Ever notice when you’re acting out of habit? This morning as I was making a cup of my favorite tea, I realized this was one of my daily habits. I don’t even question it anymore because, well, it’s just my routine!
Of course, that one’s a harmless one, and something I do enjoy. But there are the other habits that I know aren’t so benign, like the ones where I automatically avoid difficult conversations or drag my heels finishing projects that’s been lingering with no good excuse. Or doubt my ability to do something I’ve never done before.
When I start wondering about something, I’ll often refer to the dictionary, because it’s always possible I don’t really know what I’m talking about (or in this case, wondering about). When I looked up the word “habit” I was surprised by what I read.
We all know that habits are repeated and largely subconscious behaviors. But the American Journal of Psychology includes the cause of our habits as a “more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
That makes so much sense to me. That’s why we don’t live more in the present moment. That’s why we aren’t more open to synchronicity, coincidence and new opportunities that are right under our noses.
Our habitual, largely subconscious, repetition of our mental experiences (aka thinking based on the past) keeps us from being free to take risks, explore new territory, have new thoughts, just see what’s all around us.
We become risk-averse, wanting to play it safe or want our lives to stay relatively the same as they’ve always been - only better. (But how that could possibly happen is a mystery).
I’ve been hosting an interview series called Creativity Conversations for about 15 months now, talking with people who are able to break out of their habitual thinking and are frequently (more frequently than most of us) are asking:
“what else is possible?”
...and then being open to whatever answer occurs to them. They make not act on it, but at the very least they see they have a choice to repeat a response or see new ways of doing things.
Why even bother to go against our habits? Some habits that are based on efficiency or convenience certainly can be helpful (and often necessary) when we’re under time constraints. I can take the quickest route to the grocery store if I’ve got company coming and I’m behind schedule.
But what about when we’re faced with sameness, that over and over again feeling; very similar to the premise of the movie, Groundhog Day. I don’t think humans are fundamentally designed to live like predictable machines whose programming emphasizes fixed, largely subconscious thinking.
Isn’t one of the reasons we love watching kids play is because they’re endless making things up, discarding them and reinventing something new. They are alive, they are in the moment, spontaneous, and free.
Why do most of us put those qualities on the back burner?
We often tell ourselves we can’t do something, or it isn’t possible, or the conditions aren’t right or it would take too much effort. We all have our favorites.
But if we stop even for a moment, we can notice that habitual way of thinking is based on assumptions that we’re making up. We don’t know what would happen “if”. We might make some educated guesses, but the truth is we don’t know. We just think we do.
Fixed thinking is the groundwork for habitual behaviors. But a few simple questions will easily reveal whether your thinking is causing the habits that are either serving or sabotaging your potential and your ability to enjoy life:
Do I feel really alive?
Do I look forward to my day?
Am I happy with the way I live my life?
If the answer is no to any of those questions, you've got your answer.
And just realizing this can be the doorway to a quality of life you may have imagined but felt was out of reach. Only now you can begin to start living it.
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