Experience or habit ?

How do they shape our character and our work?

Holly Warren explores the roles of experience and habit as they occupy the stages of our lives, both shaping our thinking, character, work and teaching.

As you read this article listen and relax to the music of Wenicia Lindh

What are these to you?

What images and characters appear on your mental stage when the words experience and habit make their entrance? Do they become visible together, or on their own? Are they acclaimed by the audience, or pushed on or do they hide in the shadows? Which one occupies front stage? Which one is dressed in spontaneity? Where are you?  On stage or in the audience? Where does the light shine and when do the lights go off?

Contrasting ideas

Experience finds its origin in the word experientia which means a trial, experiment, activity, industry, learning through repeated testing. As we know, testing can have unexpected results. In its certainties we find stillness, gaps, and unoccupied space.

Habit is the characteristic attire of a religious or clerical order. It reflects usual practice, recurring method of action. Monks had one attire per order. We wear our clothes to fit who we are and want to be. They fit to fit and even when they don’t we keep wearing them.


Experience is practice through doing and questioning your doing. The more you practice the more you notice that you might have only touched a portion of the practice. Experience is flexible, it allows us to move with dexterity, grace, and poise. It knows that it needs practice and can stumble on pride, bias, and mistakes. It reads silence and welcomes uncertainty without tripping on preconceptions too often. It listens, asks, and questions in order to unweave the rainbow of answers.

Experiences leave impressions, marks that illustrate a journey, an involvement, an incident, an event, an engagement, a test, an encounter, and an adventure. It means living through the above gaining knowledge and placing your known on a ledge, a windowsill, or a plinth to observe it from a distance by walking round it and noticing that no matter how good it is there is an unseen area that needs looking into, an angle that too sharp or a shadow cast that needs it source.

Enlightening or expiring, but nothing is lost

We often ask others to vision it and ask questions in the hope and thrill of shedding light to the unseen that unfolds in corners, crinkles and pleats. It asks us to try, to experiment, to examine. It adds positive doubt, it is mind opening. It is moving progress, development, and evolution.

Can the satisfaction of experience be compared to the act of expiring as in breathing out and running out? Do we run out of experiences as we run out of breath or do experiences take our breath away?  We hold our breath and express our awe and wonder at some experiences. Can we breathe in experiences and breathe out learning in a continuous flow? How would you explain experience in an experiential way on the stage of your learning? Who are the characters? On my journey I save the awe of surprise, the joy of discovery, the playful amusement of games, the disappointment of failure, the sting of refusal, the loneliness of misunderstanding, the grief of loss. But nothing is ever lost. It is catalogued, ordered, dusted, replaced, and redesigned. Like dots that make up lines, they can be endless until a full stop appears, at least for us.

The deep furrows of habit

Habits dig deep furrows in which the seed of change has difficulty growing. They save all nutrients to feed its core, stillness. They breath stale air and encrust routine into cases of unresolved questions which are set in the attic of our minds.

According to William Ockham (Fuchs, 1952) the worth of habit is in its economy of its strength where the consistence of occurrence creates ones reality and can be experienced as static. Habits create our outlines, our boundaries, our fences of comfort, our blankets of peace.

Habits like clothes and garments can be tight fitting or overly comfortable. Could they be our mental garment that keep us from opening our windows? The wind blows, the chill air and frosty gusts of change ask for closure. They follow us at all times, become our inseparable companions, our judges, and our confessors.

Habitat and culture

Think of the word habitat, our living environment. The culture and ecology of life that allows life to thrive. The extended clothes that we share with others. An interactive response to our needs. Here we flow in its comforts, patterns, and predictability.

Hutto and Robertson (2020) argue that there is an element of unintelligent activity in habits as they demonstrate unreflective behaviour, but they draw attention to their adaptive tendencies to accommodate sensibly and characteristically to their particular circumstances. They are focused activities based on our dispositions.

A role for both on our stage?

On our mental stage experiences and habits inhabit our stages of growth, culture, learning, dispositions, and inclinations. Stage lights, audience, scenery, and costumes are designed by who we are, who we meet, our supports and mentors, our passions, and our courage to see, open and step into the opportunities that we encounter.


Holly Warren Self Portrait

Holly Warren is an atelierista, or art studio teacher, working in an international school in Italy. She is the creator of Think Tank – a new project environment that links the creative process of art with Montessori, Steiner and Reggio Emilia educational methodologies.


Thank you to Holly for the selection of artwork and suggested piece of music.


Fuchs, O., 1952. The psychology of habit according to William Ockham. 1st ed. St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: The Franciscan Inst.

Hutto, D.D. and Robertson, I., 2020. Clarifying the character of habits: Understanding what and how they explain. Habits: Pragmatist approaches from cognitive science, neuroscience, and social theory, pp.204-222.