Habits are part of your life, whether you love or hate them. Good habits can improve your quality of life and help you achieve your goals; bad habits can prevent you from moving forward and keep you stuck in a rut.
A habit is a fixed series of actions we perform almost daily. They are behaviors triggered automatically due to an external cue or trigger; conscious thought processes do not initiate them.
Moreover, habits tend to be highly predictable, which means they occur precisely the same way at the same time and place almost daily.
Habits are powerful. They keep you going when motivation is low and drive your actions faster than conscious thought. Because of this, habits can also be dangerous. Left unchecked, bad habits will run your life. But you already know that.
Be more conscious of your repeatable behaviors
“Habit is a second nature that destroys the first. But what is nature? Why is a habit not natural? I am very much afraid that nature itself is only a first habit, just as habit is second nature.” — Blaise Pascal
The important question is: are you mindful and intentional of your habits, routines and behaviors and their effect on your present or future self?
Building good habits is also much easier said than done. Instead of beating yourself up for falling short of your expectations, it’s time to get philosophical about it and optimize how you build better habits for a meaningful life.
You are the sum of your most common habits. This means that by consciously choosing how we act daily, we become the person we want to be. A few more questions to ponder: who do you want to become in the first place? What do you want from your good habits?
Why do some people seem to have their lives together while others struggle? What does building a better habit mean for your future self? And do all new or better habits contribute to a meaningful life? Once you understand all the moving parts for a meaningful and better life, you can take steps to them for a good life.
A philosophical approach to building better habits begins with finding your why. It’s a deliberate shift in thinking. Instead of focusing on the behavior, you ask yourself your motivations for doing it.
Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve? Why do you want to change? What drives you? Why is this important to you? Once you clearly understand why you are making changes, you can use them as a framework for shaping your actions.
A common pitfall for people trying to build new habits is going into them with a purpose but not being clear about it. By defining your goal before you start, you give yourself a framework for guiding your actions and making progress.
Another essential part of a philosophical approach to building better habits is understanding how your actions affect other areas of your life. A good downtime provides clarity, which can improve your productivity or how you think. You can make smarter decisions and improve your life if you think better.
The opposite is true. A bad habit has a ripple effect on other areas of your life. Be more mindful of the cause and effect of every habit. When in doubt, ponder and reflect on how the many pieces of your rituals, habits and behaviors affect your life in general.
A philosophical approach to life takes time. Start small and build on what you already know at first to make it a habit. Start by writing down the good habits you already practice regularly, then figure out ways to make those into daily rituals.
By creating a routine around what it’s already delivering a good outcome, you will succeed more in sticking with it. If this feels too daunting, start by creating small daily steps towards your end goal. Your why should inform your habits.
Building better habits is a matter of breaking down long-standing obstacles to behavior change and replacing them with more effective approaches.
Breaking through the inertia
The main challenge for anyone who wants to build better habits is to break through the inertia, or habitual resistance, that keeps people from taking action. This resistance can be psychological (we’re scared to fail), social (we’re too busy or have other priorities) or even mechanical (we don’t know where to start).
By overcoming inertia, we can shift our focus from the struggle surrounding habit formation to the pursuit itself. We can start each day by setting small goals for ourselves and taking one step at a time toward achieving them. Along the way, we can celebrate our successes, ponder who we are becoming, and draw inspiration and motivation from what’s working.
“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge,” says Henry Van Dyke. If you want a different life, take stock of your present habits and override old routines with new or better habits.
Philosophers have a unique way of looking at things in life and the world around them; being analytical and logical thinkers is one way they do this.
In their quest for wisdom and understanding, philosophers search for truth through observation, logic and a deeper search for meaningful or objective reality. You can use the same approach to understand your habits, routines and rituals and do more of what brings out the very best in you.
This article originally appeared in Medium.