Harnessing Habits

The other day I happened to read two pieces that both touched upon habits.

The first was an article called Warning – Habits May Be Good For You from the NY Times.

  • a branch of successful marketing creates consumer habits, i.e. using Febreze.
  • some people think this is wrong, creepy, etc.
  • a nonprofit partnered with one such marketing company to promote the habitual use of soap in parts of West Africa, which saves a lot of little kids from dying.

Then I read a post called The Meaning of Life from the Positivity Blog.

  • we don’t have to go through life playing out the same old tired, automatic habits.
  • we can choose how to react, and therein lies our freedom.
  • it suggests working toward synergy and also doing what you love.

It was fascinating to read them on the same day because they’re so close to contradicting each other.  I think, though, that they both point to the idea that habits are powerful and can to some extent be controlled.

My takeaway is a whole bunch of questions to ask myself that I’ll also share with you:

  • Are you aware of your habits?  Habits of mind, relation to your environment, treatment of others, technology usage, verbal tendencies, etc.?
  • Is your organization aware of its habits, its automatic actions?
  • How are said habits serving you?  Your organization?  What would you change if you could?
  • How can we make positive change in personal or organizational habits?
  • How can we move beyond writing more policies and procedures to actually change our everyday experience?  Is this a logical place for Social Media to step in?

One thought on “Harnessing Habits

  1. Emily,
    You should read “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”. It’s a complex argument but basically comes down to the idea that having too many choices leaves us feeling overwhelmed and unable to act. Habits are useful ways of eliminating choices where too many choices are harmful. Do I check my email, voicemail, or snail mail first when I get to the office? Or do I chat with my coworker first? Habit is useful here by allowing us to just do the work without stopping to make a plan for how we will do the work. The problem with habits is that sometimes new, much more useful ways of doing things develop, but we don’t even consider them because they aren’t part of our habitual pattern.

    Habits are useful because they allow us to focus our mental energies on the things that really matter, but sometimes it does make sense to reassess your habits.

    Also, I’ve heard it said before that it’s much easier to replace one habit with a different one (e.g. smoking with chewing gum) than to completely eliminate a habit (just stop smoking).


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