We’re fascinated by habits.
As Scott H. Young recently blogged, habits are powerful for sculpting a highly productive life because they take away the transaction cost of launching into an action: There’s much less mental overhead to going for a run if you do it every morning versus once a fortnight.
And yet while habits may make you more productive, Young makes a strong argument for how they can make you less creative, contending that if you trying to expand your skill set, you should break your routines, since “too much consistency inevitably leads to a plateau where weaknesses ossify and improvement becomes harder.”
At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova recently delved into similar territory, quoting from British author Arthur Koestler’s The Act Of Creation:
- “The skills of reasoning rely on habit, governed by well-established rules of the game; the ‘reasonable person’–used as a standard norm in English common law–is level-headed instead of multi-level-headed; adaptive and not destructive; an enlightened conservative, not a revolutionary; willing to learn under proper guidance, but unable to be guided by his dreams.”
The question, then, is really one of framing: what are we trying to do here? If we’re trying to produce as much as possible as fast as possible, habit seems to be useful. But, as Koestler argues, if we’re trying to make something new–as in, commit the act of heresy otherwise known as innovation–smartly breaking and experimenting with habits can be a way to prime creativity, since the creative act so often begins at the intersection of previously unrelated ideas.