The importance of habits
I love this quote by Aristotle:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Take working out for example. When you look at someone, it’s usually relatively easy to guess their workout habits. Their looks will usually reveal their fitness level, whether they exercise regularly and eat healthy or not.
In a similar fashion, although much more subtle, the state of our brains is also a reflection of our habits.
When you do something for the first time, a neural pathway gets established in your brain. Every time you repeat that action, the pathway gets strengthened, and repeating the action again becomes easier. That’s how habits form.
And, by the way, by habits, I don’t just mean behaviors. They can also be thoughts and emotions that play over and over in your head. Often, a habit will have a behavioral, cognitive and emotional component simultaneously.
Many goals require a change in habits. Going back to the example of working out, many people have a specific goal in mind (e.g. how much weight/fat they’d like to lose and by when). It’s tempting to think about this goal as a temporary sacrifice, planning to go through an intense workout program and rigorously restrict your calorie intake (or look for a miracle pill), and then, once you achieve your goal, go back to your old habits.
It doesn’t work that way. Your old habits are the reason why you’re in the current situation in the first place. Achieving a goal like this requires a lifestyle change, a commitment that you will adopt the new behavior permanently.
Don’t let this scare you away, though. Once you get into a routine, things get much easier. The right thing becomes the default, and even if you slip every now and then, it won’t matter as much, because the habit will help ensure that most of the time you go in the right direction. The healthy and helpful behaviors, thoughts and emotions become a part of you. Aristotle would be proud. :)