“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”– Aristotle
I’m sure you have read the other introduction of this post. More like a teaser though, because this is the real intro. It’s about my experience on building my new habits. You know what I did, and why I did it. The question now is, how did I do it? I’ll cover more about it on this post.
This topic will be spread into several parts, as it is rather long.
So, let’s get started. I will give you some questions.
Do you know you have an auto-pilot mode?
Do you ever think about the why we do the things we do? I mean, the things you do every day such as having a shower at a certain time, brushing your teeth in the morning, checking on your phone when you wake up to browse Instagram or daily check-in on your favorite mobile game.
If you haven’t, please take some time to think about the things you do every day in an auto-pilot mode.
Are those things easy to do? Of course, which is why we do it, right? You don’t have to decide or think about it. You don’t have to exert your willpower to do it. You just do it, like it’s very natural process and a part of your life, like walking, eating, or seeing.
Keep this question in your mind as you keep reading: Why are these things I do are easy?
Two Kinds of Strong People
Next question, do you ever think about why some people seems to be in control, yet others don’t? It feels like they can do so many things, so full of energy, and look really strong, almost looked superhuman. You know this kind of people: your boss, ambitious coworkers, passionate entrepreneurs, etc.
I’m sure you have heard some motivational and success stories about people such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates. Some put the daily routine of those successful people. Rising up early, reading books, exercise, work, socialising, sleep enough, etc.
They do so many things. They are effective, they do it every day and they enjoy it. We normal people will usually only keep the “work” and “socialising” part mostly.
On the other side, there are also another kind of strong people, who also do their works every day, but they don’t enjoy it. But they do it consistently without fail.
A very close example for me is about some stay-home mothers that I know. They work full-time in the house, making sure all house works are done, and the house is clean by their standards. This is one of the scenario I hear so many times:
Mom: "So much work, I'm so tired. Been working since morning to cook, doing the laundry, sweep and mop the rooms, but the dishes are not washed yet." Any family member: "Well, just take a rest then. I'll do the dishes after doing this or that." Mom: "It's OK, I'll do it myself." Any family member: "Didn't you just say you were tired? No worries, I'll do it." Mom: **Go ahead and wash the dishes anyway** Any family member: "... Ok then, I'll just do my own thing." Some time later... In few hours, days, or weeks... Mom: "No one cares about the house! Why do I the only one who cares about the house?! Any family member: "... (Here we go again...)" And the cycle continues...
And this kind of event does not happen once in a while, but almost every day. But it’s just an example, no moms are judged. Moms are awesome. Love you, Mom!
Some people view working is a chore. But they keep doing it anyway. It’s tiring for them, but they feel they must do it. They would only stop if they’re feeling physically weak, sick, or injured. After they are healed, they would do the same chore again, and again, and again.
They are strong for doing the duties they feel they have to do. But they don’t enjoy it. And they don’t realise they are enslaved by it. In the end, no improvements are made.
But why? How come there are two kinds of strong people? One can seem productive and happy, and the other seem more miserable. Yet, both can do their things really well and it is easy for them, and they do it consistently.
You know, but do you live it?
The good and bad news is that people are able to change. Some eventually become aware of their misery and work on themselves to improve their conditions, slowly but surely become a champion. On the other side, some eventually become less aware, and slowly become a slave to the chores.
It’s not a paradox. This is a system in which awareness and consistency is the key. The awareness of trying to do good things. The consistency of doing more good things or more bad things.
It is a system which is already a part of our daily lives. A double-edged sword which could make us become even more stronger or become weaker and miserable. A system we heard so much from everyone, yet we are not aware of it and do not embody and utilise it for our better lives.
This system is called: habit. You heard it. You know it. But you might have not live with it well enough yet.
Characters of Habit
On this section, I would like to share about the characters of habit. You will understand and aware of this much better if you try to relate your own habit as you read.
Habits are programmable
People can create a new habit themselves. That’s why people change. They programmed themselves to do something they want to consistently do.
One very good example is playing computer game. This is my personal experience. Remember the days when you try a new game? Maybe you are just bored, play a little bit to kill some time, maybe only 15 minutes. The next day, you also play the game, you find a new mechanic in the game. It gets even more fun to play, and you play it longer. You also play on the third day, fourth day, and suddenly on the 182-th day you are still playing it. My mom and sis could play the same game for years. They are pro.
When you do something new, and you do it repeatedly, you are actually creating a new habit.
Some habits are created unknowingly
Particularly the bad ones. It is usually caused by the lack of awareness. Binging Netflix, mobile games, or social media are some of the examples. It is fun doing those things, but mostly we don’t realise that we have been doing it for some time.
Every available time could have been allocated to binging stuffs, and we are not aware we are doing it. This is dangerous. Humans fear what they don’t know. But strangely, in this particular case they don’t know what they don’t know, so they don’t fear it.
Which brings us to the next point, if one is aware in the things they do, they would realise that…
Habits can make you, or kill you
It really depends on what habit you develop. Some habits are constructive, others no effect, and some are destructive.
When you are able to do good habits, you will continue to do good habits. And vice versa. Like saving in a bank account. Will you save on a good habit account or bad habit account? Also, like the popular saying: “You reap what you sow.” If you study regularly, you get smarter. If you binge Netflix regularly, you get “smarter” in the knowledge of the show. Unless if you watch documentaries, you get smarter for real.
A bad habit could also be coated as a good habit. For example, a habit of working overtime regularly. It might seem working overtime is good, it means he’s dedicated, diligent, and ambitious. But family, health, and social concerns would probably be neglected.
It could get so bad we can feel it consumes our soul, but we keep doing it, sometimes going the extra mile. And yet we feel unhappy. We know this as addiction, an unhealthy obsession of doing the one thing we like, but neglecting the other parts of life which are also important.
A habit gets easier to do as you keep doing it
I would say that habit is like a scale. Imagine that on each side on the scale, there is a thing and the other side is the opposite of the thing. There is a huge difficulty in balancing it. Once it tilts to a side, it would be easier to keep it going down and harder to tilt it back to the other side.
Once the scale goes low enough to the side you want, you don’t even need to think to decide to do it, because you have decided it without thinking. It becomes very easy. We become comfortable in doing it.
It is like learning to drive. At first, you really put an effort to focus on your speed, the surrounding cars, worry about the traffic signs, and you might not be able to talk to any of the passengers when doing it.
But as you drive regularly, you would barely notice you put an effort on the things mentioned earlier. You are also in the auto-pilot mode. Though, if you are driving through a difficult road, you would switch back to manual mode. And you can make a reason: I’m not used to it yet, that’s why it’s difficult.
Developed habits are difficult to get rid of
We love doing easy things because it is comfortable. The effort we put is low as it doesn’t take too much of our energy to do so. I’m very sure you remember the previous point, as you have just read it less than 10 minutes ago: Habits get easier when you keep doing it.
Let’s say you have to skip your habit due to whatever events. For example, I know this guy called Dwayne. Dwayne can’t go to the gym because of quarantine. Dwayne never skipped going the gym for years. He feels uneasy, as if he can’t afford to skip watering the garden or feeding the pet, even though he has none of them.
The first day of uneasiness is the most unpleasant. Dwayne is not used to skip gym. As days go by, Dwayne is more getting used to not going to the gym. When the quarantine ends after nobody knows how long, finally Dwayne feels like going the gym again. He feels he has to, he’s been skipping for too long. But it feels hard somehow, his brain starts making excuses. Dwayne has to fight his thoughts to rebuild his old habit of going to the gym, and get rid of the habit of not going.
There will always be some kind of resistance when we attempt to do a different activity, though we know it’s for the greater good.
It feels hard. Changing is hard. One might decide to stop binging playing games, it might hold for one week and the uneasiness level is getting lower, but he might go back to the binging days because it feels easier that way. Difficult, isn’t it?
It also can be said that we are not used to change, or not used to accept the long process of change. Making changes feels hard because the habit of making change is not there yet. Be aware and accept that it will be very difficult, because we have the habit of being comfortable, and we don’t like being uncomfortable.
This Part’s Conclusion
Alright, I’m going end the first part here.
Put it simply, like the title said, and also I’m sort of an IT guy, we humans are simply habit-based programs. Our existence is proven by the things that we do, or what we are already used to do.
One common trap in this age is that because everything is going faster and faster, we become used to instant gratification. We want to be strong quickly, get thin quickly, get rich quickly, be successful ASAP.
There is no shortcut. Be aware. It’s a trap.
Not all is lost though, we can make changes for the better. We humans are very good at adapting to change. But how? Changing is hard. Yes, I know. I will share more about the ‘how’ in the second part of the post.
See you on the next part!
Because it’s not the end of this topic yet, I will not put the usual ending catchphrase.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”– Lao Tzu