Habits what are these?
Aristotle said that we are what we repeat in our lives. So, what are you? What are your thoughtless choices and invisible decisions? Do you know your habits?
In this article you will:
- Learn what habits are and why they rule your life.
- Get to know their component parts.
- Understand what the key habits are.
Morning coffee, always with milk and only half of a cup, a cigarette, or maybe jogging. And always the same way to work. You pass a neighbor with a dog every day, then that boy on a bicycle. You always go to lunch at 12:00, you sit at the same table in the same restaurant. You live your own routine. And what if you changed something in your life once? Do you know why you don’t like change?
Have you ever wondered why you always do the same? Why is each day of your life similar to the previous one?
The reason is your habits and customs.
What is a habit?
In psychology, it is defined as an automated activity (behavior, response) that you acquire as a result of exercise, mainly through repetition.
In the beginning, these are choices that you make deliberately, consciously, but as soon as you stop thinking about them – even though you still do them – they become a habit.
We create habits throughout our life and they accompany us every day. According to researchers from Duke University, 40% of the actions you take is not a conscious decision, but a habit.
Why do habits rule your life?
This is how your brain functions. This action is clearly visible, for example, when you hear a new song and you like it. You start listening to it non-stop until your brain gets used to it enough that you stop paying attention to it. Operating on autopilot saves your brain a lot of energy. Thanks to this, you can do many activities at the same time or focus on something else. In this way you also improve your craft, you become a professional in some field doing your work effortlessly. That’s why your brain doesn’t like changes. They force it to do some extra work.
However, habits also have their downside – they make you less mindful. You may miss something important in your life or react too late to a threat. They make you not live in the here and now.
While a habit is not harmful in itself, it all depends on what the behavior entails. The type of food you eat, words addressed to your loved ones, physical activity, and spiritual practices have a powerful impact on your health, performance, and happiness.
When a habit is born, the brain stops participating fully in making decisions. It stops working hard or turns to other tasks. This pattern works until you replace it with another one. Habits never disappear and are stored in our brains. On the one hand, they make our lives easier, protect us against threats, and on the other hand, they inhibit the absorption of new products and changes.
Component parts of a habit.
To understand a habit better and to be able to consciously influence it, it is worth knowing its components.
The habit loop consists of 3 steps:
- a cue or trigger that tells the brain to go into automatic mode,
- a routine (physical, mental, or emotional)
- a reward that allows the brain to remember a given loop.
As it becomes more automated, the cue and the reward engage until there is a strong sense of anticipation and desire. So, if you do not fight a habit consciously or replace it with another, this pattern will manifest itself automatically.
New habits are formed unconsciously, all the time. A habit is driven by desire.
The problem is that your brain doesn’t tell the difference between bad and good habits. It treats them all the same. Unfortunately, you cannot get rid of a bad habit, but you can change it consciously.
The connections between neurons are plastic, which means that you can consciously and freely model them. Like in this childhood game where you used two metal sticks to connect electrical circuits to find the right answer by winning a light bulb. It is enough to turn the board upside down, disconnect the current connection, and connect other fields with silver. The brain can be reprogrammed, you just need to realize it and act on purpose. Even small changes can break the habit.
If, on the other hand, you identify clues and rewards, you can completely change your routine. For habits to change permanently, you must also believe that change is possible. If you keep the same cue and the same reward, you can insert a new routine in between. Psychologists and behaviorism experts say it takes 20 to 70 days to introduce a new habit into your life.
Some of your habits are much more important than others, they are called key habits.
If you identify and change them, they will start to change, delete, or transform other patterns themselves.
When you start meditating regularly, for example, even just once a week, you will also start changing other, unrelated patterns in your life, often without being aware of it. For example, you will start to eat healthier, play sports. Key habits lead to different habits.
By focusing on changing and cultivating key habits, you can bring about far-reaching changes in your life. However, identifying your key habits is not as easy as it may seem.
The most important key habit is willpower because when you turn it into a habit you will strengthen it and ensure your success.
Willpower is a skill that can be learned. If you choose certain behaviors in advance and then follow the chosen path, when difficulties arise, willpower becomes a habit.
Not only individual people have their own habits, but also social groups, companies, and institutions. This is because we unconsciously become similar to each other. Most of us have friends who are just like us. We may have a few friends who are richer than us, a few poorer, but in the end, the deepest relationships we build with people who are similar in appearance, earn similarly, and come from a similar environment. Each of us also has mirror neurons in our brains that make us copy the behavior of others. Thanks to them, as children we learn to live by imitating our parents. They also cause our habits to spread.
Hundreds of habits guide your daily life.
They govern what you put on yourself, how you talk to your loved ones, how you fall asleep, what you eat, how you work, and what your lifestyle is. Each of them is triggered by a different cue that provides you with a unique reward. Some of these habits are simple and some are very complicated. Some require emotional triggers and provide subtle neurochemical rewards.
But each habit, despite its complexity, is modifiable. To transform it, however, you have to decide for yourself that it should happen. You need to consciously identify what cues and rewards drive the habit by turning your behavior into a routine and find a new alternative for them. You need to know that you are in control and be confident enough to use it. When you know a habit exists, it is your responsibility to deal with it. If you believe that you can change and make it a habit, the change becomes real. The way you think about your surroundings creates the world you live in. Remember that.
Katarzyna Wybrańczyk „Nawyki – coś co nami rządzi i czego trudno nam się pozbyć”, strefabytu.pl, 2015, https://strefabytu.pl/artykuly/nawyki/
Charles Duhigg, “The Power of Habit”, ( „Siła nawyku”, PWN, Warszawa, 2014)
Loretta Breuning „Tame your anxiety”, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Boulder, New York, London, 2019