of index cards) and regularly processing and reviewing the list of stuff.
- Pacing while on the phone – What is up with this? Does the radiation in the phone affect the pacing center of my brain.
- Identifying feelings and their causes – When I was using a lot, I could identify when I was happy (high) and when I wasn’t. During the 7 years I wasn’t using, I learned that there are a few feelings, and that when you identify them, you could usually do something about them, even if it was just acknowledging that they were ok to feel. This habit is probably the greatest of all my habits, because it has spurred a lot of self-improvement. If I’m feeling angry at myself, or anxious about something, there is usually an improvement I can make.
- Cigarettes – Sweet, sweet cancer.
- Sweets – Sweet, sweet, sweets.
- Televison – I am mostly into tv series (seria?seri?) that have some sort of mystery to be uncovered. I just watched the first few episodes of Fringe which satisfied the great hole that the X-files left in my life. Another great show that I thought had died with the writer’s strike is Life.
- NPR – Or any informative radio. I love John Lydon’s Open Source Radio. This American Life, of course.
Music – I tend to put on music all the time, sometimes in the middle of a conversation. I also collect music like a fiend. Right now I have about 230 Gigs of music.
- StumbleUpon – This is a button that you install on your browser that produces magic. If you don’t know about StumbleUpon, please do yourself and your freetime a favor, and forget that I mentioned it.
Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. ~Mark Twain