Too many of us dismiss the wisdom of Yoda, the knee-high Sage of Dagobah (you thought I was all Trek all the time, didn’t you?), at our peril. The Force is all around us, controlling our actions even while granting us enormous power. In traditional professions such as agriculture, it is even more potent. So, proud Farmwalker, it is crucial to master the Force of Habit. And a great time to start January is.
As science unravels how we form habits and overcome them (see my book review in this issue, page 10), more than a few of us can identify with examples in popular culture. From St. Paul (“that which I would not do, I do”) to Charlie Brown running up to kick the football, we repeat good actions and bad without conscious thought.
Ask any market adviser how hard it is to change marketing habits. Technical analysis is little more than a graph of countless marketing habits. Can you even recognize your habitual patterns? One of the many gifts of advancing years is the clarity to perceive that you have made the same mistakes in the same ways for decades. Identifying bad habits even slightly earlier is one key to increase your competitiveness.
Good Records Matter. Subtle habits often only emerge from patterns of history. Thanks to computers and smart-everythings, we now have more than our faulty memory to record the events of the past. Now add objective outsiders, who can often detect habitual mistakes that are hidden in plain view to participants. This is one reason to make your annual prayer meeting with your banker as detailed as possible and documented in writing. You can get more than money from your lender.
Recent research also suggests we are developing information habits knowingly, and not. After spending a surfer’s honeymoon skipping about on dozens of sites, most of us settle into visiting the same sites often, especially Facebook, Twitter and aggregators such as Google News. Information technology exploits such habits, resulting in a down spiral of increasingly specific information based on your past habitual clicks. Your view of the world becomes a narrow slot, making big, and often sad, surprises more frequent.
Adjust Your Habits. Weekly, read one opposing viewpoint website (Think Progress, Red State, etc.), one non-ag website (tech, lifestyle, foreign policy, etc.) and one wide-ranging aggregator such as Metafilter or The Browser. I do this on “Unsubscribe Monday” while battling my overflowing junk mailbox—another helpful habit.
Use checklists to make sure critical procedures are done right every time, forming useful habits in the process. If it works for pilots and surgeons, it might be a good idea for starting every day of harvest, for example.
We’ve all had to develop a different startup procedure when faced with new machines. Now that upgrades come faster and are more disruptive, we might not be able to get smoothly functioning habits in place before Version 3.5 arrives. Written cheat sheets, posted instructions and simulated run-throughs can create habits that add efficiency.
Modify bad habits rather than struggling to eliminate them. When undergoing significant changes in your farm or life, attach some desired habit changes. There seems to be a sort of volume discount for such adjustments. Bringing an offspring into the operation? Consider simultaneous renovations in tillage patterns, marketing or finance, especially if such improvements have been on the to-do list for some time.
Habits are an intrinsic feature of our brains, not a cerebral programming bug. Unless we control their formation and deployment, we could be encumbered with outdated skill sets and inefficient processes. Remember: Use The Force.