When we go about our day-to-day activities, we can easily get lost in the repetitive, lackluster nature of things. We turn a lot of things in our daily lives into habits so we may accomplish more without using precious energy to think about our actions. Freeing energy to focus on more threatening things is the power of habits. The habits we create in our lives enable us to eat, sleep, read, write, type and do arithmetic without thinking about it much. It is fundamental to how we operate in our society and environment. Habits are a good thing, but they come at a cost.
Depending on how we learn what we do, we may or may not include verification activities in our habits. Do we look both ways before crossing the street as a pedestrian or as a driver of a vehicle? Do we confirm what we are instructed to do before rushing off to start and forget some of the instruction? Do we make sure our significant other has everything they need to take care of their half of the chores or relationship? When things happen outside our original programming, we are not able to adapt as easily. We can get stuck. When there’s a gap between our capabilities and the needs of a situation, stress creeps in. Our reaction to stress can also become a habit. Thus, our habits come at a cost. What may start out in a fun, relaxing or learning environment can lead to inability to cope, inefficiency or ineffectiveness.
It’s important to know what our habits are including the queues that set them off, the process of the habit itself, and the reward we receive. As some of our habits are so deeply ingrained, it’s difficult if not impossible to be aware of them all. However, we can take time to reflect on our actions. We can ask ourselves question like, “Is this a habit?” “Am I on autopilot or am I aware of what’s going on?” “Is what I’m doing value add for both short and long-term perspectives?” “What I’m doing is good, but at what cost?” “Is what I’m doing affecting my future, others in my life, or my environment?”
So the next time you find yourself acting automatically without thinking, observe it without judgement. It is something we do enabling us to do more. It’s also a good thing to know the price you paid for your ability to do what you do. If something goes awry, ask yourself why. You may have to pay the price again, or rewire your habit and better adapt.