Habits are powerful things and like all powerful things they have both light and shadow sides. Because many of us, especially young people, are drawn to flexibility and the power of possibility we feel free when we are living completely in the moment we are often resistant to habits and routines.
The thing of it is. We live our lives by habits and routines.
It isn’t a case of whether we have habits. We all have habits. Rather, it’s a case of knowing what they are and developing our habits to serve our ends. If we don’t make a conscious choice to identify our habits, know what purpose they serve, and develop them to serve our ends, then those routines that were set before we knew it determine our outcomes without our knowledge.
We all like to think that freedom means ultimate spontaneity. A common myth of freedom is that we are doing what we want, when we want, without plan. In truth, that just means that we often do things that are easy and relatively painless, and also relatively meaningless, over things that will help us reach our deep dreams and desires.
Think of it this way, in her book, Organization from The Inside Out, Julie Morganstern tells a story of wanting to take her baby for a walk on a fine spring day. By the time she had found, and assembled, all the things she knew she would need for the walk, her baby was asleep and the moment had passed. It was then that Julie realized that she’d be free to take spontaneous walks only if she developed set organizational systems and habits to maintain them. Everything, even time things, had to have a home. She set about developing systems and habits to make sure that when there was an opportunity to take a walk all she had to do was get the prepacked bag, the stroller, the baby and go. Her routines gave her freedom that she had not had before.
Like Julie, I used to be very disorganized in my approach to things. I would set things, like my keys or my jacket, in random places, and spend hours (and a great deal of emotional distress) trying to find them. I used to think that if I did have structure and routine, I’d never have any fun at all, that I’d miss out on spur of the moment opportunities. As I let go of that script I found that structure provided a frame work that helped me determine what was most important to me at that moment and act on that choice. I was no longer a prisoner of my whims (as much, I still have moments). Instead, by knowing what I wanted to have as an outcome over a longer time frame, I developed routines to support that outcome, and I followed those routines. Most of the time. Occasionally I’ll decide that something else is more important to me at that time and I’ll do that instead. Perhaps a friend needs help. Perhaps there is something fun going on that I want to do just then. I am free to drop what I’d planned and do that. It’s easy to go back to the regularly scheduled programing after the interruption is complete. However, without the routine, I wouldn’t have a strong framework to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish.
I used to hate habits. My hidden script in my hatred of habits was that I’d never get to be spontaneous. The paradox is, habits have given me more spontaneity because I have a better sense of what I value. I waste less time on unimportant things so I have less crisis time. I don’t have to turn things down because I am in crisis mode, trying to cram for a test, or prep for a student, or write a post so I can meet a deadline, or missing a deadline that was important to me because I didn’t prepare well.
In the comments below, tell me what habits you have that help you? What habits do you have that hold you back?