“the key to getting & staying healthy is found in your habits”
When was the last time you did something for the first time? According to Townsend and Bever, ‘Most of the time, what we do is what we do most of the time.’ That is, most of our behaviour is habit driven. We truly are creatures of habit. The good news is that if we can change our habits to be more positive we will find that our health drastically improves in turn. So what exactly is a habit?
What is a Habit?
Habits are routine, usually unconscious behaviours performed on a regular basis. We start forming habits from birth. In fact, habits are adaptive behaviours, meaning they allow us to learn how to do something with the goal being to eventually be able to perform that behaviour without having to think about it. A good example of this is driving a car. Initially, when we are learning to drive a car we are very careful about every move we make. We may find that we are unable to concentrate on anything else except what gear to put the car in, or how far away we are from the car in front of us.
But eventually, with practice, we no longer have to think about how to drive. In fact many of us probably drive to and from work and not really remember the trip because we have engaged our subconscious mind to do the driving whilst our conscious mind is thinking about other things.
According to behavioural psychologists there are usually three components to a habit:
- Repetitive – meaning the action is something we do on a regular basis e.g. brushing our teeth before bed.
- Automatic – usually something we do without thinking too much about how or when we should do it e.g. driving a car.
- Situational – situation-specific meaning that we usually perform particular habits under particular circumstances e.g. eating snack food when watching TV (even though we might not be hungry, we a driven to eat in this situation).
So how exactly do we form a habit?
How do I Form a Habit?
Habit formation is the process by which new behaviours become automatic. If you instinctively reach for a cigarette the moment you wake up in the morning, you have a habit. By the same token, if you feel inclined to lace up your running shoes and hit the streets as soon as you get home, you have acquired a habit. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. That is because the behavioural patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into the neural pathways in our brains. Neural pathways are like highways – the more we repeat a habit the more ‘worn’ a highway becomes and the more difficult it is to break that habit. Changing our behaviour can be difficult and new behaviours might feel strange or unusual to us initially. This is because we are not used to doing them.
The good news is that through repetition it is possible to form positive new habits (and maintain them as well). This really is the key to creating a habit – practise it often. This starts the process of creating a new brain pathway. It takes around 21-40 days to form a new habit so do not give up if the habit seems like hard work initially to maintain. Over time that habit will become an automatic behaviour and eventually a new lifestyle. This is the key to a healthier, happier you. That is, developing a lifestyle full of positive habits that will eventually be second nature and your new way of living.