How Come Good Habits Aren’t as Addictive as Bad Habits?

Once established, good habits are as addictive as bad ones.

The whole difference lies in developing them. It’s not even the time it takes. Developing a bad or good habit takes about the same amount of time.

Emerging bad habits seems faster and easier, but this is just an illusion. The main difference is your conscious effort.

Evil is Invisible

While developing a bad habit, you don’t think about it at all. It’s under your radar. Every time you see a snack or sweet on the kitchen table you reach out and take one bite. After several months you discover you gained 20 pounds and track it back to your snacking habit.

But you can see it only in hindsight. While the habit had been created, you didn’t notice it at all.

Compare this with developing a habit of snacking on raw carrots.

First, you need to decide to develop such a habit. You didn’t usually have a stock of carrots, so you need to remember about buying them regularly.

You need to peel them in order to eat them. They cannot lie on a kitchen table; they rot much faster than sweets. ;) So you keep them in the fridge (and they are not readily accessible) or in a plastic box (another hurdle).

It All Spells “Mental Effort”

Bad habits are easier to develop, because they use your most primal instincts. The urge for pleasure lurks all the time in the back of your mind. The reward for doing them is immediate and intensive; they provide instant pleasure. They don’t take much thinking power if any at all.

However, once you build a good habit, it’s as “addictive” as bad habits. You do them mindlessly. You need a conscious effort to act against them.

Examples

I developed a habit of avoiding elevators and running stairs. Every day I come to work, I take a turn to the evacuation staircase and run three levels of stairs. It doesn’t occupy my mind at all. I just do it.

Today, I accidentally met a workmate on a subway train, and I accompanied him on the way to the office. It took my conscious effort to go to the elevators and use one of them.

Good habits can be developed on autopilot as well. It’s just much less likely.

When doing an inventory of my habits, I discovered I tell my wife “I love you” every day. It didn’t take my intentional effort to develop this habit. I just felt like doing it for a long enough period to make it a habit. I got “addicted” to that without me noticing it for years.

I guess this habit played on my primal instincts as well. Every time I told my wife that I love her, I received a hug, a smile, a nice word back, and I felt recognized and accepted. Social acceptance is a source of immense pleasure too.


Originally published at www.quora.com.