You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. You can throw a drowning man a life ring but it is up to him to grab it. You can pay for your child’s college tuition, but it is up to them to do the work and earn the grades. The outcome in all three of these scenarios will depend solely on the singular function of choice.
Choice remains the most powerful weapon in the human behavioral arsenal, and advances in neurobiology are newly-arrived game changers in our understanding of how and why people make the choices they do.
At the same time, so too grows our understanding of time, the science of it, our perceptions of it, and how it plays a powerfully influential role in the way we make choices. The extent to which the interaction of time and choice effect the day-to-day lives of everyday people has barely been discovered, but even in the infancy of this emerging knowledge, it leads us directly to a powerful and undeniable conclusion.
Habits do not exist. The very concept of habit is based on an illusion.
There’s no such thing as a habit when viewed through the revealing lens of time. There is only choice. And there is nothing else. There has never been anything but choice. And there never will be.
Until now, choice has been consistently mislabeled as habit. This mislabeling is entrenched so deeply and subscribed to so universally that its presence remains invisible to the vast majority of people. Fortunately, that is about to change in a very big way, and the positive implications for the human condition cannot be overstated.
By definition, a habit is:
- an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary
The key element that blows this definition out of the water….is TIME.
Time is to our power of choice like air is to our lungs. We are alive because our lungs are breathing right now, and that is all that matters. Our next breath. This breath. This moment right now. All else flows from THIS breath.
The very same reality has unmasked habit as nothing more than the self-bullying of our thoughts, an imaginary threat to the far more powerful resource of choice. The only thing that matters is what we are choosing right now. Our next choice. This choice. This moment right now. All else flows from THIS choice.
And it is here in the present, at the latest of a lifetime of behavioral crossroads, that the traditional concept of habit disintegrates, and the freedom and power of choice can emerge to fill the void.
Here’s a perfect example.
Imagine you meet a man who has smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, every day, for the past 30 years. According to the definition above, he would quality as one who has a deep-set habit of smoking. Now ask the man, “Could you go 60 seconds, one minute, without smoking a cigarette?” I think you might agree, his answer would likely be “Sure” or “No problem.”
Well, if that is the case, how does the man so easily transition from a chronic smoker to such a confident non-smoker? The answer lies in the powerful interaction of choice and time.
When we are focused on the present, the incredible and unlimited power of choice is unleashed. Only in the present is our capacity for choice unimpeded by our obsessions with the past and our fears of the future.
Only in the present can we choose not to repeat the mistakes of our past, and recognize with blinding clarity that what I do right now has nothing at all to do with habit, and everything to do with what I choose right now.
Only in the present can we choose to no longer be threatened by our anxiety-riddled visions of a future without cigarettes, or without 3 drinks a night, or not checking your email at 3AM, or the demands of eating healthfully or exercising regularly.
In the sobriety and clarity of the present, we can opt for the freedom of choice over the unconscious reliving of our past. In the present moment, all servitude to the illusion of habit evaporates.
If we choose, habit is dead. Long live choice.