The Insanity of Habits

Read this question twice: Can a baseline activity, when considered over time, be considered a habit?

As Einstein is often misattributed in saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Consider that if we think of habits as baselines, we can segment out a continuum and reapply the quote.

I offer you “The Habit Continuum:” Harmful / pointless / beneficial.

Reapplying the “definition of insanity” quote: You’re insane to keep smoking (harmful). You’re insane to keep that lucky rabbit foot (pointless). You’re insane to have the discipline to eat your veggies and exercise every day for the rest of your life (beneficial).

Taken this way, “insanity” isn’t about different results, but wildly different results. We can channel Charles Duhigg* and use another misattributed Einstein quote to bring this together in a useful way:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.”

Habits compound.

When it comes to tomorrow, you simply don’t get the insanely different result, you get the insanity of a marginally different result. The wildly different results only show up over time – not overnight. In other words, workout for a day and feel sore, but workout every day for a year and make a before / after comparison.

If you want to make a big difference, you make a small, deliberate change, see if it works, and then repeat-repeat-repeat. “If you understand it, you earn it. If you don’t you pay for it” (just keep carrying that rabbit’s foot and smoking those cigarettes). Know the habit and where it lies on the continuum.

*Duhigg’s a rockstar. See his book, The Power of Habit, or really anything else he’s written. If you need a quick sample check out The James Altucher Show (podcast episode #166) which came out just after his second book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

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