What is a habit?

A habit is a type of behaviour which is a consistent part of your life, whether in how you act or what you do.

It’s a well known word but one that is infrequently used. For the most successful in society, we assume they are born with their current talents. It makes sense – we don’t see the journey of how they got there. The hours spent practicing, failing, breakdowns and breakthroughs are habits which brought them their success.

Unfortunately, this mistaken assumption of ours leaves us to believe we do not have the capability to achieve our ambitions. It has made the word habit used to describe things we currently do, rather than to describe things we could be doing.

It’s also used in quite a narrow sense. The habit of making your bed in the morning, the habit of going to the gym a few times a week. We need to take a more holistic view, and realise that habits can be developed to help in, in my view, four distinct areas:

  1. Baseline activities – Key habits
  2. Who we want to be – Character habits
  3. What we want to achieve – Purpose habits
  4. How we spend our downtime – Relaxation habits

Key habits

Key habits can be broken down into two distinct types.

The first is habits needed to be a functioning member of society. For some of you reading these will appear trivial, for others this is the key starting place to rebuilding yourself.

These include things like brushing your teeth twice a day, showering regularly, and being tidy.

Without these, it’s impossible to begin to develop other habits effectively.

The second type of key habit are not essential, but will make your life a lot easier. These include things such as habits around how you manage your money, knowing how to cook well and being able to fix things yourself.

Character habits

One of my early philosopher teachers taught me our beliefs are not defined by what we say, but what we do. This is applicable across our full range of character traits too.

Now of course, we are each predisposed to certain ways of acting. If you’re an introvert, you can’t “habit” your way into becoming an extrovert. If you’re loud and extravagant, then becoming quiet and modest is going to be a tall ask.

That is all largely irrelevant, however. The key is start with who you want to be, and then to work out how such a person who act. Once you’ve done that, you can divide that into certain habits you would need to build.

One of the key character habits that is universal is confidence. No matter the type of person you are, you should be confident and comfortable in your own skin. This is one of the things that will bring you long-term happiness – if you don’t like yourself, how could anyone else?

But by working out who you want to be, and building habits to create you as that person, you will become confident. If you’ve achieved the type of person you really want to be, how could you not be confident in yourself?

The final bit that I want to raise, which I will cover in much greater detail in another post, is that of fear. If we’ve acted a certain way for a long time, we’re certain that we are who we are and it’s simply not possible to change that. But that’s a perfect example of a habit – and just like you can build good habits, you can break bad habits too. I have a firm belief that many of us have a great deal of capability, but we bury it under mounds of bad habits derived from fear and things we believe about ourselves.

Purpose habits

If you are able to find your purpose fully in your work, that is fantastic. It’s extremely rare and you have done a great job to get there.

For most people, however, their work can only fulfil a portion of their purpose, can only provide so much enjoyment.

Your purpose habits refer to the time spent aiming for a lofty ambition which has no other reward other than simply having done it. It might be writing a book, running a marathon, or something much bigger like building your own house.

These habits are the hardest. There is almost never any immediate reward, which in our current society of instant gratification makes it that harder to keep these going because we are so used to short-term pleasure. The reward, however, is unbelievable. I ran an 100km ultramarathon. It took me close to 15 hours. The high that I was on after lasted for months and it completely rewrote some fundamental beliefs I had about myself. Now whenever I face a difficult challenge, I remind myself that I completed that and it makes whatever I’m currently facing feel accomplishable.

You don’t want to have really more than a few purpose habits going on at once, so you can devote the appropriate amount of time to each. You also need to start small and build up – don’t start your DIY ambitions by building the house unless you’ve built a shed first.

Relaxation habits

It’s just as important to have time to refresh yourself as it is to be working towards something. We simply can’t work constantly, but we do need to know how to use our time off well so that we can hit the next day as effectively as the ones prior to it.

Everyone has something slightly different they need. It’s important, though, that you’re still choosing habits here which actually do help. It’s easy to sit watching videos on your phone for an hour, and I’m sure for some people that will give them the rest they need, but for many I think there are better options.


Understanding the different types of habits helps us to understand what to work on first. Naturally a lot of this overlaps – by working on your character habits you’ll approach your passion projects in a different way. By working on your purpose habits you’ll improve on your basic habits.

Next time I’m going to talk about bad habits – and what can be done to break them. I’ll be sharing a few personal stories and what worked for me.

Until then,


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