Habits are routine, usually unconscious behaviours completed on a consistent 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 automatically, without having to think about it.
According to behavioural psychologists there are usually three parts 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 New 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 or 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 stop that habit. Changing our behaviour can be tough and new behaviours might feel odd or unusual to us in the beginning. This is because we are not used to doing them.
The great news is that through repetition it is possible to form positive new habits (and sustain them as well). This really is the key to forming 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 sustain. Over time that habit will become an involuntary 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.