What is a habit?
A habit is something we do or think on a repeated basis that becomes automatic. As such, we tend not to think about it or put a lot of brain power towards it. For example, waking up and brushing your teeth. This is something that (hopefully), you do on a daily basis without thinking about. Self- beliefs can also affect our habits in terms of what we do, think and the way in which we behave.
Cues, and their importance in routine forming
Most behaviours that precede habits are set off by cues. A cue is simply defined as a trigger or something that triggers our thoughts or behaviour.
After this cue, a routine is formed. Essentially it’s the action/behaviour that has been triggered by the cue. Routine and habit are essentially interchangeable. Once the routine has been completed we then receive a reward. This is when the brain sends a message to your body, letting you know that what has just happened is really good and in a sense encourages you to do that same routine as often as possible until it eventually becomes a habit.
The brain can’t distinguish what is good from bad at times, hence why some people have developed really bad habits, but feel as though they are good or normal. Such examples include smoking and eating an unhealthy diet.
Another factor that can influence our habits is procrastination. Put simply, procrastination is an emotion management problem. It usually boils down to that all-important moment of facing a task, experiencing the negative emotions associated with it, and doing the task despite those negative emotions.
That’s the top skill needed to overcome procrastination: taking action despite experiencing negative thoughts and emotions. Taking action even if you don’t feel like doing it, even if you feel anxious about doing it, even if you feel overwhelmed, even if you feel stressed out.
I think it’s very important to understand that our thoughts and emotions don’t have to dictate our behaviour
The importance of habits
Put simply, habits manage our minds, feelings and actions, essentially everything do. They save us brain energy, leaving us energy to carry out more taxing tasks including creative thinking.
And as habits are the brains shortcut to acting in certain ways, they are seen as automatic. This is brilliant when its good automatic behaviour.
Making habits out of the things we do repeatedly, our behaviours and actions – provides our brain with a power saving or effort saving mechanism. An automatic response requires less creativity and complexity of thinking from us.
Changing bad habits
Its hard to break old habits, as habits become hard wired into us over time, you might be surprised to find that you can actually chance your habits, especially bad habits. With time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. Some people believe that it can take anywhere from 21 – 90 days to fomr a new habit.
Looking at the image above, to change a habit you have to start with the habit, identify what specifically you wish to change and with what replacement habit to take its place. After this you then start with tackling the cue. Tackle the cue that triggers that particular behaver, recognise it and then practice the new routine.
From here you can look at different rewards. Rewards are powerful because they satisfying cravings. But we’re often not conscious of the cravings that drive our behaviours.
To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. This might take a few days, or a week, or longer. During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change.
By experimenting with different rewards, you can isolate what you are actually craving, which is essential in redesigning the habit
- Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit
- J. Fogg: Tiny Habits
- Samuel Smile: Self-Help
- Gretchen Rubin – Better Than Before
- Steven Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens
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