Habits, the Devil and Angel
Habits are the foundation of a person's identity. The good, bad, and ugly, that happens in one's life can easily be attributed to them. Whether someone is conscious or unconscious about the habits they often shape them. For example, someone obese and struggling (read no body shaming here), if conscious can track which activities compound over a period of time to result in their current situation. If not conscious they're sadly running on autopilot and shall continue their current trajectory and along with it, their struggle. Let me make this extra clear, it is easier said than done to talk about the dynamics of habits. Habits, as much as its simple to breakdown or even identify the activities that someone was unconscious about, are much difficult to get in control or engineer. However, we're Human, we must investigate, dissect, and absorb what we learn.
Four out of five habits that risk your life, by Harvard medical school, lists habits relating to lifestyle. This means they're common and pass as unconscious activities. Examples include alcohol abuse, lethargy, diet, and regulating body weight. However, the one plaguing our generation (year of writing, 2019) the most epidemic of habits are the addiction to electronic devices. Our engagement with them throughout our day have cascading effects on several different life attributes. The most common issue is insomnia resulting from the change in our body chemistry due to exposure to electronic screens at bedtime. Then there's lethargy and improper diet, which slowly cascades into what we have now, a global health epidemic.
However, a scary outcome of a habit spiralling out of control has to be alcohol and drug abuse. The same habit that makes a person light up and does great things can also be a gateway to a life full of agony and darkness. The phase before addiction is often a habit. Here's a list of terrible outcomes that result from terrible habits by Herzliya medical center. Good news is it takes just 21 days to break a habit. Note, habit and not addiction. Also, habits which are bound to the body with some chemical changes in the body like alcohol or drugs are harder and might take longer to get rid of.
Keeping forming habits aside which we'll talk a little later, let's see how habits can make lives. I'll take an example from my own life. I was a Nightowl, for much of my life till I was 17 years old! The idea of waking up and going to bed early was alien to me. I remember needing to wake up early to make time for something and was unable to. Somewhere somehow I came across this read which advised to make small changes in schedule gradually. So instead of waking up at 8 AM, I set the alarm for 7.45 AM. It worked. Waking up at 7.45 AM was easy, after all its only 15 minutes away from 8 AM, my usual time. Slowly over a period of time, my usual wake up time became 5 AM without breaking a sweat. Not to mention I went to bed early too. Also, I started feeling that I had more time in a day. This habit has stayed with me ever since and I attribute this to a lot of positive things that I'm able to do in my life.
I mentioned a word before and it's a powerful one, "compound." In this article's context, it refers to Compound Effect. There's even a book by Darren Hardy explaining how this phenomenon applies to habits. What it essentially says is that small changes done consistently over a long period of time compound into a large change. For example, say I reduce my caloric intake from 2000 calories to 1800 calories, that'd be just cutting on some rice. Over a period of a year or two would result in a significantly big change. This can be a drop in weight, or fat percentage, etc. The book has many more tangible examples.
In 1960, Maxwell Maltz published a book called Psycho-Cybernetics, in which he wrote that
It requires a minimum of just about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.
More on the quote and diving deeper into the habit-forming dynamics can be read here on Outside Maganize and Sparring Minds. From this point of view, habits seem incredibly easy to form and can change lives for the good, doesn't it?
Here's a playlist from my Spotify library to go along with this read.