Habits Can Make You Stupid And Then Kill You


I’ve written 18 books. I’ve started 20 businesses. I’ve failed at about 17 of them but some have done OK.

I’ve helped raise two beautiful kids. I have a podcast that I love doing.

Sometimes I’m really lazy. Sometimes I do nothing. I go play arcade games or watch TV or sit in a store and drink coffee and play on my iPad.

But to do all of the above I had to work a lot.

Everyone is into habit porn these days. “Do these habits for success.”

I’m guilty of this also. I am a habit pornographer. BUT…be very careful. Don’t blindly do habits. Habits kill. Here’s why:

A) Life goes by too quick.

I like this salmon dish across the street. So a month ago I said, I’m going to just eat this every day and make decision-making easier.

Within a week I was sick of it. I thought I was going to die if I ate another bite of salmon.

If you do the same thing every day, your brain gets used to it. Then the tenth time you do it (the hundredth time) your brain doesn’t even realize it’s doing it.

That’s why people who work the same 9–5 job for 40 years feel like “the years went by so quick!”

Because if you do the same thing every day, the brain shuts down during those activities and it feels like just seconds have gone by when you think about it later.

People write: do these 100 habits every day. Do them at the same time (a morning ritual, an evening ritual, etc).

If you do that, and you blink, you’re going to be 90 years old.

B) You either grow or get worse.

You can’t step in the same river twice. It’s always changing.

One time I said, “I’m going to do 20 pushups a day.” That works for about a week. Then you have to do 21 pushups. Then 25, then 50.

Then pushups are no good. You’ve only worked one set of muscles. You have to change your exercise. You have to change your habits. So then it’s no longer a habit.

You can say, “Exercise every day.” Fine. But don’t do it at the same time each day (see “A”).


I like to play. But if I play the same game every day, I’ll get bored.

In the past week: air hockey, ping pong, pool, golf, mini-golf, some kind of small car race, skeet bowl, chess, etc.

Every game uses different parts of my brain and body. And I don’t do it at the same time. I do it when I’m not busy with other things. But I do try to spend time every day playing.

We’re not so different from when we were kids. If anything we’re more stupid.

I certainly didn’t call playing baseball a habit when I was a kid.

It was fun and it made me a better person and I play every day.

[ RELATED: All I Want To Do Is Play ]

D) Habits make you stupid.

I used to live in the beautiful country. I would drive and notice the trees and the architecture and the leaves changing.

But then on the 50th time on the same route, I stopped noticing everything. In fact, I’d get to my destination and not even remember anything. “How did I get here?”

If you take a different route each day, you keep noticing things. You keep learning about your surroundings.

The more new things that hit your brain (the less habits), the smarter you get.

Being present in every new moment forces the universe to deliver up a new experience on your plate of life. Devour it, digest it, and you’ll get more.

E) Habits are for insects.

Bees have habits. They do stuff with honey and flowers. They do the same thing each time.

Ants have habits. They build ant farms.

Humans don’t have habits. We have the exact same genes as 40,000 years ago. And, if you take out violent death and infant mortality, humans probably lived longer then.


Because they had a wider variety of things to eat. They had healthier exercise to get their food.

And they didn’t eat at the same time each day. They ate when they could find food.

Nor did they exercise at the same time. “Exercise” was “let’s get food” which only occurred when they were hungry.

Habits started when we were domesticated by wheat and turned from nomads into farmers to grow the wheat.

Prior to that, variety was the spice of life.

And now, to live long, to be smart, to live healthy, to have fun – variety also should be the spice of life.

So what do we do with all of the habits?

I try to contribute every day. To have impact. To learn and then share.

But that’s not a habit. That’s called being a decent citizen. I’m trying.

Related: How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps


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  • ha i chuckled at E), habits are for insects, great insight, never framed habits like this but it makes sense. Most habits are unconscious and lazy anyways, makes sense to change it up especially in the context of trying to keep your life as antifragile as possible.

  • Harry Martin

    Learning, sharing, changing, caring. Love it. Thank you James.

  • Sergei Brown

    I started to think about it (useless habits, a routine life) some time ago. There are many good books about mindfulness, they can help to rethink your life.

  • “Life goes by too quick” … and the speed accelerates with each year. Except when I am in the middle of a grueling workout. Only then does time seem to slow down.

    Nick de Peyster

  • Peter Osiago

    I fell head over heels for her yet I can’t stand her presence now.
    It makes perfect sense when Louis CK talks about never doing drugs if you really want to enjoy them…perhaps minimalism is a good thing after all.

  • mikeanmike

    To me this article is a good example of the “Systems vs. Goals” idea from Scott Adams. Variety and vigilance are needed to truly thrive in one’s life.

  • Bozee

    So, the best habit to have is a ‘change of habits.’

  • Ingrid Meijer Yaple

    Right you are James! Having been looking for months for a ‘professional’ job (that sounds wrong but work with me), I decided to apply for a part time cashier’s job here in Austin, TX. After two days of training I learned not only about the register which enables a variety of transactions, there are particular rules. E.g. for selling alcohol, how to have a conversation with the customer while you’re at it, be on the alert for customers who try to pass one by you (and they like to target newbie cashiers) and a whole slew of other do’s and don’ts’. I told my kids, this is to keep me on my toes and your brain/neurons will make new connections. I have a renewed respect for what it takes to be a ‘plain ol’ cashier’. After the first day of training at the training center I thought, dang, this “is” rocket science! In a manner of speaking of course. Instead of waiting by the computer/phone for a invite to come for an interview, I’m keeping myself busy. My brain will be overwhelmed in the next little while, but I will be the better of it. Plus, make no mistake, I will become smarter for it as well.

  • This is BEAUTIFUL.

  • Lyle Foxman

    This was a great read. Yesterday Casey Neistat announced that he would stop doing the daily vlog because it became too easy and didn’t challenge him. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-yrXB95qDo

  • Thea

    Spot on.

  • Jorge Berny

    “We have the exact same genes as 40,000 years ago. ”
    Not true, at all.

  • jeff stanley


  • Michael Mitsakos

    I like this post.

  • Nick Chongi

    Very helpful and amuzing. Thank you James.

  • Very insightful. My girlfriend and I currently live a life filled with change. A recent Facebook feed showed an image from “One year ago today”. Was that just one year ago? Wow. It seems so much longer. We have fitted so much into the past 12 months.
    A life filled with variety is a life lived to the full.

  • Songbird31

    Hello, this is off topic but I wanted to share with you that just read most of your book this evening, Choose Yourself”. I picked up a few key ideas that I will implement daily … learn my industry patents; stay in the present vs. time traveling; mind, body, soul. Good read!

  • Bertie

    Not long ago, I was in a prehistoric cave museum, and there was a graph of estimated life expectancy during the ages. Interestingly enough, it turns out that cavemen used to live a lot longer than citizens of the Roman Empire.

  • symphony

    bees and ants basically run corporations, and if you compare it to corporations in our world (walmart, starbucks,) there is a very strong parallel. habits are a very big reason for their success. habits can be incredibly powerful for certain situations. the idea is to make yourself numb to what you’re doing, so that it happens without you noticing and conserves brain power. ie, going to gym regularly, eating healthy.

    but I completely agree with what you’re saying. we’re dumbing ourselves down in areas we shouldnt be, when we should instead be exercising our creativity and doing things differently. the book moonwalking with einstein touches on this beautifully. without new experiences, and vivid memories, if we don’t remember anything, does what we did even count?

    • symphony

      to clarify, the habit is the act of GOING to the gym. that needs to be effortless. but, while you’re at the gym you should be giving it your full attention and doing things differently.

  • Lucas

    Nice! I have to say that James is one of many that actually gets to you. Thanks for being James! Lucas from Israel.

  • John Stauffer

    I read that before wheat become a major part of their diet, Egyptians were a foot taller!