Habits and Career Development

Aristotle is famous for saying ‘we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.’

I’ve been noticing a theme at the moment particular in popular level psychology around habits and the subsconscious. I found the video above by Owen Fitzpatrick a helpful and clear introduction to what habit formation is and how we can use it to our advantage.

From a careers development perspective what I find interesting about this discussion around habits is the way it recognises the effect that small but regular activities make up our lives and so our careers. Habits basically asks are we doing enough of the right sort of things. This often comes in the form of discussing “social vices” such as smoking, watching TV and eating unhealthy food and wanting to replace them with more socially respectable activities such as exercise, reading and eating healthy. From a career perspective we may look at the amount of time we give to regular activities we think may benefit our career such as using LinkedIn, reading industry news, networking and applying for jobs.

This is a particularly broad intro but you get the impression and see how the ideas may be of use. I think there is a couple of problems with the approach from a career perspective. Firstly then ideas tell you how to change and not what to change, things like smoking and eating junk food are fairly apparent to most people and their effects are well known, unearthing negative career habits (such as being rude to people, job hopping or having a prejudiced view of certain job opportunities) is not always so easy which highlights a downfall in the theory.

Secondly habits focus entirely on repeated activities we do without thinking, as Fitzpatrick puts it a habit is  “an automatic behavior we engage in without even thinking.” This ignores strategy which is clearly a conscious activity. Career development would want to discuss both habits and strategies in any definition. That said lots of advice (including Fitzpatrick’s) around habits is equally applicable to changing our strategies and other career behaviours.

Fitzpatrick focuses on three ways to change a habit, I think these are interesting and pertinent to look at as they relate closely to careers work.

1 Value the change

2 Strategies it

3 Identify with it by becoming that sort of person


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