I have spent a lot of time studying physics. I was especially fascinated by the ability of predicting the behavior of planetary bodies through mathematics. One of the first topics we studied included Newton’s laws of universal gravitation. It describes the attraction of two bodies depends upon their mass and the distance between them. This means that everything with any weight is pulling every other body toward it at some level. Yes, you are exerting a force, be it very, very small, on the sun, just as it is pulling you toward it. What keeps us from flying off into space towards the sun is that we are much, much closer to another body, albeit smaller, called the Earth. It is the very close proximity to the Earth that keeps us stuck here on its surface. Our bodies even exert a very small force on each other. We call that force Gravity.
So why talk about gravity in a discussion of habits? We are drawn to actions much like we are physically drawn toward other bodies of mass. The “mass” of an action is our need or desire to perform it. The distance between us and the action is the frequency in which we perform it. The force generated between the two is called “habit”.
For example, I have a strong habit of eating every day. I do it several times each day and that frequency is so close and regular that I am very attached to it. The force of that habit is very high. So, when I miss a couple meals, for force of my habit kicks in and I start seeking food everywhere. The longer I go without food, the more that attraction pulls me in. Let’s say I wanted to give up food completely. Like a rocket trying to escape the Earth for orbit, I would have to exert an incredible amount of effort to break that habit. Ask anyone who is trying to give up smoking just how hard it can be. No matter the distance between the last cigarette and the current day, that force of habit is tugging gently, much like a comet is pulled by the Sun, even though it is billions and billions of miles away. If an effort is not constantly exerted, the attractive force can cause us to revert to that action, even after a distance of years.
Understanding this force of attraction can help us break habits and create new ones. The frequency in which we perform the desired action will create stronger forces of habit. When forming a new desired habit, it takes awhile of regular repetition to bring that action close enough to make it a constant orbit of our behavior. Our desire for that action increases its mass in the equation of the habit. The greater the desire, the less impact the distance of repetition has on the habit. My desire to stay out of jail helps me perform my annual tax return with perfect frequency. And that deadline of April 15th helps quite a bit, too.
When trying to make a new habit, determine how much the new action is desired. Then, increase the frequency until the action is brought into the orbit of behavior. Push the undesired actions away by decreasing their frequency, realizing the struggle will be in direct proportion to the force of the habit already created. If you’re a closet physicist like me, perhaps this analogy will help you capture the actions you want into your personal orbit of habit.