Theodora Goss recently wrote one of those lists of what she’s learned in her life. The entire post is worth a read, but I was particularly interested in her #9:
“Your habits create who you are.”
I completely agree with Dora. Our habits are the building blocks of our lives and of our identities. I actually love this truth because while changing habits can be difficult, it is very possible. So that means if we don’t like our lives or identities, we can work towards doing something about that.
Take the identity of being a writer, for example. (How could I not go there?) Some people are satisfied with the daydream of being a writer, which is fine but unlikely to bring about the reality. But for people who seriously want to claim the writer identity, it’s all about habits. It’s about making the time to write on a regular basis. It’s about making a commitment to finish projects. It’s about revising and reading other people’s work and thinking critically and educating yourself to become better. All those activities can be developed into habits over time.
This works for personality traits to a certain extent, too. We all have our original set points for different traits, and some of us will have to work harder than others to change and maintain those points, or will have limits to where we can move those points. But we can choose to encourage new habits that develop a certain trait. I used to be quite shy when I was younger, but I decided it wasn’t really very fun to be shy. So I practiced meeting people, I practiced inviting people to do things, I said yes to invitations, and I cultivated new hobbies that encouraged me to be social. I still have my shy moments, but now I often look at those moments as a challenge or game that I can try to succeed at as opposed to a miserable experience. And really, most of the time I’m not very shy at all because of the habits I eventually formed. I’ve talked to several other people who have had similar experiences.
And finally, habits even affect the kind of thoughts we have. That’s what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about. If we decide we want to be more positive, we can explicitly practice framing our thoughts in more positive ways until it becomes second nature. If we want more self esteem, we can practice thinking kinder thoughts about ourselves until, you’ve got it, those thoughts become second nature (or at least more frequent). Sometimes a lot of how we see the world is affected by our individual thought patterns, which are really just habits of thinking we’ve picked up over time.
When I think about it, I realize how strongly my habits shape my life, from how I spend my time to what and how I think to what my actual expressed priorities are. Of course, habits can arise FROM those priorities as well as shape what those priorities are. I think that’s why I care so much about living an examined life, so I can be more conscious about choosing those priorities and figuring out how to express them rather than have priorities happen TO me.
What habits have you chosen to develop? What habits do you want to change?