Habits are a good thing! Not a statement that is heard often. More frequently, “bad” habits are cussed and discussed and seldom acted upon. Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, makes clear why this is so. He defines habit as a cue, response and result. With remarkably few repetitions a person can respond without conscious thought and achieve a desired result. Without this ability to develop habit, human creativity would not be possible. Our brain would be so consumed with making muscles respond to the cues presented there would not be capacity for creative thought! Habits are essential to a creative life.
Yet, human beings are plagued with “bad” habits. Here’s a simplistic example of how this comes to be. The newborn baby feels discomfort (cue), cries (response) and adult gives attention (result). There’s nothing bad about this; it’s efficient, in a healthy family it works and the baby replaces discomfort with comfort. Fast forward two years and this baby’s habit no longer is viewed as desirable. Some, very limited, discomforts can be addressed by the baby without an intervention by another person. In other cases, a symbol (signed or spoken), can be used by the baby and an adult intervene without the annoyance of hearing the baby cry. So, the habit that was “good”, i.e., effective and constructive, becomes “bad”, i.e. less efficient, annoying to others, because the baby has not applied skills s/he is capable of learning. The point is that a “good” habit became “bad” due to the same response under changed circumstances.
Humans derive significant satisfaction from creativity and choose to invest in creative acts rather than examining actions that are executed easily and have acquired familiarity. This is true even though the original, initiating cue becomes obscured and, in spite of, less than desirable results! Our behavior persists under the illusion that the cue and/or the result have remained constant. We consume the same amount and same kind of food when we are thirty as we did when we were teens. Our metabolism isn’t the same physical activity likely is less but the caloric intake remains the same so the result is different.
Constant improvement requires acceptance of continuous dissonance or tension. Fritz illustrates beautifully that tension avoidance creates a vicious cycle: Overweight person decides to diet; person experiences the tension of being hungry; to alleviate that tension the person eats; person experiences the tension of being overweight; repeat endlessly!
Tension viewed more productively becomes a friend. The spring on the screen door becomes useful when it is stretched and becomes tense. The gap between what a person is and what a person wants can be tension that motivates changing what we want to what we have. Experiencing tension, in this sense, is awareness that we are striving for something that we want but do not yet have.
To add to the difficulty and the complexity of ignoring changed circumstances, human inclination is to focus first on external factors and focus last on her/his own actions in order to achieve better results. Said in another way, the “problem” (an undesirable result) is due to change by another thing or person, rather than being due to my action. The baby will cry harder and louder before attempting a different behavior. The eater will castigate the cook rather than eat less and eat differently.
Few, some would say less than a few, things remain constant over time. A person who acts on the illusion that what once worked will always work, is a non-learner and likely is highly frustrated. More typically, individuals create their own level of satisfaction and settle for that as “the way it is”. The Danger In the Comfort Zone (Bardwick, 1995) is as true for individuals as it is for organizations. Oblivious to this danger, most people expend misguided energy doing what they have always done regardless of the changing, sub-optimal results.
Fulfilled living, like adventurous exploring, is best undertaken with a guide. Coaches at DolphinWork Life Coaching provide opportunity for a person to choose their habits, hold tension as friendly and avoid dangerous comfort.