Once upon a time, I dreamt of being a music journalist.
I loved music since I was too young to remember — all thanks to my dancing session with my grandad, my mum and our sing-along session in the car, or my brother, who would pass me old burned CDs (when mixtapes were a thing).
Without realising, my love for music and my passion became part of my daily routine.
I was the weird 10-year-old who started making VHS mixtapes with MTV videos, recording for hours and hours, and watching again, and again.
I started reading magazines, and years later books about music.
A small practice leading to another, and these rituals were dotting my life since I was five years old, singing along with old soundtrack cassettes in my mum’s car.
These small practices, which may be overlooked at first, led me to my big breakthrough — my butterfly effect moment, if you may, the small step that leads me where I am today.
I started writing articles upon articles and send them to magazines.
My first ever series that got published online, was a three-piece essay about the correlation between the Doors and literature. I still remember those three articles, and how proud I felt of myself.
Without those articles, which sparked from the books I was reading, which came from watching videos on VHS, after having listened to music for years and years, I would not be here today.
Those small rituals made me who I am today, in a way that I could not predict.
I was not born with any musical talent, I was just doing things again, and again for my enjoyment.
There were not traits, but practices.
Habits are practices
“I have learned that champions aren’t just born; champions can be made when they embrace and commit to life-changing positive habits.” ―Lewis Howes
I am a Virgo — which some people believe to be a clear indicator of patterns of my behavior, and some other people do not really buy into it.
Nevertheless, very Virgo-like traits I possess include tidiness, a very peculiar fascination with storage, binders, and organizers among others.
Those are traits — and their limiting nature is linked to the idea that it entails a quality or characteristic belonging to one person.
Habits go one step further, thanks to their triggers as cognitive psychologists define them as “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues” ( Oxford Handbook of Human Action ) which translates as things we do with little or no conscious thought.
Let’s say you are sitting at the dinner table with your family one night, and all of a sudden, your sister from the other side of the table sneezes. What is the first instinct of everybody else around the table?
What can be seen as politeness is, objectively, a habit: an action repeated so frequently that it’s now processed unconsciously in your brain.
Research shows that one way our brain saves energy is by creating habits — studies outlined in the book The Power of Habit indicate that as many as 40% of the actions you perform each day are based on habit and not on conscious decisions.
This is also the reason why a research study shows that we follow our habits when willpower is low — this can be when we naturally have ‘low willpower’ or something has happened in the day to reduce it. ( How Do People Adhere to Goals When Willpower Is Low?)
Habits tend to be regular, or somewhat settled.
They may develop from heritage and mimicking, or discipline. Nevertheless, there is some sort of commitment — whether intentional or not — that shapes a habit.
In Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal argues that products do shape our habits as well through their essence as, when used habitually, they can alter our everyday behavior.
Learning about behaviors
Behaviors and habits are fascinating concepts, that truly dictate who are and what we do.
If habits are a way of behaving, then traits can be considered habits in themselves. However, habits tend to born out of necessity, or a desire.
They also are linked to our beliefs and patterns, which can be changed and influenced.
Just think about the hours spent reading motivational and self-help books (smashing that fourth wall again) and how reading a book like this may change some of your current habits.
By being able to recognize patterns and beliefs, habits can be cultivated and can help — in this very specific case — to harness and grow social influence.
You may be wondering — would people ever capitalize on habits?
Hell to yeah! (Excuse my enthusiasm back there)
Habits are something that is extensively studied by marketers and retailers in order to adapt their operations to maximize sales — and you’ll be surprised by what they can pick up.
Charles Buhigg describes in The Power of Habit how most people instinctively turn right when entering a store; therefore, retailers put their most profitable products on the right side of the entrance.
If marketers are using our habits for their own benefit, how can we do the same?
How to Cultivate Habits
You may already know me in person, if so, oh lucky you, but if you do not, you may come across something about me — probably from the first second you meet me.
I am incredibly excitable (read, impatient).
If anything, it can be incredibly flattering to dog owners, sloth owners, and cute baby owners.
My point is, when we learn things that excite us, we tend to become really impatient.
The truth is, habits need to be cultivated. Just picture the habit as a seed.
A tiny seed dropped in the soil. You first get excited and decide to water it once. For the first week, actually, you are being incredibly attentive. Then, as days go by, you see new seeds and start planting them — forgetting about the old seed.
Habits are much easier to maintain than to cultivated, so once something becomes a habit, you can shift your discipline into forming a new one and then build them up sequentially.
This doesn’t just tackle your ability to cultivate habits, but it also trains selective discipline. Selective discipline is what allows you to form enduring good habits, whilst immediate, explosive discipline will work best for bursts of energy.
The habit itself is not enough, selective discipline will help you endure and reap the benefits.
If you want to cultivate a habit, make time for it.
“Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.” ―Sean Covey
Habits are relatively easy to dissect: you have a trigger, or cue, to which a very specific routine act follows, and lastly the reward and once your brain registers the successful completion of the activity it will reinforce the link between the cue and routine.
Studies show that our brain is anticipating the reward even before we get it, and by denying the actual reward we may get frustrated and mopey. This is what Charles Buhigg describes in The Power of Habit as the neurological basis of craving.
Do you ever catch yourself checking your email for the hundredth time only to discover that, still, nothing interesting has arrived in your inbox?
This process is known as the “partial reinforcement extinction effect” (a bloody long name I know) — what this really means is that you keep repeating the same action, even without reward, simply because you’re used to doing it unrewarded.
In order to cultivate habits, you must be able to understand how to implement them and feed that craving sensation — it comes down to practice as well as clear ways to measure your improvements.
Cultivating a good habit is ultimately a way to make it almost second nature — something you want to harness overall in your daily life.