One Bad Habit You Can’t Run From

We all have bad habits.

It’s kind of confusing because in the moment, these habits always seem to mask themselves as great ideas. I certainly have a few.

Let’s take alcohol. I’ve always enjoyed drinking with friends. I try to be responsible. I don’t drink during the week. I don’t drink and drive. I even track how much I drink. I’ve talked about my tracking sheets in the past, so this might not surprise you.

I’d be the first to admit that alcohol has screwed up some moments in my life. It’s also been an aid to some amazing ones. The latter is typically the rationalization I use every time I go out for “drinks” with friends. It could be said that drinking alcohol, at all, is a bad habit. The research is pretty clear that it’s not healthy for you. But it’s fun, that’s why I do it.

The problem is, I get lost in the moment. One leads to two, and all of sudden I’m dancing in the moonlight.

This doesn’t seem to be unique to me, though. We are all influenced by our environment. Which is why you’ll eat that piece of cake at the party you told yourself in private you wouldn’t eat. You may have even heard this played out in sayings like, “You’re the average of the five people you hang out with most.” Or maybe you’ve had firsthand experience with, “Hunny, you get it, I was just out with the guys.”

Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in The Tipping Point, labeling it the power of context. He points to the famed Stanford prison experiment as a clear indicator. A mock prison scenario with student volunteers for guards and prisoners. The goal was to see whether it was the institution or the prisoners that made prison a violent place. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but lasted only six days. Things got nasty fast. Normal, law-abiding citizens became a product of their environment. We all have a tendency to get lost in the moment.

Maybe you’re the epitome of self-control. I’d contend you just do a better job controlling your environment.

Some people smoke cigarettes. Some people are lazy. Some people eat too much. Some people refuse to exercise. Some people spend money on stupid stuff. Some people don’t save any money. Some people lie, cheat, and steal. Some people do combinations of all these things. Some people are in denial they even have bad habits. Which is arguably a bad habit in its own right. And all of these things seem likely to be affected by your environment.

I could probably stop here, and this article might be useful for you. Learn to manage your environment. Fair enough. Solid advice, too.

There’s one bad habit that seems to affect almost everyone, almost all the time.

It’s the one bad habit we can’t run from. In past articles, I’ve shared the idea that no two people in the world have the same compounded experiences, which makes your perspective truly unique. I actually share this quite often. It’s principle in many of my ideas. This makes you truly different than anybody else in the world. This provides you with great power. It provides you with unique opportunities to provide your iterations on the world.

But like most things, there’s a downside.

We are victims of our unique perspective. This manifests itself into a bad habit we all commit pretty regularly, whether we’re out at night, at work, on social media, or with your wonky relatives. We’re doing it all the time. Worse, we think we’re not doing it. Typically, we don’t even recognize we’re doing this habit until another person points it out. By then it’s usually too late. Now we’re just mad and offended. Perhaps in denial.

We all project our unique perspective on to other people.

A waiter recommends a bottle of red wine. The waiter probably likes red wine.

A husband yells at his wife to get off her cell phone. The husband probably plays on the phone all day.

A teacher wonders why the student’s homework isn’t complete. The teacher probably has a supportive home life.

A friend asks, “How much did you pay for that?” The friend is probably concerned about money.

It’s not a conscious choice, it’s an unconscious habit. We tend to view the world through how we feel about something. We’re all assuming other people see the world as we see the world. We all are assuming everyone values the same things we value. We all are assuming everyone has been dealt the same hand we’ve been dealt. It’s not our fault, though, we’re just looking at things from our perspective. Not even the people we swear we know best are impervious. After all, the people inside our controlled environment might just be getting lost in the moment.

Consider this: If we all tend to get influenced by our environment and project our unique perspective on to others, then wouldn’t it be worth it to consider you might not know “that” person as well as you think you do? That person who lives next door. That person who eats at the same table as you. That person who lives across the country. That person who lives in another country. It’s quite possible they might look at “it” completely differently. They probably do. Not because they’re better or worse, either. Just because they’re them. And you’re you.

So I’ll offer a piece of advice. A way for you to fight this inevitable bad habit. A habit that’s likely to pop up today, tomorrow, and the next day. It’s simple in theory, hard in practice, but it will be worth it.

  1. Don’t assume. Ask the question.

  2. Don’t assume. Listen to the answer.

  3. Don’t assume. Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Maybe this small piece of advice will help you. I hope so. Let it sink in.

If not, I’ll buy you a drink and we can talk about it.

But we might need all night.