The Four H’s of Self Destruction: When Hobby becomes Habit


Oxford American Dictionary

In this installment of The Four H’s of Self Destruction, we’ll take a closer look at some of the factors that turn Hobby into Habit. If you’d like to read the first part of the series click here.

I’ve been investigating this topic for months. Although I’ve learned a lot, I have discovered that each new bit of information I uncover holds more questions than it does answers.

What is the tipping point where Hobby becomes Habit?
Let’s begin with a comparison of meaning between the two:

Hobby: “done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure” (harmless).
Habit: “a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up / informal: an addictive practice, especially one of taking drugs, which can develop into a bad habit” (not so harmless).

According to my mentor, Zig Ziglar:
“Good habits are difficult to acquire, but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to acquire, but difficult to live with. Almost without exception, bad habits come slowly and pleasantly and, in most instances, the habit has you before you’re aware you have the habit.

Habit is a cable. We weave a thread of it each day until it becomes too strong to break. Then the strength of that habit cable takes us to the top – or ties us to the bottom, depending on whether it is a good habit or a bad one… All bad habits, trends, etc., start slowly, quietly and apparently harmlessly.”

It’s important to remember, not all habits are negative. In fact, some can be very positive. It’s a good habit to brush your teeth, eat three meals a day, exercise and shower regularly. Brushing your teeth becomes a bad habit when you’re doing it so much that you’re causing your mouth to bleed, or it’s interfering with your day because you’re physically, mentally and/or emotionally held hostage by the habit.

Habit appears to be linked to addiction, obsession, compulsion and dependence – and I wonder which comes first – the habit or the mental state. When something is a hobby, does one obsess over it until it turns into a habit (addiction)? Or does something become a habit first, and then one starts to obsess over it?

In other words, does a person with a habit develop obsessive/compulsive tendencies, or is someone with an obsessive/compulsive personality simply manifesting their mental state into reality in the form of a habit?

I also think that hobbies can become bad habits when we start using the hobby as a coping mechanism. If we’re using it to cope, then it takes on attributes that are designed to help us AVOID solving problems. I’m not talking about coping for a short period of time because of a major life event. I’m talking about using it on a daily basis under “normal circumstances.”

A person may sit down “to relax” and watch some TV instead of sitting down at the computer to update their resume and make a game plan to find a better job. The habit of watching TV is rationalized into a solution, but in reality only perpetuates the problem. Weeks, months and years may go by without any change in the resume, let alone one’s place of employment. Unless, of course, this person does indeed get on the computer after they’ve watched their show. In which case, the TV has not be come a negative habit, but is being used simply to relax before they get down to work.

Substitute a TV habit with any of the infinite other things that people find comfort in, and you’ve got a whole lot of people stuck in a habit of procrastination, among other things.

How do we procure a hobby into a good habit and keep it there?
Where is the in-between point where the habit is healthy and effective? It’s important to distinguish bad habits from good, and define the line that exists where fantastic turns to fatal because you’ve gone too far. I think it’s a question of dedication (which includes motivation, inspiration, determination and hope) vs. addiction (which includes dependency, obsession, compulsion and enslavement).

In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, he mentions the Japanese word Otaku, which means “something that’s more than a hobby but a little less than an obsession. Otaku is the overwhelming desire that gets someone to drive across town to try a new ramen-noodle shop that got a great review. Otaku is the desire to find out everything about Lionel’s new digital locomotive – and tell your fellow hobbyists about it.”

Otaku is a place that seems positive. It’s got desire and determination built into it, without any negative baggage.

How do we get rid of a bad habit?
I need to start off by stating that I am not a psychologist or a doctor. Although I’d like to share my findings on the subject, this article is not meant to replace the help of a professional. But I do hope you find it helpful, or at least as interesting as I do.

In William James’ book, Psychology, published in 1948, James writes of “the two great maxims of treatment,” develoved by Professor Alexander Bain:

“The first is that in the acquisition of a new habit, or leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall re-enforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning a such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all. 

The second maxim is: Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right.”

Zig Ziglar speaks similarly on the subject. He mentions that to break a bad habit, first one must truly commit to breaking it. Then a person needs to avoid the unwanted habit for at least 21 days in order to “break” it. He also mentions that you cannot discard an old habit without replacing it. In other words, you’ve got to find a new, positive habit to fill the void left when you let go of the old one.

The next installment of the series looks at what happens when Habit becomes Harmful.

And remember, you are not alone…  

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