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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Vasilca

Habits (PP-3)

This is the third blog in the new miniseries on positive psychology. It deals with habits. Positive psychology is that branch of psychology that deals with the positive aspects of our lives. It is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior, with a focus on strength instead of weakness. The purpose of this discussion is to familiarize the reader with the fundamental concepts necessary to understand higher-level issues of human nature, such as morality, character, and maturation.

three circles

Positive Psychology

What are Habits?

Dictionary defines habits as settled tendencies or practices we repeatedly do, especially ones which are hard to give up. Habits are things or actions we do automatically, without thinking or even knowing what we do. They are on autopilot. As such, practices grow into patterns of our daily life and become powerful and vital factors in defining who we are. Habits are formed mostly during childhood and teenage years, and some of them stay with us until the end of our lives. In a sense, we first make our habits, then our habits make us, as an English poet described it years ago.

Habits act on us humans as gravity acts on all things on earth. It exerts a massive pullback on anything trying to escape its gravitational force. When a rocket tries to reach outer space, it must expend a tremendous amount of energy during the first minutes of the liftoff, just to escape the gravitational pull of the earth. Why are existing habits so difficult to dismantle? Listen to what Horace Mann, the great American educator, says about them: "habits are like ropes: we weave a string every day until they become so strong they cannot be broken." Luckily, bad habits acquired haphazardly in earlier years can be broken and replaced with newer, better practices selected by us. But this is never an easy process; it will take a serious commitment on your part and a long time to complete it.

We are what we do repeatedly;

therefore, excellence is not

an isolated act, but a habit.


There are three types of habits: thinking habits, speaking habits, and action habits. They can be good or bad. Examples of acceptable practices: thinking positively, encouraging others, speaking clearly, exercising every morning, going early to bed, etc. Among bad habits, we can list: thinking negatively, ridiculing people, use of foul language, blaming everybody, alcohol abuse, overeating, and so on. When it comes to moral behavior, good habits are called virtues, while bad habits are called vices.

According to Scottish author Samuel Smiles, habits start in the head and eventually determine your character and destiny.

Sow a thought, reap an action.

Sow an action, reap a habit.

Sow a habit, reap a character.

Sow a character, reap your destiny.


Habits of Effectiveness

In our quest to better ourselves, we should ponder, adopt, and internalize a select category of habits called habits of effectiveness. Habits of effectiveness are internalized principles that never fail when applied to our person or when dealing with others. They become the basis of one's character, creating an empowering center from which the individual can live a fulfilling, productive, and happy life. Habits of effectiveness by necessity lead to effective behavior. Therefore, you can always trust your behavior because you know it is based on correct principles and remains constant irrespective of your own mood, weaknesses, or external circumstances.

We can define a habit of effectiveness as the area found at the intersection of three circles: circle of knowledge (what), circle of skills (how), and circle of desire (why). Knowledge describes the principle, skill is the expertise needed to put it into practice (how), and desire is the motivation to do so (want to do). In other words, a habit becomes a habit of effectiveness only when it blends theory, skills, and motivation. The Venn diagram of the three intersecting circles represents the perfect sweet spot of any combination of activities or ideas.

The effectiveness of a habit is measured by the results it produces. For example, a high school student gets high marks consistently only if her studying habits are effective:

what: student knows what to study (subject matter she's interested in)

how: student knows how to study (two hours a day in a quiet room)

why: she knows why she wants to do it (she wants to go to college)

We can also say that a student's motivation is created by her attitude, which, in turn, is the result of her own set of values and beliefs.

And whatsoever you do,

do it heartily, as to the Lord,

and not unto men.

Colossians 3:23

The following three steps are generally required to adopt a habit of effectiveness.

1. First step: strong motivation

2. Second step: internalize the principle. It simply means to believe strongly in the principle selected. Engrave it in your mind and heart.

3. Third step: develop the practice of how to apply the principle. You must search for methods that work for you. If failure occurs, question the practice, not the principle.

Example: Two business owners have the same motivation, the well-being of their company, use the same principle of excellence in customer service, but may employ different practices, such as following up in person or by email. If one business falls behind the other, the owner should not question the principle of excellence in customer service, but rather his method of applying the principle in practice.








To be continued in the next post.

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Useful links:

Positive Psychology Center

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