Skip to content

"Conscious" Habits

David Sherry
4 min read
"Conscious" Habits
"Take a simple idea, and take it seriously" – Charlie Munger

I've always been someone where habits are best when they are all or nothing.

I find it easier to just decide once, to do something 100% rather than face the friction of continually having to decide all of the time. When you're at dinner and you're tempted by the dessert or the pizza, and you don't have a 100% decision made it's easy to waffle and give-in.

If you're still working on developing and forming good habits, you can read something like Atomic Habits or Tiny Habits and get a pretty solid grasp of how to set yourself up for success. *I also like the Streaks App for tracking on my phone.

There is a second level beyond getting a good habit going, and that's not hitting a plateau.

But first, let's discuss the common trap of "Unconscious Habits."

Unconscious habits are great for completing the habit, but not great for progressing your skill and, more importantly, your engagement with life.

Yeah, I meditate every day... I write every week, I hit the gym.

But how conscious am I in this practice? And am I making any progress, or am I just doing the habit for habit's sake ?

"Am I just doing a habit, for the sake of it?"

When we're unconscious with a habit we can forget why we're even doing it in the first place. The habit, the practice, lacks purpose. Things can get repetitive and mundane. We're not engaging ourselves.

Taking Things "Seriously" with Conscious Habits.

The way forward to break an unconscious habit is to make it conscious, and to "take it seriously."

Not seriously as in you have to be serious, but "take it seriously" as in seeking how to progress beyond your current level of skill.

For anybody that finds joy in learning, deep work, flow and mastery, I think this is a huge opportunity for changing how you engage with areas of your life.

We find the most joy in life when we're actively engaging ourselves at the edges of our ability, where we're learning something new in an area we're passionate about, and where we're seeing ourselves make major progress in something we deeply appreciate.

Unconscious habits pass the time and check a box. They're repetitive like a treadmill.

Conscious Habits give us new details about an area we love, they engage our energy, stretch our ability and help us appreciate an area we're passionate about even more than before.

For example, My friend Will has been studying Chinese for the past few years. He loves learning Chinese, and it's been a habit, but it's been something that has come and gone and progressed at a slow pace, despite being something he's enjoyed.

Over dinner, we were discussing making this more conscious and ways for taking it seriously. We discussed how it's like he's learned to ride a bike, but he's still sort of just riding around the same flat areas at a leisurely pace without ever-changing scenery or terrain. No challenge, no benefit of appreciation and growth.

What about upping the anty with a new part of the city? What about jumping on a motorcycle?

Now he...

  • Takes an hour or two of Chinese multiple times per week.
  • Is hosting a Podcast only in Chinese, with native speakers.
  • Uploads a daily 10 min. vlog to Youtube for his Channel "Will Learns Chinese."

I've been having fun creatively throwing other ideas out there for taking this habit even more seriously...

  • What about traveling to China to go and practice and immerse yourself?
  • What about books on the history of the language to help you understand it at a deeper level?
  • What about contacting a voice/speech coach to work only on tonality, rather than words?

There are so many creative ways to go deeper, appreciate more nuance, approach the subject from new angles.

Through this lens, life and the world takes on new meaning. A trip to China, news, reading... they all have new color in the context of developing your skillset to a deeper level.

At a certain point in life, we can stagnate imagining that it's enough to check the box. And of course...there's nothing wrong with doing that.

But is it fun? Engaging? Making us feel alive? Giving us a context with which to play with the world around us?

There is a richness you get only when you develop consciously.

It's not easy or comfortable. No one will push you to go deeper but yourself. It's all intrinsic.

Making "unconscious" habits more conscious.

  1. Get creative.

Getting creative with your habit means breaking the monotony and trying the habit in new methods or circumstances.

I'm reminded of Steph Curry (I believe) who would practice basketball with a pair of goggles that impaired his vision. By learning to dribble and shoot with this limitation, he improved his ability to play on the court with a good deal of commotion and interference from the defense.

2. Hire a teacher or coach.

The simplest path here is to hire a teacher or coach to keep you at your edge. A great teacher or coach lays out a path for you to take the next step forward to develop your skill and muscle for an area of learning.

By continually keeping at your edge you work through cycles but don't plateau.

3. Approach it from a new angle.

There are many different angles by which to look at your practice or habit. History is a nice way to round out the foundations of your knowledge, as might be physics or biology. There are people and approaches who do it the opposite, or totally different than you that might be worth studying. There may be ways to engage your senses, or zoom in and dissect something in smaller bits.

For example, if you love baking, you might want to tour bakeries on every vacation. You might want to learn about how yeast is grown. You might want to grow your own yeast. You might want to understand the physics of how ingredients create rise.

Take a simple idea, and take it seriously.

You get to choose what you focus on and what to take seriously.

Not because you need to, but because it's more fun and engaging.

If you've mastered the skill of making habits unconscious, maybe it's time to make them conscious again.

As always, let me know how I can help,

xx David