How Habits are Formed

I’ve heard it said recently that habit accounts for 95% of our daily actions. Even if that’s totally made up it resonates with you, doesn’t it? Yet, think about it: how do these come about? Think about one habit of yours. Why do you do it? When did you start? It may be so ingrained as a part of your day you hardly think about it any more, and pinpointing these details may be difficult.

Here’s another question: how many habits of yours would you consider “bad” habits?

Probably a bunch, right?

I certainly have some bad habits. My first post discusses my habit of breaking promises. If this seems dubious to you – “That’s not a habit, a habit is something you do, not not do.” Well, that’s not quite right either. A habit, is, strictly, something done automatically when certain conditions are met.

Event: I wake up. Conditions: I am in my room, groggy, mouth feels gross. Automatic response: go brush teeth.

Event: notice someone on the metro. Conditions: I don’t like this person. Automatic response: ignore them completely, actually turning around so they see your back.

Event: at a film shoot. Conditions: I am waiting, it is noisy and busy, and there is junk food that I can eat. Automatic response: eat the junk food until it’s time to act.

This last one is my personal struggle this week. Four times I have been on a shoot, and four times I have put garbage into my system for lack of better things to do.

Did I say “lack”? Silly me. I meant “perceived lack”.

So strong is my habit of eating junk food that it actually hijacks other parts of my brain in order to fulfill my tongue’s desire to taste the sugar/fat/salty goodness contained within those chips/donuts/candies. Dude, yes there’s other things to do. You could read a book. You have had a book with you every single day of this shoot. You could start a meaningful conversation with another actor who has equally nothing to do. Goodness you could meditate, do some pushups, yoga, anything. But no. My habit is to eat trash and by golly I am going to do it even if I have had acid reflux every day of the week. Later I think, “God I have no self-control.”

Well of course you don’t. Not with that attitude.

Let me let you in on an ancient secret. You know the Chinese Finger trap? The tube of bamboo that you stick your fingers in, and are told to now get your fingers out? Then when you pull on your fingers the tube tightens and holds your fingers in preventing you from escaping? Guess what: it’s a metaphor! As I have learned from Psycho-Cybernetics, any habit you want to break requires no effort. Ah, that’s ambiguous. It requires that you exert no effort. The harder you struggle, the more difficult the habit will be to break. But, if you relax, your fingers will start to come closer together, and the trap will loosen, and your fingers will be free. They are free as soon as you acknowledge the truth that relaxation and self-confidence are the tools that will help you stop being late, or giving white lies, or being rude to strangers.

Which reminds me! I have a wonderful friend who surprised me greatly recently. He has had anger issues his whole life from a troubled upbringing. I have seen (and heard accounts of) him rail against people for no reason other than disagreeing with him, maybe. He told me recently he was pissed off at the fact that he has this automatic negative response pattern to anyone – anyone he encounters.

Event: see someone. Conditions: I am a bitter person and don’t like anyone. Automatic response: despise the someone.

He told me he decided to change that habit (not in so many words but it fits my narrative). Now, every time he notices a stranger, he looks for something he likes about that stranger. He will think, “Man that’s a nice jacket.” Even if it’s not a jacket he would ever wear, his new mindset has him admiring it because it’s precious to that person – to the point where he would beat the crap out of anyone dissing the jacket.

I was floored. I have been trying to get this guy to change his automatic response patterns for years and he’s gone and done it on his own. It was so impressive that I started doing the same thing. It feels great.

My sister worked at a coffee shop for a long time and has complained to me about the lack of respect customers show for the employees. It’s like they’re not even people, just machines that if I speak my desired drink toward, the drink will later appear. Event: I want coffee. Conditions: I’m in a coffee shop in front of the counter. Habit: “A half-caff soy ice pumpkin spice mocha with extra whip cream and chocolate flakes and cinnamon.” In France, you learn damn quick to say «Bonjour, comment allez-vous?» before asking for anything from anyone. It’s basic respect. Politeness may seem pointless and phatic, but it actually makes people feel like people. I have taken this to heart and implemented it in my own habits. “Bonjour, ça va bien?” I ask every bus driver. Sometimes it makes a frowning person smile and that’s enough for me to do it unconditionally.

Up until, let’s say this morning when I started writing this post, I have always looked at my failure and, deep down, considered it impossible to resist this junk food. I mean come on, every time I’m around junk food I eat it. So clearly that’s just like, what I do, I guess. I don’t eat dairy, eggs, meat, but I’ll consume this heavily processed corn meal salted and fried to hell, en masse. So, I employed two tricks from Psycho-Cybernetics. First, identify and eliminate conflicting ideas:

My body is a temple. I eat junk food. These are two ideas about myself that are incompatible. I must reject one. Now, My Body Is A Temple.

Second, relax and imagine myself in scenarios where I ate junk food, and imagine myself passing it by without a second thought.

It’s that simple. Know it, and it is true. I had an experience today where I was surrounded by some of the greatest and most deceptive junk food possible (maple cookies, crappy granola bars) and barely even looked at them. Event: surrounded by junk food. Conditions: I am not hungry and hate eating that shit. Impulse: think about all those times I ate it anyway. New Reaction: take out my Joseph Campbell book and read in a quiet place to have my mind blown. Now I feel great! instead of having indigestion and bad gas.

You can change your habits. Mind over matter. Give yourself that power; you have it. Forget the “Bet you can’t eat just one” bullshit the dumpster lords are trying to force-feed you. Yes you CAN just eat one, taste it in all its glory then move on. Damn, I could write a whole nother article on junk food….

Give yourself habits you enjoy. You are what you do, so you’re basically 95% habits; might as well make them count.

Thanks for reading.

-T

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