Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Habit

[Re-examined thoughts from an old journal entry]

I've been thinking about habit. How each instance exercising a good habit and makes further positive behavior that much easier to continue. Likewise, each instance of bad habit, or more specifically, each failure to exercise positive action makes it that much more difficult to take the proper action the next time the opportunity arises. This is more than just saying that each instance of positive or negative action adds to create a good or bad habit. There is a sort of multiplicative effect due to the psychological effect of taking a specific type of action.

Undertaking a positive action means working towards completing a task that will have a net-positive impact on your life. But, beyond just the ultimate end-goal (which may not be immediate), a positive action also enables an immediate sense of accomplishment by providing a chance to experience one's own self-efficacy. You feel capable. Not only will you likely want to continue that positive feeling, but the sense of personal competence actually makes it easier to continue taking goal-oriented actions. They seem less a chore and more a simple expression of your self.

Similarly, there is a somewhat insidious force at work on the other side of this equation. Each time you fail to take proper action--either doing something that is not in your best interest or allowing some distraction from one of your long-term goals--not only do you bring yourself no closer to an accomplishment, you also send yourself a subtle message. In essence you are saying that it is too difficult or you aren't capable. Psychologically, you make it easier to avoid taking proper actions in the future. You create a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy in that the positive action actually is more difficult the next time because you now also need to overcome the baggage you carry with you from not doing what you should have the time before.

Thus is the nature of habits and their acceleration both positive and negative. And, since it is always initially easier to not do something that to do it, bad habits are simpler to form than good.