Habit and magic

Our life is a balance between the habits we create, and the magic we seek. Photo by Christophe Hautier on Unsplash

We humans are a curious mixture of two opposing forces.  On the one hand, we all love to develop habits; but, on the other hand, we all love to feel free to seek out magic in our lives.


Our ability to live, move and think is based, in part, on building sustainable patterns of activity which can repeat themselves.  Over millions of years, our bodies have generated metabolic systems which can, automatically, do what they usually do.  Our thoughts run along pathways like paths in woods – experience forges them, and then we wear them in.

Just listen to the conversation of another human being.  After a while, you will notice that they are repeating similar phrases and behaviours every day.  We all have narratives which we pour out to the world like a public relations service.

This is a necessary part of living.  After all, if our world was not manageably similar each day, we would not know where to begin.  Reinventing our world is very costly in terms of energy.  Being habit-forming is an extremely economical way to live.


However, many of us become dissatisfied if life gets too ‘samey’.  Relationships sometimes collapse because one or other partner describes themselves as ‘bored’.  Many affairs are born from this dissatisfaction.  People bump into somebody new, and they catch a glimpse of an easy way into a renewed sense of magic.  Some even make a lifetime of this kind of relational magic-seeking.  There is nothing wrong with it, as long as we stay honest, and do not abuse other people’s trust.

Magic comes in many forms, and in a sense is the opposite of habit.  The so-called ‘laws of nature’ that we respect, as though nature had a law-book, are possibly no more than habits of matter.  We sense magic when we see those ‘laws’ being broken.  We get excited when we see miracles, because we feel the elation of a potential escape from the trap of mundane, predictable existence.

We seek spirituality and religion on a similar basis.  We want life to be special, and not just routine.  We look to pop stars, writers, politicians and celebrities to supply us with stories of ‘specialness’.


Neither side of our unique characters is right on its own.  Our habit-forming side is correct that we need order, routine, and clear expectations.  But our magic-loving side is also right that we need a sense of yearning, a sense of beauty, a sense of something beyond the everyday.

In terms of mental health, if life is all routine and no awe, then we can sink into the doldrums of depression.  Equally, if life is all yearning and no controlled routine, then we can get lost in anxiety.

It’s our responsibility to find the right balance between our two sides.


It is always worth looking at our days, to see how we could best design them for happiness.

We may notice that we are repeating too much of the same thing, trapped in a prison of our own making.  Or we may notice that we are lost in the search for stimulation and novelty.  The paradox of the latter is that the search for novelty can become just another routine.  The person who seeks ecstasy and magic in drugs or love affairs, can easily fall victim to addictions that are as boring and mundane as the life they are trying to escape.

Probably an 80:20 solution is good.  80% of our lives should probably be order, since we need to eat our meals, sleep at night, and maintain our surroundings.  And 20% of our lives should probably be inspirationally creative.  We can find this by building in variety and interest.

Here are 6 ways to encourage balance in the design of our days:

  1. HABIT – Use a diary to give each day a basic structure.
  2. HABIT – Eat three meals a day, so that the body knows its habits.
  3. HABIT – Build into each day a social routine, such as work, a phone call, or a visit to a friend.
  4. MAGIC – Set aside time each week to learn something new – discover new skills, new languages.
  5. MAGIC – Set aside time each week to visit people and places of interest.
  6. MAGIC – Set aside time each week to discover new music, art and literature.


Overall, we can watch ourselves, and check whether we have the right balance of habit and magic.

If life feels too stale, maybe we need more magic.

If life feels too overwhelming, maybe we need more routine.