One thing that gets misunderstood when it comes to personal improvement in life is the fact that habits are more important than doing a good deed.
When we want to improve, most people think in events. They think of a goal they have to achieve or a one-time change they have to make. They think about short-term changes just to reach the objective rather than permanent adjustments.
But this is flawed. It leaves us in a state of unawareness. We become completely clueless about what it really takes in order to change and reach our long-term goals.
Instead of changing the fundamental aspects of our daily life we go about searching for a quick fix that will alleviate the discomfort we currently feel and provide us the happiness we expect to receive when we reach our goals.
In other words we assume the symptoms of the problem will disappear when we implement some change. We don’t feel we have to address the core problems, just modify something after those problems occur so we don’t experience the consequences of those problems.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors talk about a study on self-control. They state, “But the greatest benefits of their self-control showed up in school and in the workplace, confirming other evidence that successful students and workers tend to rely on good habits. Valedictorians are generally not the sort who stay up studying all night just before the big exam – instead, they keep up with the work all semester long. Workers who produce steadily over a long period of time tend to be most successful in the long run.”
So we assume that we just have to do the quick fix and everything will be ok. But the research shows that it is the patterns of behavior, not the quick fix, that matter. Habits are more powerful than a one-time motivation to do something.
Habits become who we are. They direct our life in a very direct manner. We do them every day, mostly without any prompting on our part.
Therefore if we want to improve, we have to be able to take those automatic behavior patterns and change them. Once we understand how important they are, we can then explore our own personal habits.
I’m not referring the habit of biting one’s fingernails. These are always the habits most people think about. Instead it is about the subtle responses to cues that we go through. We follow processes more often than we realize.
So a better way to explore habits is to ask, “what do a regularly do?”
That will start to uncover the routines in life that happen automatically. These CAN be manipulated to create a better outcome. We can design our life using our habits as the tools we need to make the changes.
This is why the one-time good deed doesn’t provide much meaning in the long-term. Instead, it is the daily habits that are always working. They are always there, prompting us to take specific actions and elicit certain thoughts.