For quite a few years now at my live seminars I’ve been saying that one of the challenges with learning new techniques in Photoshop is that we are creatures of habit. We tend to do things the way we always have, because, well, we just do.

In an effort to figure out how to our Photoshop habits are formed I went looking for more information on habits, and found the following (interestingly enough on a blog by Ian Newby-Clark called “Creatures of Habit”).

“As creatures, we have needs. We need to eat, and so we eat. As rather intelligent and social creatures, we like to chat with one another, and so we do. We take turns and finish our conversations gracefully. And there are dozens and dozens more behaviors that are just as complicated, if not more so. How on Earth do we get all of this done?

That’s where habits come in. Habits help us through our day. When we are doing something that is habitual, we are not engaged in the task in the same way as when we are doing something that is not habitual. Just as an example, consider making breakfast in your own kitchen on any given weekday. Next time you do it, watch how effortlessly it happens. It’s not exactly like an out-of-body experience, but it’s close. Your movements through the kitchen are stereotyped. You grab the milk out of the fridge, turn toward the counter and give the door that little nudge you with your foot that you know it needs. If something is on your mind, you might not notice that you’re sitting at the table and munching on your second piece of toast until you’re halfway through it. Now, compare that to getting breakfast at a friend’s house. Maybe you’re dog sitting (you’re so nice!) Where’s the milk? The bread? Oh my goodness, so complicated!”

So true, right? At home we do things almost unconsciously, to some degree “going through the motions”.

I think for many of us, working in Photoshop (or that other program that starts with L) is the same. We open a photo and immediately go into our habitual methods of cloning, brightening, fixing or editing. Unfortunately, sometimes that may mean that we are missing out on methods that are faster, easier, more accurate or more flexible because these “new” techniques involve change.

Here’s an example: for years I’ve been preaching the non-destructive workflow idea, using layers and making merged copies rather than flattening. I would keep my layers and then press Command-Option-Shift E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E) to make a merged copy, giving me the equivalent of a flattened layer but with all the layers below. Problem is, if you need to make any changes to the underlying layers you have to delete the merged layer and make a new one once you’ve made that changed. It works fine, and it’s definitely better that flattening.

So that’s been a habit of mine. Almost happens without thinking sometimes.

Then the other day it struck me that it would be much easier better faster more efficient to use a Smart Object. (In case you’ve been hiding under a rock – or Photoshop 7 – Smart Objects have been around the last few versions of Photoshop). So I tried taking multiple layers and making them into a Smart Object before continuing to edit. (Insert Angels singing sound here). Wow! So much simpler, and yet it took me a while (and some effort) to break my old habit and try this.

(Here’s a tutorial I recorded for the NAPP site, complete with one of my traditional goofy endings)

So the point is, where the pressure’s on to get something done, we tend to go with the tried-and-true ways: our habits. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I encourage you – neigh, I challenge you – to try some of the new features of Photoshop (or even existing tools and techniques that you’ve never tried). Maybe you’ll find some great timesavers that will become part of your new work habitsÂ…until the next version of Photoshop comes along. Then maybe it’ll be time to break those habits and develop some new ones.