Making Habits, Breaking Habits

Making HabitsMaking Habits, Breaking Habits: How To Make Changes That Stick
Jeremy Dean
DeCapo Press/Member of Perseus Books Group (2013)

How to avoid or eliminate self-defeating habits while developing others that accelerate personal growth and professional development

The material provided is based on what Jeremy Dean learned during from recent and extensive research on how and why (a) we form habits that are both book and bad, (b) the range of timeframe that process involves, (c) why it is so difficult to sustain good habits and break bad habits, and (d) what all this reveals about human nature that will help us to accelerate personal growth and professional development.

In essence, good and bad habits are repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. With regard to the aforementioned research, Dean observes, “Three characteristics have emerged: firstly, we perform habits automatically without much conscious deliberation. Secondly, habitual behaviors provide little emotional response by themselves. Thirdly, habits are strongly rooted in the situations in which they occur. We also know that they can vary considerably in how long they take to form. Questions remain. For example, how much control do we have over our habits? Do they control them or do they control us? If we want to make a change, how easy will it be? Dean addresses these and other questions, citing research revelations and what — in his opinion — these revelations suggest.

Here is Dallas near the downtown area, there is a farmer’s market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I offer a few brief excerpts that (I hope) will suggest the thrust and flavor of

o “The problem for making and breaking habits is that so much is happening in the unconscious mind. Since the unconscious is generally like the Earth’s core, impenetrable and unknowable, we can’t access it directly. This means that deeply held goals and desires can come into play without our realizing. Not only this, but our conscious intentions to change prove too weak in the face of the behaviors we perform efficiently and automatically, with only minimal awareness.” (Page 50)

o “What we know about how humans react to virtual environments is still in its infancy, but we can be sure we will be offered up new online services tailor-made to engage our habits. In the battle between intention and habit, we need to be able to work out who is winning: who is master and who is slave.” (127)

o “Assuming you’re motivated, the first problem for any creative goal is coming up with the concepts to combine. Psychologists have found that using analogy is one handy way of finding concepts to set up in opposition; unfortunately, good analogies are hard to come by. Think about Einstein’s vision of a man falling off a roof; it seems simple once you’re heard it, but taken in the context of the highly complex problem [i.e. how gravity works], it was a master stroke. The key is envisaging the problem in a way that makes analogies easier to pick out.” (203)

o “Many great creative geniuses over history have identified their weakness and addressed it. Often, it’s distraction…So if your mind wanders when you should be analyzing the details of your problem, then, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Just remember that all these great minds [e.g. Charles Darwin, Marcel Proust), Arthur Schopenhauer] had to find a way to balance their playful and analytical sides to develop truly creative habits.” (212)

o “Making or breaking a habit is really just the start. To develop a truly fulfilling and satisfying good habit, it’s about more than just repetition and maintenance; it’s about finding new ways to continually adjust and tweak habits to keep them new; to avoid mind wandering and less pleasurable emotional states that accompany it.” (227)

Frankly, although I have read and then re-read this book and appreciate the importance of the information, insights, and counsel that Dean provides, I still need to become much more effective in terms of developing and then sustaining habits that are in my best-interest while avoiding or breaking those that are not. At least for me, that process will probably continue until the end of my life. I agree with Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I also believe that mediocrity, then, is not an act, but a habit. To a significant extent, our lives are defined by the consequences of the decisions we make…including decisions to do nothing.

It could also be said that our decisions determine patterns of attitude and behavior. In this context, I am reminded of Carol Dweck observation that people tend to embrace one of two mindsets: growth or fixed. The former affirms almost unlimited potentiality; the latter denies it. That is what Henry Ford had in mind long ago when suggesting, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

When concluding his immensely sensible, indeed valuable book, Jeremy Dean suggests, “The challenge is to work out which habits keep leading to dead ends and which habits lead to interesting new experiences, happiness, and a sense of personal satisfaction.” Yes, it really is that easy…and that difficult.

Posted in

Leave a Comment