It's unfortunate, but true: most of our lives are on autopilot. We live life as if all there is to life is to live out a few routines over-and-over. Some of these are positive (or at least not directly negative) routines: get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep. And some of them are negative: meet a guy, date him, push him away once he falls in love...
To anyone that values their freedom, this is a scary idea because I'm arguing that the majority of most people's lives are just spent living out habits and hardly doing anything else. Unfortunately, it's true.
I mean, just think about it, what is personality, really? A series of yeses and nos. A set of permissions. I say this because a person is what they do, and we know them because they are (usually) a rather consistent person. And if a person is consistent, then we can predict what they're going to do because they do what they do.
For instance, I had a boss once who was very timid and passive aggressive. I always knew that if he was upset with me or another employee, rather than talking to the employee directly, he'd write a pissy letter explaining how to do something in a sarcastic way and then post it in a common area for all employees to see.
This boss would never discuss a problem directly with an employee, but would talk about the problem with other employees. So, often weird problems would happen, for instance, he'd call someone and ask them to work a shift that day because he was firing an employee who usually works that shift; however, he wouldn't tell the fired employee that he was fired. So, the fired individual would find out that they were fired when they arrived at work and the other employee asks, "What are you doing here? Didn't you get fired?"
Though his behaviors are not true of all bosses, they are true of his behaviors as a boss. And he had these behaviors because he is a scared, weak person. His fear is a habit, but so are the ways that it is manifested--passive-aggressive letters, talking bad about other employees, firing people and not telling them, etc.--as well as his thought processes that lead to and follow his actions and feelings.
So, am I saying that people are limited and only able to live out their habits? No. But I am saying that most of the time people are limited and only living out their habits.
And for the record, I'm not arguing that all habits are bad. Some habits are good, for instance, to write this articled, I'm using the habit of writing I've cultivated over many years as well as the habits of the English language, how I use English, typing, and of course, the most important habit of all: discipline. (Sometimes, it can take extreme effort to write articles!)
But there is good news: if you can learn about your habits and how they control you, then you can begin the process to altering them if you want to. And of course, there are some habits that may be impossible to break--e.g. the habit of having an orgasm in the middle of good sex; however, that shouldn't stop you from trying to break habits you don't want like never talking to girls you find attractive.
There are three types of habits: habits of thought, habits of action, and habits of feeling. Let's discuss each one for a minute or two.
Habits of thought are specific response of thought to a certain stimulus (either an experience or a thought). Which is to say that a habit of thought is when a certain thought or train of thoughts accompanies either a thought or experience. For instance, many people have the habit of thought, "Oh my god!" to seeing an attrocity on the news.
Habits of action are a specific response of action to a certain experience or thought. For instance, when riding a bicycle, most people have a habit of action of braking when they're going too fast.
Habits of feeling are a specific emotional response to a certain experience or thought. For instance, many people feel heart-broken when they discover their spouse is cheating on them.
And if you consider one of your habits for a moment, you'll likely find that it is one of those habit types. For instance, the habit of smoking cigarettes is a habit of action.
But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find out that though any habit will usually be one of the three types, it is "guarded" by the other two types of habits. By which I mean that every habit has all three types of habits involved in it.
Take again the example of smoking cigarettes. While it is clearly a habit of action that has to be dealt with in a physical way, focusing solely on smoking as a physical problem will get you nowhere. This is because smoking isn't just a problem of action, but it's a problem of belief and feeling--and they work together. People that smoke have many beliefs like smoking makes me feel more calm, smoking relaxes me, smoking helps with my stress, etc. And they will have the corresponding habits of feeling: smoking relaxes them, cravings, stress-relief, etc.
And this is the real secret to how habits control you: habits are not just built of the habitual action or thought or feeling, but all three working in tandem. Once you realize this, however, changing habits is a lot simpler because now you know that you need to attack actions, habits, and beliefs in order to actually change...