How Habits Steal Your Time (If You Let Them)

Filling The Void in Your Schedule

I made a casual reference this morning to how my habits and routines tend to expand to fill whatever "free time" I might otherwise have, causing me to defer other non-routine activities because "I don't have time." I don't even recall what my original point was at the time, but the idea that habits expand to fill a void in your schedule resonated with my audience. Time, essentially, is a scarce commodity, and "free time" is even rarer, so I find I have a natural tendency to allocate that time to familiar, comfortable, habitual leisure activities. Apparently, other people do this, too - or something like it. But often the non-routine activities that I put off nag at me. Maybe it is a chore I don't feel like doing, or a new and exciting leisure activity that might interest me but I'm putting off trying it out of habit. I do what is easy and familiar in the moment -  follow the path of least resistance.

David McRaney explains it very nicely, in the context of procrastination:
"This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good." 
Habit and routine taste good. Really, really good - to me, anyway. Habits are really powerful, and developing good habits (say, brushing your teeth) is a useful life skill. Indulging yourself, in moderation, is a good thing to do, too, so it is natural to find a free moment and think "I should go engage in my favorite leisure activity, indulge myself while I have a chance." But when those indulgences - those leisure activities - take on the form of habits, and you're just engaging in them because it is your normal routine, then there might be a problem: your routine might be expanding to fill a void in your schedule.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Gary Larson wrote that. So go out, break from routine, find something new, do something nice - and different - for yourself (or someone else). Take a walk on The Far Side.

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