222. Where do habits come from?

Habits! We all have them.

So where do they come from? How do we get them?

Well, the many habits we have all acquired over the years have found us through one of two pathways. We have either acquired them by default or by deliberate intention – design.

When you ask a person to tell you about someone they know their description of that person – he’s very quiet and even-tempered, she’s very engaging and funny – they describe how that person conduct themselves most of the time in their presence.

In other words, they are describing that person’s default.

Dictionary.com defines the computer use of default as a “value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.”

And that definition describes precisely how various habits have come to us by way of default.

Many habits were formed very early in childhood and we have continued their use without necessarily viewing them as being habits.

For example, when we first learned to dress ourselves we began putting one arm, left or right, in the sleeve each time we put on a shirt, and one leg, left or right, each time we put on pants. Whichever arm or leg we used as we were learning, is almost certainly the same arm and leg we use today.

Kinda scary, wouldn’t you say, when you think about how many other habits you acquired in your childhood that may still be haunting you today.

This an example of a default habit; while we are perfectly capable of switching arms and legs when dressing, we seldom do because the user – us – does not specify an overriding value or action – we don’t choose another way.

Almost certainly, the habits we would like to change – the ones that bring about results we do not cherish – almost always come about by default, not by deliberate action taken on our part.

Each time we set out to bring about change we are, in essence, declaring our intention to modify an existing habit.

And to do so we need to learn and follow the precise formula required for the new habit to become permanent and sustainable.

Here’s why: we cannot get rid of a habit. We can only replace one habit with another. The old axiom that old habits die hard is simply not true. Old habits don’t die, they simply fade into the recesses of our mind and lie dormant, patiently waiting for an opportunity to pounce and return to reclaim what they believe to be their rightful place.

Many books have been written and much has been spoken of the power of intention. It is said by some that intention is the driving force behind change.

If change is what we want, and it is important to us, then we need to create habits of intention.

Most often change requires exchanging a habit produced by default with one designed with deliberate intent and in my day job as a Habits Coach I lead my clients to do just that.

And when we learn how to do this properly, we eliminate the risk of reverting back to what we did before – our old default habits.

While going backwards is obviously not a conscious choice we would make for ourselves, it may in fact have become a default habit.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

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