3 years ago

Habits and Anti-Habits

This post comes from thinking of B.J. Fogg’s ideas on habits and behavior. He runs the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, focusing on persuasive tech and behavioral change. Very cool stuff.

When I travel (especially overseas), my creative output usually far exceeds anything I would be able to accomplish at home. So much so that I like to contemplate the idea of flying for 30 days continuously, just to see how it impacts my productivity. This has led me to wonder exactly why I can be more productive, outside the stable patterns of my habits.

Habits are interesting because of how we build up these sequences of patterns in our mind/body over time, and how they become encoded as repeating actions. My morning habit of toast, juice, coffee, email, has comfort and utility. Of course habits can be utilized in a positive manner, or they can also render us pathetic little creatures just following a trail. 

But what happens when you “constructively” break your habits for a time frame?

Have you ever had a spontaneous thought like this at 5pm Friday:
"I could book a flight to Hawaii right after work out of LAX, write an article while on the plane, rent a moped early sat morning, and be boogie boarding at sandy beach with my pasty white farmers tan, eating from local lunch trucks". 

While this is an extreme, Tim-Ferris-type-of-act-of-free-will, it is a good example of what I would call an anti-habit. It is a willful denial of the power of habits that can make you feel locked in to a particular behavior pattern. You know you could take that flight, and exercising the thought alone makes you revise your perspective.

The reason why I think this anti-habit is interesting, is due to the effect it can have on restructuring how you interpret yourself (passionate versus lack of interest; leader versus follower, etc.), and how you access your encoded thoughts.   

Taking music as an example, if you have practiced a piano piece, you will have physically encoded the actions of keying the music into your hands, so you instinctively “reach for the music”. The habit of practicing reinforces the muscle memory. But music of course is not just a remembering of notes. It is about a connection and the ties between notes and phrases, and emoting music.

In this music context, if habit gives you a repeatable and structured experience, then what is the free will inspired anti-habit? It is the joy of what the habit has enabled and structured. As is often said in music…you learn the music theory, but you need to forget it once you have learned it, in order to get to musicality.