Random Thoughts

Why Winners Don’t Do “Habits” (& Why You May Want to Ditch Them)

Over-achievers don’t focus on “habits”…

… Because the biggest winners, the over-achievers are internally driven.

They do not come up with habits, they do habits.

Sounds nonsense?

OK, let’s dig deeper.


I’ve sometimes been surprised by the outsized success of Atomic Habits.

Atomic Habits is an uber-popular book on how to start habits, and how to stick to them -including tips and various “tricks”-.

And just to be clear:

Atomic Habits is a fantastic book.

Probably the best book on habits.
Its success was surprising to me because “developing habits” just never felt necessary to me.

Because I was internally driven.

Habits may be helpful to some, though.

Similarly, I’m not a huge fan of some self-help advice such as “incantions”, visualizations, motivational content, or “gurus” telling you how to live or succeed.

To me, a large chunk of motivational content sound trite, corny, and even disempowering (the frame of motivational content is that you need their motivation, plus some gurus speak with a teacher frame that frames you as a pupil who needs to learn from them, and hence is below them).

And yet, some people swear that motivation is very helpful to them.

And, I believe them.

Indeed, habits, some self-help and much of motivational content are connected, and they appeal to the same type of personality -and work for the same type of personality-.

Let’s see:

Driven People “Naturally” Do The Right Thing

Here’s the rule of thumb:

Internal drive needs no external habit.

This is because driven people have internal psychological forces that naturally push them to take the daily hard actions that are necessary for long-term success.

So it’s a case of “inside-out” direction, of internal drive naturally leading to external action.
And if those actions are necessary on a recurrent basis, which is often the case for life success, then you “naturally” get an habit.

Much of that internal drive comes from what we may refer to as “an internal judge” (see judge power dynamics).

That internal judge has two components, and they say:

  • Positive self-judge says “do it and you’ll feel good about yourself”. This is moving towards the goal-producing actions
  • Negative self-judge says “don’t do it, and you’ll feel bad about yourself”. This is moving away from the non-goal producing (non)action. The “not good feeling” can be “unworthy”, lazy, a loser, etc. etc. But it’s all the same dynamic

As simple as that.

People who have those forces within them do what needs to be done, daily and repeatedly.

These people can say “fuck habits” and still actually live as if they had habits.

So they don’t make habits in the sense that they never even think about setting a “recurrent daily or weekly action” that needs to be reminded, cajoled, encouraged, or rewarded.
Because they have internal rewarding and punishment systems.

But they naturally fall into positive habits that are conducive to achieving their goal, or to general “success”.

The biggest over-achievers of internally-driven people also have:

  • High impulse control
  • Long-term orientation
  • Very high standards for themselves
  • Very high demands on themselves
  • Sensitive or very high-power personalities with external judges they seek to get rewards from, or prove wrong (ie.: narcissistic parents; social pressures or expectations; “enemies” who, in ther minds, slighted them; etc.)

Many internally driven folks have also high-power personalities.

And high-power people actively dislike habits, because…

High-Power People Hate Habits…

… Just like they’d hate anyone telling them what to do.

It’s in the nature of being high-power: high-power people don’t like anything that disempowers them, including whatever limits their power and freedom.

High-power people don’t like routines in the same way they don’t like having bosses telling them what to do.

Because, if you think about it, once you create a habit, a habit becomes your boss and governs your life.

And who needs that?

Certainly not internally driven people, because they’ll do what’s needed to achieve their goals anyway.

And certainly not high-power people, because they think that it’s bad enough to have a boss tell you what to do, let alone an inanimate thing that should govern your actions and schedule.

Instead, high-power and internally driven people just live their life as if they had habits, but with the (false?) sense of being free.

Same result, but more freedom -or, at least, it feels more like freedom-.

Average Folks Need External Strictures (Habits)

Alright, now…

Shall we say the politically incorrect way?

It’s average people who need habits.

This isn’t to be mean and neither to pass judgments on more average folks.

It’s just in the nature of things:

It’s people with huge internal drive who become non-average under their own self-imposed pressure to perform, achieve, build or “change the world”.

And, by consequence, the people who aren’t super-drive and don’t have super-demanding judges within them will lead more comfortable lives -and more comfortable lives never lead to outsized success-.

Depending on how you look at it, “more average people” are far better off than people with overly harsh internal judges.

However, not every average person would seek to make habits.

Instead, it’s a subset of more average folks.

So, who are these people who buy Atomic Habits by the truckload?

Average Folks In “Up Or Out” Cultures Seek External Habits

We are social animals.

So there isn’t just your internal brain makeup that governs your life.
There is also the whole society around you.

So non-internally driven people can still acquire that drive -and those judges- their culture or family.
This is more often the case in more individualistic, capitalistic, and “success-obsessed” cultures (motivational speaking is mostly an American phenomenon). And also dating markets where women value money and status more than the average (big cities, for example).

That’s how many people who could lead a chill life still torture themselves with motivational content, “incantations”, and “habits of successful people” -which, as we’ve seen, don’t even exist-.

In many ways, this is the worst combination.
They internalized the ambitions or the “need for success” from the external environment, but without the neurological makeup to take the daily, harder actions to turn dreams into reality.

So they seek ways to create habits because they need the strictures and impositions of the habits to take the non-pleasant actions that are needed to succeed (because they don’t have that internal “fire” burning inside them).

It’s the same people who consume endless amounts of motivational content: it’s because they need that daily motivation to move their asses.

Enter the “put your running shoes beside the bed”, “throw out the junk food from your house”, “listen to Tony Robbins every morning”, etc. etc.
Driven people don’t need those reminders and motivations.
They don’t eat junk food because they have strong impulse control and they want their own respect more than anything else.
And they don’t want Robbins yelling in their ears because they’d rather get to work.

All these “hacks” to do things that are obvious to internally driven people sound laughable to internally driven people.
They even sound weak-ass to them.

Non-Driven Folks: Throw Off That Yoke

Internally driven folks can suffer under a crushing weight of too big internal judges.

But at least, that comes natural to them and that’s how they’d choose to live anyway and that’s how they like to live.

However, people who don’t have those internal drives may at least have an easier road: to choose NOT to have any judges and pressure.

So, if you’re not naturally driven, here’s an idea for you:

Embrace not being overly ambitious, and enjoying your life, including taking pride in a life that’s about pleasure, relax, enjoyment, consumption, and, maybe, even more love, friendship, and affection.

Stop letting others (unconsciously) tell you how to live, quit the game of status, and start doing what YOU like and are comfortable with.

Really, take some time off and think what you truly want.

Because I bet you that a “chiller” life is most likely a life better lived than the life of most internally driven people -they never truly enjoy their achievements all that much anyway, and it’s all.

However, if you still prefer forcing yourself into a life you don’t really enjoy with incantations, motivation, and habits, then… That’s also cool.

No judgment here, you do whatever you want.

And if laying your gym clothes by the bed works for you, then go for it.

Try: The Week Of “Being You”

But maybe, just take a few days off to truly think about it.

Cut contact with the loudest “you must achieve” voices in your life, meditate, exercise -but at the pace you feel most comfortable with (instead of “pushing harder than last time”)- work -but stop on time for your favorite show, date, dinner, or simple “me time”-.

Live the way you want to live for a week, and see how you feel about it.

A week of an experiment to potentially free yourself from a life of following someone else’s programming… May even turn out the best and most meaningful week of your life.

By Lucio Buffalmano

Lucio Buffalmano is a social scientist, learner, and free spirit of many disparate interests.
While on The Power Moves Lucio follows its mission and focuses on practical issues and individual self-development, he uses this space for unbound, free mental roaming.

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