Are Habits Good or Bad?

Part 1 of 2.  Part 2 is here.

Nothing can make a player feel more helpless then when they lose a match and their opponent tells them, “You’ve got bad habits.” ‘Bad Habits’ can be used as a catch-all term for anything your opponent punishes you for, but lets look deep into this idea and see how you can avoid this dreaded position. It may be impossible to fully escape having bad habits, but as we’ll see, having bad habits isn’t as bad as simply not knowing what your bad habits are.

A habit is defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”  Habits are naturally formed when people do almost everything as a form of energy conservation, if you form a habit about the way you tie your shoes you’ll have to expend way less mental energy every day when you tie them.  The brain looks for any way it can to form habits that can be helpful to simplify mental tasks, but of course your stupid brain cant tell the difference between a good and a bad habit sometimes.  Habits are still good overall though, even in Smash.

The way people talk about habits, you’d think that the best way to play Smash would be totally habit free.  That way you couldn’t be read! (Not true btw)  But no, habits are actually amazing at making you a better player, which I will touch on briefly here but I really should write a whole article about it!  In short, habits are mental shortcuts that allow us to perform complex actions automatically and conserve mental energy and allow for faster reactions.  Have a habit of down throwing as Ness when your opponent is at low percent is a pretty good habit to have.  It will often make your reactions faster at seeing the grab connect and pressing down fast, reducing the time that your opponent can mash out.  So when you start out, you may have to think about down throwing, but as you play more and more the action will become more automatic and faster which can free up mental energy for thinking about the followup.  In Tennis (one of the closest sports to fighting games) players have been shown to expend more mental energy at the semipro level then at the pro level, which is believed to be because the pro players have so much more of the game as a habit.  They don’t spent time thinking about how to do a backhand, they’ve done it so many times that it’s totally automatic!

So habits are both good and bad, but overall they are necessary for high level play and should be cultivated in practice at all skill levels.  But how can you know a good habit from a bad one, and how can you make sure you form the good ones and get rid of the bad ones?  Find out in the exciting conclusion of my blog on habits!

So habits can be good.  As a player you’ll want to form habits of actions like combos and techniques that are almost never bad.  But some habits fall into a part of the game where if your opponent knows your habit they can punish it.  ‘Always down throw at low percent’ is a pretty good ness habit, but what about ‘always nair when a player hits the back of my shield’?  The first habit involves a scenario where you are in total control, so the habit will rarely get punished.  The second habit is an escape from a somewhat dangerous situation and while it may work in many cases it’s still able to be punished.  Is this habit BAD?

To answer this, the best way to view any habit is as a tool.  In Smash, your character has tools, their move set and attributes.  Habits are tools but for you as a player.  Habits are mental shortcuts that allow you to perform better, but they all involve risk and reward, just like any move, and you should never take any habit for granted.  Examine your play


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