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Habits are not actions, or things you do regularly. First and foremost, a habit is a belief system. I don’t mean habits are a question of “believe in yourself”, I mean every habit is a philosophy before it is an action.

It’s true that if we got into the habit of communicating clearly with our colleagues, we would get more done. It’s fair to say that effective people know how to use their time wisely and regularly seize the initiative to fix problems before they arise. It’s common knowledge that successful people are positive thinkers who look for the best in a situation, instead of being paralysed by negativity.

Yet, these are all verbs, “doing words”. A habit is not primarily a verb. It is first a noun, and then becomes a verb. It is first a belief system, and then it becomes an action. That’s when we start to see our habits in operation, and realise that we’ve developed them. However, those actions won’t really become typical until we hold beliefs which advocate these activities.

But there are some people, nevertheless- and I am one of them- who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them.”

GK Chesterton in “Heretics”, chapter : Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy

It is more useful to know the philosophy of a lodger than his money, because his philosophy determines how he will spend that money. And it is more important to know an enemy’s philosophy than his numbers because the philosophy will dictate how he will use his numbers. And again, it is more important to determine your philosophy in order to be effective, than to determine your activities like communication or taking the initiative.

For instance, Stephen Covey’s first habit in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is not actually a verb, but a belief, a philosophy of responsibility. He calls his first habit “proactivity”. This does not mean taking the initiative or planning ahead; it is first and foremost a belief that I am responsible for my actions and for my life.

Nobody forces you to act.

Proactive people do not accept the deterministic lie that “I have to go to the party” or “he makes me so angry” or “she made me do it”. Being proactive means believing that your actions and your life is your problem. We choose to party and we choose to get angry. Once we start believing that what happens to us is because of our choices, then we start to make good choices.

Once we believe that it is our responsibility to have a prosperous future, we start planning ahead. Once we appreciate our responsibility to solve the problems that plague us, we start to take the initiative in searching for solutions. People who believe that their problems is another person’s fault or simply outside of their control, will not act with initiative or proactivity, because they do not believe in responsibility.

Habits are most of all beliefs about what the world is like and how we should act in that world. The actions we normally define as a “habit” such as taking the initiative are simply the physical reaction to our beliefs. To create a habit therefore means probing and changing our beliefs and attitudes before we change our actions.