Hidden Habits that Hurt

We can unconsciously surrender to the influence of our habits. We see the limit of these tendencies when life places us in new circumstances. When our dominant hand must heal we see it requires attention do things we would otherwise do unconsciously. For those of us who do not wish to be limited to such autopilot when it truly isn’t useful the question becomes how to stop. Unfortunately we may limit change to replacing one habit with another that is hopefully better. However, to be limited to a closet full of habits seems rather narrow.

 A bad habit like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer…

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…it feels good to stop.

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I agree with Karl Popper that habit liberates the mind to focus on things besides routine tasks we can relegate to the unconscious. We need not repeatedly learn to tie our shoes and a musician who has habituated the fundamentals can create with more freedom. Much of our lives and relationships are not redundantly laid out like the keys on a piano. We need trial and error for new discovery involving observation, rational thought and intuition. These are abilities that redundant mannerisms can stifle. Habits, imitation, prejudice, routine, generalizing and belief, though they are different, overlap in that they all predict a future. I recommend Sam Harris’s excellent book titled Free Will for a consideration of the biology explaining how we make choices and the limits of our understanding.

I’m pointing to a part our habits we might not notice. If I am correct the way we frighten ourselves away from any alternative to our habits make our tendencies much stronger. This will apply with more force in extreme cases like racism.

When faced with choosing between actions A, B and C we should notice the absence of more alternatives.  The universe of possibilities is not necessarily limited to our habits of mind. We have the choice between the options that make it past our prejudices. We may tend toward one choice more than the others. For now let us take the common practice of misleading or frank lying to lovers or spouses.

Consider three alternatives



It may seem that “A” would be the most likely choice and assume this is a habit. A = telling a lie, B = saying nothing, and C = telling the truth. For example, a man returns from doing business in Nevada and is asked by his wife about the trip. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas… Baby!

The fact that we recognize choices does not liberate us from habit.

Now consider the drug addict who repeats that they could quit any time they wanted, they just don’t want too. The statement is as true as it is trivial, particularly in light of serious consequences. We see the drug use but what we don’t see is the judgment of any alternative. Like imagining only a dull world of angst and pain without cocaine. Similar reasoning can exist when parent’s lie to children, when considering leaving a job or a group like a church, family, or lovers. I wonder how many people got married imagining an otherwise disagreeable life. Notice the presumption to know the future not only about matrimony but also the alternative. Again the point here is the way we ward ourselves off of the options other than what we are predisposed to choose especially when one option includes stepping into the unknown.


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Published by Todd Vickers

Site administrator and creator