Tom Jepson Creative

Learning about habits...

Over in the Ness Labs community, Anne-Laure poses topics for self-motivated learning: in October, the topic was 'habit'. The subject has been interesting to me, especially in recent years as I've grown into my adult life (at almost 38) and as I've learned about what makes for a healthy, productive, low-stress existence.

I shared these thoughts with the community and wanted to do the same here.

I've been wanting to weigh in on this for a good week but it's taken me this long to crystalise my thoughts and work out exactly what the concept of 'habit' meant to me.

All of the resources Anne-Laure shared were excellent; some lighter-touch articles on the psychology of habit plus podcasts and (very) in-depth academic content, too.

In reading the shared content, I enjoyed cementing the differences between habitual activities and routine ones, plus 'rituals', too! Acknowledging the differences between the autopilot continuation of living and the deliberate actions we take to progress or achieve something desirable...

I've been on a long mission for myself to be much more conscious in the things I do day to day, removing some bad habits, and being much more present in things. It's become a way for me to enjoy my personal rituals (some of which may be baked into habits?) and focus my time by feeling 'in control'.

It occurred to me that I've read about habit loops in the past:

  • A cue to initiate a routine or process; maybe arriving somewhere or sensing something.
  • The action we take as part of the routine. What is it that we are doing? What are the ends?
  • The reward follows the action. It reinforces, positively, that taking the action (or potentially not taking the action if we are attempting to kill off a bad habit) has resulted in a good change.

Nir Eyal's 'Hooked' speaks about a very similar model when it comes to product design and creating - as the name suggests - hooks to boost engagement. It was great to dig into that model again.


What are my habits, rituals, and routines?

I have quite strict routines for kicking off the day because I have two kids to get out to school; within this time, though, there are points - like my eldest being picked up - which subconsciously trigger some habitual rituals (if that's such a thing).

Starting the day even earlier, I routinely get up at 5:30AM to start my own day in a little peace! Half an hour to eat my breakfast and write - the notes for this post were written during my quiet time! I've habits baked into these routines, like sitting in my yellow armchair and writing notes in Bear on my iPad. I believe I am very deliberate about leaning into routine over running on habitual autopilot. It's a control thing, for sure ...

What do I think are the impacts of habit?

Knowing more about habits allows me personally to understand what my habits are as much as the process of trying to change the bad / negative ones.

I'd like to think that, for our society, if people understood their habit trigger more and were mindful about 'reacting' to things, I believe we'd be in a place where people are much less likely to take an 'offended first' stance before considering all sides of a story; the 'oh, you can't say that!' brigade irk me somewhat but I understand that a lot of the time there's an emotive trigger which causes an uncontrolled response.

Follow-on thoughts... Something this discovery sparked is the thought of habits baked into or created by our skills and, when we consider them as adjacent benefits to a possible career change, how we can leverage and turn them into conscious, actionable routines for progress.