We talk a lot about habits on this blog because we see, from our professional and personal experiences, that truly modifying your lifestyle requires paying attention to and managing your daily habits. Human beings are a creature of habits. Starting from the time we get up to the foods we like to eat, we all have sets of habits we practice on a daily basis. Studies have shown that about 40-45% of our daily actions are performed due to the habits we have created over a long time. This week, I’ll be diving into the science of habits and providing a few tips on how you can adopt healthier ones.
What is a habit?
Habits are actions performed repeatedly until they become automatic responses. These responses are stored in your memory and become an instinctual process. For instance, when you feed your pet, you probably aren’t consciously thinking. You do it as an automatic daily response to your pet’s behavior.
How are habits formed?
Your environment, relationships, geographical locations, and available opportunities affect you and your behaviors on a daily basis. These nurturing elements work together with your biological constitution, genetic framework, and cognitive attributes to build your habits.
Every habit, regardless of the behavior, follows three steps:
- Cue/situation (For example, your hungry dog waits by her bowl.)
- Action (You fill her bowl with food.)
- Reward (You have met your pet’s needs.)
Understanding this process can help you keep tabs on your cues and rewards, and in turn, change your habits. For instance, if you recognize that excess stress (cue) makes you reach for a cigarette (action) to relax (reward), try de-stressing a bit. It will not only help you reduce the urge to smoke, but also give you the added benefit of feeling less stressed.
How can you change your habits?
Once you identify and address your cues and rewards, and begin creating new habits, you also create specific neural connections and pathways within your brain. This process trains your brain to learn a behavior and memorize it as a habit. This facet of your brain also makes it harder to change these habits, since modifying your behavior leads to conflict between what is comfortable and time-efficient versus the new and unfamiliar. Re-training your brain requires re-learning, which can often be uncomfortable. With consistent practice you will create the neural pathways within your brain to memorize a new habit, eventually making that newer behavior familiar and comfortable.
I’ll talk more about this process, called neuroplasticity, and provide more tips on changing your habits on Thursday.