Habit or Innate – Does it Matter?

Tom GibbonsOrganization Development, Preference Assessments, Social ConstructionLeave a Comment

I just finished reading the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  During this time I’ve also been paying attention to discussions and exchanges on the topic of innateness.  And being in the work preference assessment business this topic often comes up.

Our position on preference assessments has been made clear in a variety of posts; we lean toward the social construction of preference as measured by these types of assessments, which would put us more onto the side of habit than innate.

But outside of preference assessments does it really matter if important parts of our behavior are learned habits or innate characteristics?

Well, I think it matters a lot!

Especially because the idea of innate seems to get thrown out there so often with very little evidence to support what actually can be proven as such.  And when the term innate is used to describe behavior it tends to be interpreted as something that the individual has very little, if any control over and something that will not change.  At this point all types of troubling things can happen; acceptance without question of behavior that is problematic, loss of accountability to change that behavior, the search for innate traits and characteristics that produce desirable (or non desirable) behavior, a belief that important parts of our identity are created outside of the influence of ourselves and others, and perhaps the most troubling of all; a belief that we have little choice or affect in changing our own behavior.  We are who we are, like it or not.

Duhigg’s book however points out numerous examples of people changing by focusing on behavior as a habit and trying to understand the dynamics of that habit and then actively pursuing changing the dynamic and thus the behavior.

For me the reason this matters and why looking at behavior as primarily a habit is that it keeps alive the possibility of change.  It keeps alive one of the most important things we own, choice.  That possibility, that choice is either severely compromised or dissipates completely when we see behavior as primarily innate.

I don’t see this as a naïve or rose-colored glasses perspective.  That anyone can choose to behave any way they want and if they want it enough it will happen.  Changing habits is not easy, in many cases this type of change may be the biggest challenge of our lives, and it may not work.

Yet if we focus on behavior as a habit we will continue to try to understand the dynamics of the habits of our lives since the possibility of change exists.  If we focus on behavior as innate we either give up on change or try and understand just what is innate.  And for me, the search for that understanding is naïve given our highly connected and interactive experiences as a human being.

So I land on the side of behavior as habit.  If you want to try to change my thinking I would assume you must think the same way 🙂

Author – Tom

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