Previously, I’ve written about two thought katas:
The advanced kata has applications beyond mere thoughts. If we change the words, this kata becomes a useful tool for evaluating your habits:
All habits have a purpose with a point of view based on assumptions which have consequences and form our identities. With facts, data, and our experiences, we use inferences and judgments in order to determine if our habits are worthwhile.
The subtle shift to habits is very important because many of us mindlessly perform the same habits for decades without ever thinking about them.
Application of the first move
I think that the first part, “All habits have a purpose with a point of view,” is especially important. Many of us have habits that, since we did not adopt them on purpose, have a purpose determined by somebody else! Mindlessly watching television instead of using it as an intentional rest period can work this way.
Here is an example from the weight room. If you lift weights, you might always turn the plates one way on the barbell. This makes literally no difference in how the weight sits on the bar. But many people learn this habit in high school football and never abandon it. Btw, the best direction to face the plates depends on what body position you use to remove them from the bar.
Other habits might be more insidious. Think of getting home from work with a bag of fast food and plopping down on the couch to watch television. Where does this habit come from? Did you choose to spend 2-3 hours a day passively absorbing other people’s ideas from a screen while eating food whose quality you know you could exceed with 30 minutes in the kitchen? Whose idea was it?
All habits, all habits have a purpose. The question is, what purpose? And what are the assumptions of that habit? With regard to fast food, the assumption is that speed is of more value than nutrients or the act of creating a dish. But is this assumption true? It depends on what your own goals are.
Socratic Questions for Habits using the Advanced Thought Kata
- What is the purpose of this habit? Is this a good purpose (does it match my values, is it objectively good from a moral stand-point, is it objectively good for me from a health/personal goal stand point)?
- What point of view is implied by this habit? Is it a despairing habit, a habit based on virtue, on lack of virtue and so-on? Does this habit assume that hope is real, that time has meaning, etc?
- What are the results of this habit in my life? What will the results be if I keep it up (how much money am I losing, what is happening to my health, are there eternal consequences, is it hurting others, etc)?
- What is this habit doing to my self-concept? Is it helping me to identify more and more with the good, with my family, to be at ease with myself? Is it building relationships with the tribe or community of which I am a part? Or is it creating anxiety about my purpose in life or at odds with what I believe truly matters?
- With these things in mind, is this a habit I wish to pursue whole-heartedly, alter, reframe, or abandon?
The other pieces of the kata apply in similar ways to the example above, but I thought that it would be easier for me to give you questions to find your own applications than it would be for me to give you examples.
I’ve often told people these two things:
- Never be embarrassed to do the thing that makes you the best.*
- If nobody finds your habits unusual, then perhaps you haven’t thought about them enough.
Number two is especially important, because very few people have chosen their habits and so doing something precisely because you’ve thought it through will be weird. I used to get made fun of at the gym for doing one set to failure, a buddy of mine ate with a perfect diet with no cheat days to lose weight in high school, some of the people I know with the most Bible verses memorized are people who hang them up all over their house, and several of the most successful people I know make it a point to wake up and do work for several hours before the sun comes up. None of these are the habits of normal people. What will you change?
*I received one of my greatest compliments from a student whose SAT I merely supervised and I said this while we were waiting for the last group of students to arrive. Several years later she told me that that quote had completely changed her approach to life.