esther m palmer

What makes a habit?

We talk a lot about "good" habits and "bad" habits, but not so often just about "habit". What makes a behavior a habit? Can any behavior be made into a habit? Should all desirable behaviors be cultivated into habits?

Good vs bad... vs not at all?

"Good" and "bad" behavior is often blamed on "good" and "bad" habits. When you make "healthy" behavior habits, it's "easier" to stay healthy, and vice versa. If you want good behaviors, then maybe it follows that all you need to do is set up good habits... right?

Perhaps. But let's consider the *years* we give to forcing habits that just don't stick.

2 reasons habits don't stick

Reason #1, in many cases, is that we don't try very hard. Like me deciding to work on my new house every weekend, and then getting to the weekend and thinking, gee, "this is not going to be as much fun as I imagined." At least I got the dining room cabinets painted before giving up.

Creating intentional change in our behavior, like adopting a new habit, takes effort, at least a little bit. No effort, no change, no new habit. (I'll talk about that side of things next time.)

Reason #2, in just as many cases, is that we try too hard and burn out. Like with my plan to do a full-body strength workout every morning and literally burning out my stamina. And I know better! But even still, it sounded so doable in my head.

What if these are cases of trying to habituate the wrong things?

Maybe the habits we choose aren't well suited to us?

Or maybe the behaviors we choose aren't well suited to being habits?

Habits that just don't fit

In my house projects example, the idea came to me during a season of anticipation and excitement and change. Once I added back in the normal rhythms of my life, I quickly realized that the fun I had with the first project was a special occasion joy. Not an everyday joy. Not the right kind of pleasure to make into habits that lift you up.

When it comes to habits you're electing to adopt, maybe watch out for "should." I thought I "should" work on my house because, it needs it. But it doesn't need it that badly, working on it pulls me away from other things I love, and my husband *likes* doing house projects. So why did I think I needed to?

Are there any behaviors you think you "should" adopt that, that aren't absolutely necessary, and that when put through the joy-o-meter you can see: you just don't want to? Behaviors that would take you away from doing things you do love? Can you afford to drop the "should"? If so, hot potato that unnecessary behavior, my friends!

Behaviors that shouldn't habit

What about things you love doing all the time? They're good habit candidates, right? You'd think, right?

In reality, what I've observed is that these super-joy behaviors lose some of their presence when they are forced into habits. You'll get them done, and with gusto, but as in my case with the daily workouts, they become obsessions of habitual perfection, rather than the originally joyful practices that they once were.

It's a slight distinction, but a behavior you're invested in lends itself best to being a practice, something you do consciously, with choice and room to adapt. Not automated as is the case with something you do by habit.

Making a conscious choice takes more effort than following a habit. That's why we like habits!

Making an effort with the important things will make your connection to them stronger and adaptable to you as you change with life. And practicing conscious choice makes it more likely that you'll learn new things along the way, keeping your brain active and vibrant.

Do you have any behaviors like that? Stuff you do by rote that you think is doing you good, but is long overdue for a re-think and some conscientious engagement?

Perhaps give it a think, and next time we talk habits on the mov/ed podcast, I'll invite you to put some new choices into action.

Be moving, be mov/ed!


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